Chestnut Pieces in Syrup

posted by Southern 09-20-98 11:01 PM

Here's a fast and easy way to shell and skin fresh chestnuts when you don't need whole nuts, just pieces:

Rinse the nuts. Lay each one flat side down on a cutting board and whack it in two with a cleaver. Drop split chestnuts into a pot of boiling water. Boil for 3 minutes, then test. They're done if the meat can be pried out easily, and the skin usually stays in the shell. Remove pot from heat. Drain off some water, but leave enough in the pot to keep the nuts hot while you shell them. (This method won't work if the nuts are cold!) Hold the nuts with a cloth to protect your hands, then pry out the meat with a small fork or nutpick. So now you've got a mess of chestnut pieces.

Chestnut Pieces in Syrup

2 cups fresh chestnuts, shelled and skinned or 1 cup dried chestnuts
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 tablespoons cognac, brandy, or dark rum

Put chestnuts in a saucepan with enough water to cover them by 2 or 3 inches. Bring to a boil over medium heat. If using fresh chestnuts, cook just until tender.

If using dried chestnuts, boil for 1 or 2 minutes, turn off heat, cover pot, and let nuts soak for 1 or 2 hours. (You can also soak them overnight in the refrigerator, in enough water to cover.) With pan partly covered, simmer over medium-low heat until chestnuts are tender (1 to 3 hours, depending upon the original dryness of the nut). Add more boiling water as needed to keep the nuts covered as they cook. Then let chestnuts cool in the liquid.

In either case, drain the nuts. Use a small sharp knife to cut away any blemishes or clinging bits of skin. Break each nut into 3 or 4 pieces. You should have about 2 cups of nuts.

In another saucepan, combine water, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla bean to make the syrup. Boil for 3 minutes. Add nuts. Simmer, with pot partly covered, until the syrup is reduced by about half and permeates the nuts, which should be very tender, even crumbly. If needed, this cooking can be done in several stretches -- just let the nuts sit in the syrup between periods over the heat.

Remove the vanilla bean. (Be sure to rinse, dry, and save it for another use!) Pour chestnuts and syrup into a clean dry jar. Cool, then add cognac, brandy, or rum. Cap tightly and store in the refrigerator, where this topping will keep for many months. Spooned over ice cream, it makes the classic "coupe aux marrons," a dessert sauce full of character.

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