The chestnut is the fruit of the majestic chestnut tree, which is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean basin and Asia Minor. This very nourishing fruit has been eaten since prehistoric times in both of these regions, as well as in China. A very nourishing nut, it has long been a staple food in several parts of the world, including the South of France, Italy, Corsica and North Africa. Chestnuts were usually roasted, boiled or ground into flour. Nowadays, we also steam and braise them.
The French refer to the large chestnuts, which are better for cooking, as marrons and to ordinary chestnuts as châtaignes.
In Europe, chestnuts are traditionally served with game and poultry, especially during the Christmas and New Year season. They are also often used as stuffing for a roast turkey.
Cooked chestnuts are an excellent source of potassium, are reputed to have antiseptic properties and are said to prevent anemia and alleviate stomach problems.
Choose chestnuts that are heavy and firm, with shiny, taut shells. When they are soft and light, and have dull and wrinkled shells, they are no longer fresh and should be discarded. Peeling chestnuts requires patience: it involves removing both the shell and the bitter-tasting layer of thin brown skin.
Chestnuts can be peeled in one of three ways: removing the shell and the skin of raw chestnuts with a small, very sharp knife, piercing a hole in each of the chestnuts, then roasting them until they burst open, or boiling the chestnuts after making an incision in the shell.