How a Roasted Chestnut Tried to Kill Me

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Roasting chestnuts was something I’d only heard about in that infamous Christmas song (and I just have to comment on how sexy that guy’s voice is… swoon). Despite the fact that, when I lived in Salt Lake City a few years ago, chestnuts littered the ground, I’d never thought to pick one up and eat it. I’d passed chestnut vendors around Union Square in San Francisco, and while the idea sounded interesting, for some reason I just never partook or thought about roasting chestnuts myself.

Flash forward to last week, when I noticed that a tiny vendor at the farmers market was selling organic chestnuts for $3 a pound. I’m not sure what made it click – maybe it was the smooth, shiny brown hulls, or how they just felt so uniquely wintery as I ran my fingers through the bin full of lacquered-looking nuts – but all of a sudden I felt the visceral urge to eat these things. And not being one to argue with my visceral urges (*ahem*), I bought a bag.

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Once I got them home, I had no idea how to go about roasting chestnuts. I had no open fire, as the song notes, and my oven has no broiler. Thankfully, the great deity that is Google provided me with all the answers I needed. I also learned that roasted chestnuts are low in fat, high in fiber, and have almost as much vitamin C as a comparable amount of orange. They contain manganese, potassium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and iron, among other nutrients, and 100 grams of chestnuts contain 213 calories. A few sources even noted that chestnuts can help enhance fertility in men and prevent the common cold (apparently a result of the high vitamin C content). Huh.

Turns out that roasting chestnuts is ridiculously easy. You just flip on the oven – or open fire, if you’re so inclined – cut an X into each nut to prevent then from exploding, and roast them for half an hour. And here is there I got myself into trouble.

Never one to miss an exciting explosion, I decided to leave one chestnut without the requisite X marks. More than anything else I wanted to see what would happen. Maybe I should have learned from my failed exploding potato experiment when I was a kid, which resulted in me spending two hours scrubbing burnt potato bits out of the nether regions of my mother’s oven. Please don’t call me obtuse. I prefer the term adventurous.

So I leave one nut un-Xed, a grand, glimmering beauty of a chestnut. Perhaps the most perfect of all the ones I’d bought. I figured, what better specimen to sacrifice? I slid the tray of chestnuts into the oven, excited to see what would happen next. After a few minutes I got bored and distracted, so I started doing something else.

As I was sliding a dish into the dishwasher about ten minutes later, a deep, booming shotgun went off in the room. I hit the floor, the dish fell and shattered, and I bumped my head on the edge of an open cupboard. Dazed and confused, I looked around the room to figure out what the hell had just happened. After a few minutes of disorientation, the unmistakable odor of burnt chestnut assaulted my senses and the room started to fill with smoke.

I opened the oven, and indeed there were bits of burnt chestnut EVERYWHERE. Not only that, but the force of the blast had blown five or six other chestnuts out of the pan, and they were now scattered all over the place, including stuck in the lower heating element of the oven. I cursed loudly, and then I had to laugh. This is exactly the explosion I’ve been hoping for – I just wish I’d been better prepared.

The mess:

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The non-exploded chestnuts were delicious. Like, insanely delicious. Sweet, nutty, and incredibly tender, they were one of the best winter snacks I’ve ever eaten. I had considered sprinkling them with powdered sugar, but there was no need. They were perfect au naturel.

And guess what? I spent about an hour cleaning out all the chestnut shrapnel, which got into every nook and cranny of my oven, and whenever I baked something for the rest of the week, the kitchen smelled like roasted chestnuts.

Roasting Chestnuts


  • Chestnuts

Method for roasting chestnuts:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. With a small, very sharp knife, cut a good-sized X across the curved side of the nut (not the end of the nut where it was attached to the tree). Make the X big enough that is spans the entire side of the nut so that it will be easier to peel away the skin after roasting.

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3. Place chestnuts X-side up in a baking dish large enough to leave a little space between them. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

4. Remove roasted chestnuts from oven and set aside to cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel back the skin of the nut and enjoy! They’re best hot and require no salt or sugar to taste wonderful.

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If you like chestnuts, here’s what else you can do with them:

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Comments from other ninjas:

  1. Alexandra says

    Yum! Just reading this post I could SMELL the chestnuts roasting. (We used to roast chestnuts when I lived in France where it is very easy to find them.)

  2. Vicki says

    What perfect timing – my partner brought home a bag of chestnuts yesterday, and I’ve never tried them. The oven will be on very soon. Thanks!

  3. Casey@Good. Food. Stories. says

    Wow. Way to put yourself in the line of fire, dude. At least you have a clean oven to show for it!

  4. Ellen @ I Am Gluten Free says

    You are a food science engineer disguised as a gluten free cook! What a great experiment! And to boot, you got a clean oven. Hope your head is feeling better:)!

  5. Fran says

    Please forgive me, but I had to laugh! This was so beautifully written. I could just see you hitting the deck and the thought of having to clean up that mess made me thankful that you ran the experiment so that I won’t have to suffer the pain of that kind of clean up when I try to roast chestnuts.

    I love that you get the aroma of freshly roasted chestnuts every time you turn on the oven. It almost seems worth the hassle and the pain.

  6. Christine says

    I love roasted chestnuts! They remind me of my childhood – only my mom had the patience and love for us to open up chestnut after chestnut for all of us. They are very popular here in Japan as well and are just such a fall food. I had a similar explosion a few weeks ago when an unopened chestnut must have gotten mixed in the batch.

  7. glutenfreeforgood says

    What a great post! My favorite kind. Beautiful photos, well written, humorous and entertaining. “Chestnut shrapnel” — I love that and laughed out loud (and it’s not even 6 AM here)!

    As with Kim’s gingerbread post, I’m not going to be roasting any chestnuts or making little houses, but it sure is fun to follow along with you girls. Pass me a handful of roasted chestnuts and some mulled wine and I’ll just enjoy the ride.

    Happy holidays and next time wear a helmet when you do stuff like this. Food can be dangerous.

    Peace, love and food bombs.

  8. Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi says

    I don’t have any experience with chestnut assassination attempts, but I did nearly have a macadamia shell put out my eye a couple of weeks ago.

  9. Sheryl says

    Funny…I guess you never do shake that childhood science experiment urge. Your post taught me a few things: One, that I need to try a roasted chestnut; two, that chestnuts are vitamin-packed wonders and three, the next time I need to clean my oven I’m going to roast some (uncut) chestnuts to force my hand a bit.

  10. NoPotCoooking says

    I’ve only had them once – and I have to admit I didn’t care for them! They were mealy. Yours sound really good though – those that survived!

  11. Alisa Bowman says

    You crazy kitchen cook. Very funny story! I read this after seeing a spoof on TV about some sort of chestnut cooker that people could buy for the holidays.

  12. Susan says

    Wow – that’s some story! (Would be great in an anthology.) Not only did you sacrifice a chestnut, but you also lost a dish in the line of fire. My boyfriend is similarly intrigued by explosions, so I couldn’t resist reading this post aloud to him.

    “These sound really tasty, maybe we should try this,” I told him after reading it aloud.

    “What? The recipe or the explosion?” he asked. “I’m up for either one.”

    I’m not really into cleaning my oven if I don’t have to, so maybe I’ll stick to the recipe.

  13. Jennifer Margulis says

    My husband and daughter spent more than one hour peeling chestnuts. His voice was like death when I called (or maybe that was because I was out drinking with the book club gals?). Your story is way more exciting!

    We had roasted chestnuts in our stuffing on T-giving. They were divine! I heart chestnuts.

  14. Tony P says

    You’re Italian American and this is your first brush with chestnuts? Are you kidding me?

    Been eating and roasting them for over 30 years now myself. Love the flavor of chestnuts , and they go great with Brussels sprouts too.

    BTW, those are some beauties you have there. Very nice indeed, hope you enjoyed them.

  15. Nancy @SensitivePantry says

    I know your bumped head and chestnut gray matter coated oven is nothing to laugh at…but I did let out a guffaw or two. Thanks for reminding me 1) to laugh and 2) to roast some chestnuts. Haven’t done it in quite awhile (the latter).

  16. Pam says

    This sounds like something I’d do! Actually, there were chestnut trees just outside my office when I worked at a university, and we’d go pick up pounds of them in the mornings before work and crack them open with staple removers to munch throughout the day. I actually prefer them raw, but I’ll definitely be giving roasted chestnuts a try again. :)

  17. ann says

    wow! Exploding chestnut – I don’t care much for chestnuts but I did buy them once & learned somehow to make the “x” marks. Glad I had no problems!

    • P j web says

      I used to live in east street market walworth London and in the winter months there was hot chestnut sellers. That is a round metal drum type coal burner with a grill on top to roast the chestnuts then bag them up in small paper bags and sell them. Great winter treat for the shoppers and costers.


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