Back in the old days in Malaysia, the closest thing to “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” were street vendors frying chestnuts with coffee beans in huge woks. The aroma of coffee and sweet chestnuts permeated the cooler evening air drew in the crowd. These warm fragrant Coffee Roasted Chestnuts were such a treat and continues to be so till this day.
While they may still be roasted the same way, the sight of those huge woks of Coffee Roasted Chestnuts are less common these days. Instead you will more than likely find vendors coming round to your table at the casual restaurants selling bags of warm chestnuts. At least this was my experience during my recent trip back to Kuala Lumpur just two weeks ago.
While they still tasted great, the atmosphere and nostalgia were missing. Upon my return home, I immediately rush to the Asian market to buy some fresh chestnuts as they are currently in season.
Fresh chestnuts are a hit or miss thing. For the past several years I have tried my best to get the plumpest and most solid chestnuts in my neighborhood. These looked fresh and shiny. They felt heavy and did not rattle.
I roasted them with much anticipation. Sadly, the majority of the nuts had centers that were a little hollow and the inner skin stuck to the flesh. I had to use a spoon to scoop out the flesh while they were still warm. The ones that I ate in Malaysia were smaller but they came out easily even though they were not slit at all.
This was the end of the season’s (middle of January, 2014) attempt. The quality of the chestnuts were even sadder back then.
I was thankful that I had a few plump ones to munch on. They were fragrant, nutty, and sweet. Peeling the inner skin with a paring knife did require some patience.
After two attempts, I may just have to rely on roasted, peeled, and ready to eat chestnuts from the Asian market. These are moist but not fragrant. If only I can get some plump juicy chestnuts…..
You may have heard stories of chestnuts exploding in the oven or on the stove. To prevent that from happening, most people would slit or pierce the shell with an X. I omitted this step because I did not want to lose any fingers slitting those hard shells. As far as I can remember, I had never seen them exploding when the street vendors were roasting them in their huge woks. I took a chance and I am happy to say that none exploded in both my attempts. Please slit or pierce with an X if you feel safer doing so. It probably helps in peeling the chestnuts when they are cooked and ready to be eaten.
Update: November 26th, 2014
Since chestnuts are still in season and available at the grocery stores, I decided to give it another try. The previous bag (seen above) were Korean chestnuts purchased from the Asian market. They were huge and cost $3.49 a pound. This one pound bag of smaller Italian chestnuts from my local grocer cost $7.99. That’s twice the price of the previous bag. However, my one pound bag did weigh about 1.25 pounds. They looked promising.
I roasted about two thirds of the chestnuts as soon as I got home to take advantage of their freshness. I washed, dried, and cooked them as before. No slitting. I used my remaining coffee beans which were not quite sufficient but it will have to do. There was a lot of smoke and sizzling, probably because there was much more moisture in the nuts. Their shells appeared to be thinner and burnt easily. One of the chestnuts exploded! Good thing I had the lid on the dutch oven at that time. I only roasted these chestnuts for about 15 to 20 minutes as they were smaller and I did not want to set off the smoke alarm. Thankfully, that did not happen.
Finally, I found a batch of meaty chestnuts with no hollow centers! Some of them came out of their shells and inner skin easily while others had to be peeled with a paring knife. The texture was a little more crumbly as compared to the Korean chestnuts. The ones that I ate in Malaysia were smaller (like these Italian ones) but the texture was more like the Korean chestnuts.
For comparison purposes, I boiled the remaining third for about 15 minutes. These were moist and crumbly. I think Italian chestnuts are better roasted than boiled.
Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 😎