Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…..not!


I’d like to think I’m pretty handy around the kitchen – and perhaps elsewhere but that hardly concerns you. I’d like to believe that I could cook pretty much anything. I might have to try a few times, but eventually I would figure it out.

TreeunicloseupI guess I was wrong. There is at least one thing that failed me time and time again. Chestnuts. These pesky little nuts. I love eating them, but I am at a complete lost when it comes to cooking them.

When I was growing up in Thailand, I looked forward to these every winter. As soon as the weather got a bit cool, around this time of year, chestnut merchants in Bangkok’s Chinatown set up their stalls along Yaowarat road. It was quite a sight, scrawny merchants standing in front of their imposing woks – big enough to deep fry me at that age – filled with tiny pebbles, blackened with soots, and so hot they were nearly molten. Strewn in with the pebbles were plump chestnuts. Each merchant would stir their wok constantly, ensuring even heat to properly cook the chestnuts to perfection. Chestnuts cooked that way were amazing, you could almost pop them out of the shell by simply opening it. Your fingers tips – or your whole hands if you’re not careful – would turn black from the soot on the shells, but who could care when the morsels within were so delectable. I for one didn’t.

Kaolad, chestnuts

Now that these chestnut stalls are a bit too far to drive, I must
find a way to cook the chestnuts myself. This time of year, raw
chestnuts are plentiful at all the farmers markets I frequent. Each
time I see them, I would buy a bagful.

I tried every recipe I could
find, yet each bagful turned out a failure. I tried multiple recipes I
found on cookbooks, the web, even the Gourmet’s recipe on Epicurious. I have never been successful. I tried marking an X mark on top, on the pointy bottom, or even right smack in the middle of the nuts. It doesn’t matter where, it just didn’t work. I tried roasting them in the oven, with a bit of water and without. I toasted them in a pan, covered and uncovered. Really. I’ve tried just about everything I could think of. Still a failure. I would end up with bits of chestnuts exploding in my kitchen, in the oven, some missed me by a hair. Worse yet, they were unevenly cooked, with the stubborn papery skin so tenaciously stuck to the delicious meat that I sometimes just ate them together.

I’ve just about had it, but I don’t want to give up all hopes yet. There has got to be a way, and someone, somewhere, out there, has got to know it. So, I’m begging for your help. You know how to do it, right? You can roast chestnuts so they are cooked evenly and perfectly, and so that that pesky skin part easily from the delicious meat. Yes? Please say yes, you are my last hope. Help!!!

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44 Responses to “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…..not!

  • rosa said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 3:03am

    What? For me it works perfectly, roasting chestnuts in the oven. I can never predict whether the skin will come off easily though – so I always thought it depended on how fresh they are or something.
    You definitely need to cut through the skin of each and every chestnut or they will explode. However I find them much easier to peel if I don’t cut a cross, but just cut one line through the skin.
    Yum! I haven’t even had any this autumn yet. Thanks for reminding me 🙂

  • riya said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 5:12am

    you cut off “the cookbook” recommendation?

  • ilva said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 5:25am

    I’m eating perfectly roasted chestnuts right in this moment, I do it on my gas cooker in a special Italian pan, a simple iron one with holes in it! It is possible, don’t give up!

  • Tamie said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 6:56am

    Freshly roasted chestnuts are sold readily where I live in Europe. And stands selling them have already started to pop up. Lucky me 🙂
    PS. Winter in Thailand?

  • georgiegirl said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 7:08am

    I put a bag of inexpensive whole coffee beans and the chesnuts in the wok on medium heat. I stirred them every so often.

  • umami said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 7:24am

    Hmm, I just factor in those extra pieces that will explode, isn’t it inevitable? I do score it across seems less fiddly than making an X, roast at slow to medium heat slowly, toss once or twice and when done, leave it for a while in the oven.
    The skin will come off if peeled after the nuts come out of the oven.

  • Kate Hill said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 9:12am

    My kitchen godmother here, ‘nicks’ off a piece of the shell making a good starting point to peel later; then as often as not, we boil them in salted water with a fig leaf added. Why? I don’t know but the boiled chestnuts peel easily and taste fabulous…plus your fingers don’t get black! We’ll miss you this weekend at Camp Cassoulet!

  • say ong said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 4:26pm

    I would give a small slit on the chestnuts penetrating the skin or shell(that is to stop them from exploding) and then pop them in the microwave oven. U need to experiment a bit here. Timing depend on yr microwave power. Hmm, yum, yum.

  • faustianbargain said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 8:32pm

    oven roasting should be fine..but soak them before roasting..i wonder if placing them over a bed of kosher salt will help to roast them uniformly…
    i remember how they used to roast peanuts(and other savoury nuts) at the beach in india…very similar to how you described…basically, its a heavy iron wok filled with sand..not just any sand..but sand that is fine grained..the nuts..say peanuts..will be tossed along with the sand so its evenly roasted. a sieve like ladle will pick up the nuts and leave the fine grains of the sand back in the wok..very effective method.
    on the other this > ..if you like roasting fresh chestnuts, it’ll be the best 25 bucks you’d have spent…
    if peeling is difficult..try scoring it on the rounded side of the chestnut..after the meat had roasted, it will curl and peel back because of the heat. you are scoring the ‘x’ anyways to prevent exploding might as well score across the chestnut instead if it will help the peeling easier.

  • Amy said:
    November 1st, 2007 at 9:37pm

    Growing up in China, these were one of my favorite snacks too. I’m eagerly following the comments to pick up a few tips on how to do this at home.

  • yas said:
    November 2nd, 2007 at 12:39am

    I’ve done this for several years after seeing it on Martha Stewart. She suggested freezing the chestnut before roasting in the oven. The skins come off so easy.

  • kel @ Green Olive Tree said:
    November 2nd, 2007 at 1:01am

    One Spanish girl taught me how to do this in Barcelona. Make a horizontal slit on the belly of the nut, so that when it’s done you would just tilt the upper part backwards to reveal the perfectly roasted flesh. It was a lot easier than the X mark. I also find that roasting a smaller quantity in the oven turns out better. Good luck chica.

  • Little Chi said:
    November 2nd, 2007 at 6:07am

    To prevent those papery skins from sticking to the chestnuts, soak them in water for about an hour. That’s what chestnut roasters do in Thailand. When I was living abroad, I make a small slit in each of them and roast them in a small grill-oven. The trick is to turn them them every once in a while. Never had any problem.

  • Meena said:
    November 2nd, 2007 at 9:18am

    I absolutely love raosted chestnuts too. Growing up, it was a winder weekend tradition in our home where my Mom would oven roast a big bowl for the family. The first I tried oven roasting them in my home, they exploded, leaving me tiny burnt bits to scrave off from the oven! How disheartening. Sigh!

  • EB said:
    November 2nd, 2007 at 10:46am

    I always roasted them in an old-school popcorn popper type of deal. Yeeessss some always exploded… but that was the fun of it!

  • EB said:
    November 2nd, 2007 at 10:48am

    I always roasted them in an old-school popcorn popper type of deal. Yeeessss some always exploded… but that was the fun of it!

  • BJ said:
    November 3rd, 2007 at 7:20am

    Ah miss the chestnuts. In India, we use a cast iron wok, filled with fine sand to do the roasting. This is very similar to the method used by your chinese vendors in BKK, only advantage the soot if any stays with the sand. You rost it and then seive out the sand..voila..I have never seen any one making slits, cuts on the nuts before …cheerio.

  • prayer said:
    November 3rd, 2007 at 10:17pm

    i second the frustration. i went to a castanyadas (a catalan chestnut-roasting tradition) today where they were roasting chestnuts in a pan over hot coal. needless to say, most of them ended up pretty burnt. psshhh!!!

  • liz said:
    November 4th, 2007 at 8:45am

    I use that chestnutter and love it. Then, I use this method:
    Preheat oven to 550 for at least 30 minutes.
    Score the chestnuts on the flat side of the shell and roast them on a baking sheet at 550 for 5 minutes. Check them to be sure they are not burning. If you need to roast them for a minute or two more to be sure they are open, be very careful they don’t burn.
    Remove the chestnuts from the oven and immediately cover them with a towel that has been soaked in ice water and wrung out.
    When the nuts are cool enough to handle, peel. (If they don’t peel easily and some don’t, just put back in the oven for a minute or two)
    comes from the LA Times Dec. 17, 1995
    also in Verge’s book Vegetables in the French Manner

  • roaster said:
    November 4th, 2007 at 5:58pm

    I use a box cutter to make a horizontal slit on the belly skin of the nut and roast them in my toaster oven at 500F setting (I think it is really about 450F). No need for aluminum foil or to turn them over or tend them once you have the timing right for your oven. Even when ready, skin is not black. I always squeeze the nuts before I buy them to make sure they are plump and moist. I try to bake them within a day because the dry weather in Toronto will cause them to loose moisture quickly. Once that happens, then the skin will stick to the shell and they become dry. I also smell them to make sure they are not mouldy, especially near the end of the season.

  • Foodie Lianne said:
    November 4th, 2007 at 10:36pm

    Sounds like an impossible task. Thankfully, we have them here (KL) all year round.

  • Joe said:
    November 4th, 2007 at 10:38pm

    I buy them shelled in jars.

  • charlotte said:
    November 5th, 2007 at 6:05am

    Hummmmm fresh chestnuts !!!
    here is my family’s traditional recipe (excuse my english!)
    I recommand, to roast them in the oven, after making a cross on their back, on the “lèchefrite” directly, or a large baking dish in iron; then serve with fresh salted butter (better: à la fleur de sel!); for a perfect deligh drink on those some apple cider (traditional *cidre de Bretagne* would be the best, or something like that if you can find). Open the chestnuts, burning your fingers, and put a little butter, melting on top of it… I thing this is the simpliest, most perfect delight. Enjoy!!!! charlotte

  • PJ said:
    November 5th, 2007 at 8:16am

    Years back when I was in OH, a (Thai) friend of mine asked me to save ground coffee that was already brewed for him. I found out later that he put the coffee in a pot and put that up on the stove with low heat. Then, he cooked chestnuts in that pot. It took a really long time but it came out well.

  • dan said:
    November 5th, 2007 at 6:48pm

    my grandmother and i like to soak the chestnuts in room temperature water for about 20-30 minutes prior to roasting. after soaking, making a horizontal slit on the flat belly of the chestnut really helps opening them up after you roast. we rarely lose a chestnut doing it this way, but reading everyone else’s systems (like freezing? so cool…) makes it seem like there are plenty ways to try! good luck and let us know how it turns out!
    after you roast them, a chestnut and porcini mushroom soup should be on order – best thing of thanksgiving, in my opinion! especially since you’ll probably have a ton of chestnuts to use!

  • G. Mokarakorn said:
    November 6th, 2007 at 6:09am

    I miss those Yaowarat roasted chestnut. They have to be eaten warm.

  • G. Mokarakorn said:
    November 6th, 2007 at 6:09am

    I miss those Yaowarat roasted chestnut. They have to be eaten warm.

  • Charlie said:
    November 6th, 2007 at 1:27pm

    I’d just like to say thank you to this website and the commenters. I’ve just made a rather delicious salmi of partridge (which my wife had shot and brought home a brace of) with roasted chestnuts. I wouldn’t have been able to roast and peel those chestnuts without your help.
    By the way, I crossed them all (very deeply) with a cleaver, and roasted them for half an hour in a 200C oven in a deep baking tray with another baking tray on top to minimise the problems with explosions.
    Thank you all.

  • Chubbypanda said:
    November 6th, 2007 at 4:16pm

    I roast them over high heat in a wok filled with rock salt. The salt seasons the nuts, helps properly distribute the heat, and is reusable. I got the idea from a Martha Stewart recipe (yeah, I know). I use a Chinese cleaver to nick the base of the nuts. You need to make sure the nick is deep.

  • Norlinda said:
    November 7th, 2007 at 5:10pm

    When I was living in Asian, I loved those giant wok chestnut roasters. I love the smell, and the chestnuts taste so much better than just roasting them in the oven. Why don’t they do that here in N America?

  • chickencordonblog said:
    November 7th, 2007 at 7:49pm

    No idea how to roast chestnuts. But reading the way they do them in Thailand reminds me one of my favorite little stories. When I was 13 I went on a tour of SEA with my dad, starting in Beijing, ending in Bali, and stopping in KL and Singapore along the way. We went on a bike ride one day in Beijing and pulled over, about 2 miles from Tienamin Square to grab a spot of street food. I remember passing a cart with two men, one with a big pot, the other with a big wok. As we passed I peered in the wok. It was full of …. LITTLE BLACK PEBBLES! I couldn’t figure out what the heck they were so I hopped off to check it out. I walked up to the cart, and motioned to the wok. The guy managing it looked at me and smiled. Then he made a gesture of tossing-into-the-mouth. I noticed at this moment how red and powerful his hands looked, but I didn’t really take the time to realize why. I smiled and gestured back, pointing eagerly, some mutant sign language for “let me try!”
    He did!
    He reached into the wok, scooped up a handful of what I thought were little black seeds, and ginger poured them in my naked little hands.
    So yes, they were searing hot pebbles. They scorched my little palms. Laughing hardily, this seemingly generous street vendor suggested fervently that I toss the “seeds” in my mouth.
    Now logically, anything that was hot enough to burn a hand is hot enough to burn a tongue, but I had to get it out of my hands! So I tossed ’em back like a jello shot, and chewed. BOY THOSE SEEDS WERE HARD! I had burn blisters all over my hands, and my tongue was ultra sensitive when we went out for sechzuan that night.
    And so up until today I’d been wondering what the hell those pebbles were for. But now that I know, I think I’ll hold out for the chestnuts! Any way, altogether it makes me realize that maybe the way to go on this chestnut project is to blanch them first, then go to the wok-full of hot pebbles? Just a thought. but Either way, I’d take it outside. I don’t think oven roasting is the way to go. Stick with tradition, it’s there for a reason. Hope that works out, and at least I hope you enjoy the story!

  • idlehouse said:
    November 11th, 2007 at 12:22pm

    I tried roasting chestnuts again today following the many tips your readers gave… I still suck at it 🙁

  • banu said:
    November 14th, 2007 at 6:54am

    dear pim, very common on the streets here in Turkey, during the winter on every corner u can see chestnut sellers yelling “kebab here!”.
    receipt easy: first cross each and every one on their “belly” with a 2 mm deep cut, then soak in the tap water and leave about an hour. your kebabs are ready to grill!

  • Eddie said:
    November 15th, 2007 at 11:20am

    Hi Pim,
    I’m in the midst of chestnut heaven right now, I live in Portugal and we’re pretty nuts about Chestnut. We too have vendors every where selling these roasted morsels and to make them at home we have a few options. At home to fix my frequent cravings like the one I’m having now, we use a ‘holed bottom pan’ that goes on a gas stove and works quite nicely.
    The trick is really two sided — it’s in the roaster and the temperature. Oven and stove options won’t come out exactly like the street vendors but they’ll get close. If you can find a holed bottom pan you can use on a BBQ, I think you’ll get really close.
    For temperature – so they’re nice and soft inside…cook them medium low, too hot and the shells will burn quickly, too low and they get dry. Also, there are multiple varieties of chestnuts, when your picking them at the market, make sure there is no air under the shell and no lumps or pin holes, they should be very solid. Once home, cook them as soon as possible, from the sounds of it you’re going to make them disappear pretty quick so that shouldn’t be an issue.
    Find a good roaster… you might be able to find them in special Portuguese or Italian shops in your area. If not, let me know, I’ll be more than happy to ship you one.
    A few days ago, I did a post on “how-to roast chestnuts”…you can check it out here

  • D said:
    November 24th, 2007 at 6:48pm

    My mom just sent me some yummy chestnuts from italy.One exploded!apparently if the cross cut it’s not done well enough it will happend,as for the skin i just read it can be they are either not cooked or too cooked.Not a big deal,but i did find tons of moldy ones

  • Kim Bayer said:
    December 4th, 2007 at 8:28pm

    We were able to get fresh chestnuts at our farmer’s market this fall and I was determined that we would replicate the ones we had on the streets of Paris. I wrote a little post about our experience with first exploding them in the microwave, then ultimately finding chestnut nirvana.
    Here are the secret steps:
    – 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.
    – Use one of those handy grill baskets, with the holes in it like you can get at Target.
    – Put the chestnuts in basket in a gas grill heated to 375º-400º. – Stir every 2-3 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 while warm and enjoy!
    🙂 kim aka the farmer’s marketer

  • Serkz said:
    June 8th, 2008 at 11:38pm

    jus cook them on a hot plate, after about 15 minutes (depending on the heat of the plate) turn all of them over and leave for anotha 15 mintues or so. Then peel and eat them 😉

  • Natura said:
    November 8th, 2008 at 4:04pm

    It’s amazing how many answers you received. Unfortunatelly all of them are wrong. And I am not going to help you either. Why? Most of the answers you received is from people that don’t know what they are talking about or they are used to prepare European chestnuts like I am. They are much softer than Chinese and very easy to roast. Marroni type of European chestnut is the best and the easiest to prepare. It is difficult not to do them well. Chinese chestnut is quite a different fruit. I tried to prepare them the European way and failed. They need much longer time to roast and by the time they are done inside they are burnt and too dry on the outside. I’ve been trying to figure out how to prepare them the Chinese way with gravel(sand) oil and sugar syrup (malthose) for a long time. If I was on your place and I am not because I live in Europe, I would go to the China town of Bangkok again and study carefully what the Chinese guys do. Or simply ask them or pay them to reveal the secret.

  • Natura said:
    November 8th, 2008 at 4:30pm
  • daniel sim said:
    June 21st, 2010 at 4:28am

    i am wondering what kind of sand and to buy ?
    so that i can try to fry chestnut on my wok.
    can anyone tell me pls?

  • MIKE said:
    November 27th, 2010 at 6:30pm

    I ate them for the first time in France in the woods – fire roasted with bottles of Gamay for breakfast. It was great, unfortunately besides the pan I didn’t pay any attention to how they were roasting them and as I am writing there have been four explosions in my oven. !!! scared the S__* out of me! I turned the oven off 10 minutes ago but was afraid to open the oven – GOOD THING – another one just blew up, yikes. (I just learned about cutting a slit in them) My cousin was living in France at the time and I had gone to visit her. I’m going to call her now and I promise I’ll get back to you with whatever knowledge I can bleed out of her. BANG!

    • Linda said:
      December 21st, 2011 at 2:46pm

      I had them almost every day from vendors in Rome piazzas during Christmas/New Year’s last year. Italian chestnuts are wonderful, much larger than what you get in Central Park. Roasted over embers, and served in paper cone, yum. Gave them as present this year but will be trying to roast them myself Christmas eve. Hope this works!!! Good Housekeeping method says slit x on flat side and roast in 400 degreeoven 20 minutes or tender about . Martha Steart says slit nearly all the way around and roast in 350 degree 35 minutes or longer. Will see…

  • Carol AnCel said:
    December 22nd, 2011 at 1:13am

    I wonder if your problem isn’t the chestnuts themselves? Most  stores stock old dried out ones. The fresh ones are pretty fool proof! I just ate some delicious ones that I made in a cast iron pan that I simply put under the fireplace grate til the skins had peeled back. They were AWESOME. They were also very moist and when I sliced around the nut, it was very easy. I also just ate one raw.

    So don’t give up. Go look for really fresh nuts. They will be moist feeling, not hard and dry.

  • Jen Jen said:
    November 11th, 2013 at 9:14pm

    Wash them, make the X, like you did, boil them in water 5-10 min, drain, then roast them. Use a nut cracker to open them and I promise the skin will not stick to the meat. If you still have problems then maybe Carol is right, they are just old or something. Try this and let us know how it works.

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