Chestnuts from Wolfe Orchard
I was really excited to find chestnuts at the market a couple of weeks ago. I love chestnuts and it's rare to see them, especially chestnuts from Michigan. Although I recently found out about Chestnut Growers, Inc., a Michigan company, I don't remember seeing real chestnuts for sale at the market before. The first week I bought a bag for $5 even though they were smaller than acorns and we didn't really know how to roast them.
We exploded a few in the microwave (on the advice of a friend - the cooking, not the exploding) before consulting the Inter-webs. Then I painstakingly and at great risk to the smaller limbs cut an X in the rest of them (it was actually easier than I had thought it would be). But ended up burning most of them in the oven, not having adjusted the cooking time to the petite size of our nuts. Great sadness descended on our house as we crunched the little black nubbins.
Undeterred by this failure, when I saw more bags of big, absolutely gorgeous chestnuts last week I bought them again. I asked why these were so big when the previous ones were so teeny. The lady from the orchard said she had 2 chestnuts trees - one tree that had very small nuts and dropped them early and the other with these big nuts that dropped them later.
Deciding that they grill them over an open flame in other countries so that you can enjoy them immediately for a reason, we thought the 80º temps last night a great excuse for chestnuts with steak. Though we have songs about it, I have never seen chestnuts roasted in this country in any weather.
Results of our research (this is the royal "our" - actually, B. is the ultimate grill-meister): Again with the cutting of the X's - crucial to keeping them and yourself intact during cooking - on the more rounded side seemed to work better for the cooking process. Using one of those handy grill baskets, put the nuts in a gas grill heated to 375º-400º. Stir every 3 minutes for about 12 minutes, or until done. When they are cooked completely the shells are brittle and peel back a little from the nut inside. The chestnuts themselves are a bit crumbly, starchy, and soft-ish. Not crunchy on the outside (overdone) or in the middle (underdone). Peel and enjoy!
These chestnuts were ping-pong ball size, a buttery yellow color, sweet and meaty with just a bit of smoky haze from the grill. B. kept trying to figure out what they tasted like - chicken? But much sweeter. A bit reminiscent of starchy buttered potato, but sweeter than that too. Umami. It's a really wonderful, old-fashioned taste. I'm planning to put some into the stuffing of our next chicken, and also to try making some marrons glacés or chestnut soup from France.
What did one French squirrel say to the other French squirrel? Ne touchez pas mes noix.