The Advocates: Treasure Chestnuts
These nuts aren’t just a storied holiday tradition. They can also be a delicious addition to everyday meals
Chestnuts are a holiday treat across the globe. We sing carols about roasting them at Christmastime, the French spend days candying and drying their marrons glacés for the holiday season, and no Japanese New Year is complete without these symbols of wealth. But chestnuts weren’t always relegated to special celebrations. In Europe for thousands of years they were thought of as food for the poor -- a sweet, starchy, and abundant substitute for wheat. Perhaps the difficulty of preparation in these fast-paced times has made them more of a rarity on the American table. But there are some good-quality preroasted and peeled products from France and Italy. Peeling them with the right technique, however, can be easy and satisfying: Make a deep x in the curved part of each shell, drop into boiling salted water, and cook for three to five minutes. Turn off the heat and remove one by one so they stay hot and hydrated. Peel using latex gloves and a paring knife. The inner skins should rub right off.
Recipe: Pan-Roasted Breast of Duck With Chestnuts and Honey
2 duck breasts, skin scored
1 cup roasted and peeled chestnuts
Heavy cream to cover
3 tablespoons chestnut honey (or substitute regular honey)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Method: Heat a sauté pan on high. Season the duck breasts on both sides with salt and pepper, then add them to the dry pan, skin side down. Turn heat to its lowest setting and cook, occasionally discarding accumulated rendered fat. When the skin has shrunk considerably and is lightly browned, turn heat to medium high and crisp the skin, then turn and cook to desired temperature. Allow to rest in a warm spot for five minutes before slicing. Wipe the sauté pan out with a paper towel and add the vinegar and chestnut honey. Reduce until syrupy. In the meantime, make the puree. Place the chestnuts and the cream in a small pot and bring to a boil. Transfer to a food processor and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and more cream to thin if necessary.
To serve: Place a smear of the puree on a plate, decorate with a few drizzles of the honey mixture, and top with the sliced duck breasts. Serve with roasted brussels sprouts.
Pairings:Wines to complement your roasted feast
Castelfeder Pinot Nero, 2006, Alto Adige, Italy
Elegance cannot be had for much less than with this Pinot Noir from Günther and Alessandra Giovanett. At around $20 per bottle, you’ll find a beautiful balance of fruit, spice, smoke, and earth—a holiday for the palate.
Brick House Cuvée du Tonnelier Pinot Noir, 2006, Willamette Valley, Ore.
The tannins in this gorgeous red are so refined, they don’t compete with the floral notes in the honey or the sweet nuttiness of the puree, but the wine has enough structure to stand up to richness of the duck and cream. About $57