My favorite thing to eat isn’t a meal in itself, it’s actually a single ingredient: chestnuts. Chestnuts are in season right now and it just kills me that I’m not in Portugal to enjoy them properly! Here’s all you need to know about delicious chestnuts and some little secrets to get your chestnut fix if you, like me, are abroad right now.
Chestnuts (castanhas, as we call them in Portugal) are actually the seed of the chestnut tree. But even though they’re nutty, they contain much less fat than “regular” nuts. Historically, they were eaten in Portugal and other countries in Europe as part of a meal, sometimes as a substitute for bread in the winter time. Before potatoes were introduced to Europe in the late 16th century, chestnuts were used as a side dish as in a meal.
Nowadays, they’re a delicious treat served roasted in special portable ovens in the streets of Portugal. They’re called castanhas assadas and I’m not exaggerating when I say this is my favorite thing in the whole world to eat (cheese is a close second). The portable ovens give the outside of the chestnuts a white, charred look and give off the most delectable smell! You eat them from a rolled up newspaper page (like English fish and chips) or a small paper bag. I love castanhas because of their simplicity and the tradition behind it. In Portugal, it’s customary to eat chestnuts during São Martinho (St. Martin of Tours day), as part of a magusto (more on this another time, but if you’re interested, check out my fellow blogger Gail’s post on magustos, with some wonderful photos).
If you’re abroad, like me, and can’t get authentic castanhas assadas, I’ve got you covered. Here’s a recipe for oven-roasted chestnuts. It’s not the same, but it does give you the fix you need. If you have a fireplace you can roast them right in the embers and that’s even better!
2 lbs chestnuts (NOT water chestnuts)
1 cup water
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt and extra sea salt to taste
1) Preheat the oven to 175 C (345 F).
2) Place the salt in the cup of water and wash the chestnuts in the saltwater. Rinse.
3) Cut a slit on the side of each chestnut and place on the baking tray.
4) Once all the chestnuts are on the baking tray, sprinkle with the salt to taste.
5) Roast the chestnuts for about 30-35 minutes in the oven until they’re browned, more open and soft inside.
6) Serve hot, but take care not to burn your fingers. (But if you do, don’t worry, it’s totally worth it!)
If it’s your first time eating chestnuts, you’re only supposed to eat the yellow part, but it’s ok if you eat some of the brown fuzzy skin directly next to it (it just doesn’t taste great).
If you don’t have a fireplace, oven or BBQ, you can also microwave them. Simply slice the chestnuts and put them in a microwavable bowl. Rinse with water and sprinkle coarse sea salt on them. Put them in the microwave for 6 minutes or so, stirring half way through. If they’re not ready when you take them out, put them in another 1.5-2 minutes.
Now go and enjoy these yummy treats from nature!
Cover photo c/o Easy Portuguese Recipes.