糖炒栗子 Roasted Chestnuts
Roasted chestnuts seem to be an universal snacks seen in different cultures. It is also an autumn favorite among many Beijingers. I didn’t really like chestnuts before when I was little. The freezing Beijing winter however changed that. One day I was walking on street when it was -16° outside, so to warm up I bought a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts as hand warmers from a street vendor. When I reluctantly tried one finally… OH MY GOD! it’s so good!!! It was absolutely love at first sight and my love for chestnuts remain ever since. Unfortunately I don’t like the artificial stuff street vendors add when roasting chestnuts, and the smoky, sticky stain fingers afterwards. So my solution is homemade roasted chestnuts, happy fingers and happy belly! (Read on to see what happens to your body when eating chestnuts.)
- 500g fresh chestnuts
- 500g gross sea salt
- 2-3 tsp sugar
A few things about how to pick, store and prepare chestnuts:
Considering the process to prepare chestnuts, you will want to pick big, firm ones that are plump with their size so it’s worth the effort then all the work for small ones. Also choose chestnuts with shiny dark brown shell that looks fresh without getting moldy at the bottom. A chestnut contains about 40-50% of water, so it gets moldy easily if not stored properly. I’ve spotted mesh bags of moldy chestnuts in supermarket before, so look carefully!
Now, preparing chestnuts can be a real pain and a test of how determined you are to eat them. So best way to start is to rinse and soak these stubborn little buddies in water overnight before doing anything. The hard brown shell softens after fully hydrated, so it will be much easier for cutting. Many people usually cut the traditional X shape with a sharp knife on either curved side or flat side of chestnuts. But unless you have a chestnut knife which makes it safer to cut, I believe it can still be risky to your fingers scoring on the hard, slippery rounded shell with a sharp knife, or just ended up cutting too deep to damage the nut for later roasting. So my solution is using a pair of clean, sharp manicure/cuticle scissors with curved blade. Pinch chestnut firmly with your thumb and index finger, then snip at the pointy tip then cut all the way to the bottom of chestnut on the curved side. You will find it much easier to maneuver since shell is softer and you have better control cutting with scissors. Make sure you don’t cut too deep into the nut but through the husk, or inner skin, so when being roasted the steam can escape to avoid explosion.
When peeling chestnuts, also keep an eye on the nut you are about to eat. Because sometimes you can’t spot a moldy chestnut from the outer shell until you open it. When the husk or flesh looks like it’s covered with some black, dark green, or gray powder, throw it away and wash your hands before moving on to the next one. Spit out when you taste something moldy or strange in your mouth. Cook the chestnuts bought from grocery as soon as possible. If you need to store them, put in a container with cover and leave in the coldest area in refrigerator up to 3 weeks, no more. You will also need to store cooked chestnuts in refrigerator if not consumed right away.
- Drain chestnuts then pat dry for better gripping. Slit chestnuts with scissors as described above until all done.
- Bring a deep pan or pot to medium heat, ideally using a cast iron pan/pot if you have one for its ability to maintain temperature. Add in gross salt and chestnuts, stir constantly to make sure everything is heated evenly. After several minutes, you will see gross salt attaching to the slit of chestnuts.
- Continue stirring, you will hear cracking sounds of gross salt when heated, slit on chestnuts opens wider, and salt fall off from chestnuts.
- Add in sugar and stir more frequently to avoid sugar burned at the bottom of your pot. The salt starts to get sticky with darker color because sugar melts and caramelized. You will need to shovel from the bottom of pot to avoid sugar get burned and stuck.
- Continue shoveling until salt becomes dark brown and less sticky. You will also see slit on chestnuts open wider, and smell the aroma mixed with roasted chestnuts and caramelized sugar. Turn off heat, keep lid on and rest for 5 minutes to steam with the residual heat.
- Remove chestnuts with a sieve then serve. It will be fairly easy to remove the husk if you peel chestnuts when still warm.
Good to Know
With pleasing flavor, chestnuts contain the highest dietary fiber among all the nuts, meaning they are considered a low glycemic index food that prevents blood sugar to spike and drop fast. This helps to prevent diabetes. Chestnuts also have high nutrition density; they are rich in essential fatty acids and antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin B family, minerals including potassium, copper and magnesium; meaning the starchy, crumbly nuts are not just tasty but good at boosting brain functions, increasing bone mineral density, helping digestive problems, and are beneficial to cardiovascular health as well. Surprised? No wander it is said chestnuts are “king of thousands of fruits” (if translated literally) from traditional Chinese medicine’s perspective.