Chestnuts are everywhere in Portland right now. They fall from trees, hitting the parked cars with a decisive, metallic thunk. They’re so pretty, so fat. I wonder how they taste?
Truth be told, I have tried chestnuts. The chef at the first restaurant I worked had a chestnut confection on the dessert menu. He used the French variety that look like acorn-sized brains the color of macadamia nuts. They tasted like starchy dirt.
But, I’m older now and more willing to experiment. So, I set out with a bucket and gathered chestnuts.
I have two batches working. Half the nuts are in the oven, roasting at 400 degrees. The other half simmer in lightly salted water.
Simmered chestnuts are much easier to shell. I cut the hot nut in half and scraped out the meat with a spoon. I did the same with the baked batch but they cooled quickly and the meat turned to wood -- hard and unyielding.
But this is an experiment so it's normal to hit-and-miss. I'm going to make a pureed soup and a creamy dessert with the nuts.
One batch (the boiled nut) will be combined with cream to make a pudding. 1-1/2 cups chestnuts, 1 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup sugar (to start) and 5 cloves
The baked chestnuts (2 cups) will be soup. They will be combined with 3 cups chicken stock, bay leaves, a little salt and one large garlic clove.
They still taste a little like dirt but with a nutty, slightly bitter flavor. Hopefully the bitterness will cook off in the stock and cream. I expect the soup to be a little bitter but I think the cream will curb the bite in the dessert version.
Both simmered for 20 minutes
Later..... the same day
The soup is beyond saving. It’s bitter and without merit. The pudding has potential. I added a little more cream, milk and 3 Tbsps of maple syrup. Oh, and a handful of dried cherries.
Success! The pudding has a sweet, rich start. Hooray for me. I've found a simple application for the abundant chestnuts in the ‘hood.
Wait a darned minute. Here it comes, the throat-seizing, acrid burn of bitterness. The pudding tastes terrible too. As Charlie Brown would say, "Arrrrrgh!"
Damn. Neither version is worth saving. I guess street-foraged, North American chestnuts are nasty and bitter, bitter, bitter. It’s a taste that stays on the back (and sides) of the tongue like burned soup. You can’t taste anything else until the flavor stench of bitterness is washed away.
Later still.... the same day.
I've been working on this post for half an hour and I still can't get the bitter taste out of my mouth. Maybe a little whiskey will do it. I must sign off and gargle, anything to purge myself of bitterness.
Best wishes and may your chestnuts be sweet (and if they are, please tell me how),