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Thursday, November 01, 2007

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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