KitchenTigress: Braised Chicken with Chestnuts

Braised Chicken with Chestnuts

My mother always used dried chestnuts, so I'm clueless about prepping fresh ones. Using my common sense, I figure boiling should be the right method for tackling fresh chestnuts' shell and peel. It seems like the obvious thing to do, right?

Boiling 5 minutes or so works for the outer shell, which softens and becomes easy to cut through and tear off.

The fuzzy membrane underneath, however, is a different story. It's stubborn as hell! It sticks resolutely to the nutmeat, so I continue boiling . . . and then boil some more . . .

I try peeling off the reddish skin whilst the nuts are hot. I try again when they're cold. Nothing works.

As I fiddle in vain, the pot of chestnuts is bubbling away merrily on the stove. Eventually, after 30 minutes, I have to turn off the heat. Why? Because the chestnuts are cooked!

If boiling doesn't work, what about roasting? Roasted chestnuts are quite easy to peel, right?

I buy more chestnuts, cut a slit in each one, and chuck the lot in a hot oven. I then wait for the outer shell and inner pellicle to curl and pull back, revealing delicious naked meat underneath. Or rather, that's how it is with chestnuts that are sold roasted. The ones I roast in the oven are hellbent on defying my efforts. The fuzzy skin sticks to the nutmeat as steadfastly as ever.

*google . . . google . . . .*

How do other people peel chestnuts? By boiling or roasting, they say. Some websites leave it at that; the more honest ones add that the peeling is a pain in the butt.

A professional chef, in a video called How to Cook The Perfect Chestnuts, takes five minutes to peel ONE chestnut. If his livelihood depends on how many chestnuts he peels in a day, he'll surely starve to death!

People who cook are clueless but surely chestnut FARMERS should be more helpful?

Steve and Patty over at Chestnuts USA, a chestnut farm in Washington, say I should make a cross in the nuts, and then roast or boil them.

Well, I've already tried cutting a slit in the shell. Can chestnuts tell the difference between '—' and 'X'? Probably not, but I've tried only the roasting method with the shell cut. Oh well, might as well try the boiling method also, just to be sure. I cut an 'X' in some chestnuts, then pop them in a pot of boiling water. After 30 minutes, I realize farmers are just as bad as cooks.

How about shocking boiled chestnuts in ice water? That works for tomatoes, so it may work for chestnuts too? Nope, it doesn't.

Ok, how about leaving the chestnuts in the fridge for a few days, before boiling them, so that the fuzzy skin dries out? Makes no difference. Boiling doesn't work, period.

How many packs of chestnuts have I thrown away? Grrrrr . . . . Maybe the chestnuts other people have are American or Italian but the ones I have are, I presume, from China? Maybe Chinese chestnuts, for whatever reason, just can't be peeled?

😢 *wave white flag*

One day, one of the blogs I follow has a new post. 輕鬆的幫栗子脫衣服, the title says. Hmm, "undressing" chestnuts easily, eh? I'm skeptical because that's what the others say too (minus the erotic connotation), but I take a look anyway.

小米桶 uses a very quick method: just soak shelled chestnuts in boiling water for 60 seconds. Yup, not 10, 15 or 20 minutes but just 1 minute. And it's soaking, not boiling. After the brief soak, remove 3-4 nuts at a time from the hot water, and rub off the peel with a piece of cloth. That is ALL there is to it?!

Is it really as easy and as quick as 小米桶 says it is? I've tried her method and, yes, it is. The technique works like a charm because the peel expands after it's soaked in boiling water but the nutmeat underneath doesn't. This allows the peel to be rubbed off easily. It's so obvious once she explains it!

Why doesn't boiling work? Because the strong heat causes both the peel and meat to expand at the same time. When that happens, the only way to separate the two parts is by surgery with a kitchen knife.

Living where I live – which is south of West Malaysia, west of East Malaysia and east of West Sumatra – I can buy fresh chestnuts already shelled. And now, with just a towel and some boiling water, I can remove the pesky pellicle in a couple of minutes. With the right technique, it's drop-dead easy. Never stop learning, my mother always said.

As a reward for my Herculean research efforts, I'm giving myself an extra helping of full monty nuts (!) braised with chicken, mushrooms and oyster sauce.

Use chicken that's good for braising for this recipe. When the dish is done, it should be fairly dry. The sugary liquid released by chestnuts should be thick enough to stick to the chicken.

Braised Chicken with Chestnuts
  • 4 medium size Chinese dried mushrooms
  • 300 g chicken
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 25 g good quality oyster sauce, 2 tbsp rounded
  • 1 tsp fermented soya beans, mashed
  • 1 tsp sugar

  • 16 chestnuts, shelled
  • 2 tsp white sesame oil, or vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 10 g ginger (half thumb size), sliced thinly
  • 40 g mild leek (from Malaysia), or 20 g if very garlicky (from China) – halved lengthwise and cut crosswise 7-8 cm (3 inches) long
  • 10 g spring onions, cut 7-8 cm (3 inches) long
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 10 g coriander, cut 7-8 cm (3 inches) long
  • 1 bird's eye chilli, halved lengthwise

  1. Rinse mushrooms and snip off stems with scissors. Soak, including stems, in 1¼ cup warm water. Cook stems with chestnuts as detailed below. When ready to stir-fry, squeeze dry mushroom caps, reserving liquid. Cut each piece into 2.

  2. Rinse chicken and chop bite size. Mix with marinade and set aside.

  3. Add boiling water to chestnuts, enough to cover by 2-3 cm. Steep 1 minute.

  4. Remove 3-4 chestnuts from hot water. Place between 2 paper towels. Rub to remove peel. Soak in water to prevent discolouring. Peel rest of chestnuts in the same way.

  5. Cut each chestnut into 2 pieces, trimming parts that are bad. Rinse thoroughly. Place in a small pot. Add mushroom stems, and enough water to cover by 2-3 cm. Bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Chestnuts should now be cooked but not yet soft.

  6. In a very hot wok, heat oil till just smoking. Add sliced ginger and stir-fry over high heat till lightly golden. Add garlic, mushrooms, leek and white part of spring onions. Stir-fry till garlic and mushrooms are lightly golden. Add chicken, minus marinade. Stir-fry till heated through and wok is screaming hot. Drizzle with 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine. Continue stirring.

  7. When wok is very hot again, drizzle with marinade. Stir-fry till absorbed. Add mushroom water. Stir to deglaze wok. Add chestnuts plus liquid. Top up with water to almost cover everything in the wok. Tuck green part of green onions, coriander and chilli around wok. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer gently till chicken and chestnuts are tender. This should take about 30 minutes, stirring once midway.

  8. Sauce should now be just thick enough to stick to chicken. If too watery, increase heat to high and reduce sauce. If too thick, drizzle with 1-2 tbsp water, then stir and heat through. Discard mushroom stems if you can find them! Taste and adjust seasoning. Chestnuts should be slightly sweet. Add a bit more sugar if necessary. Turn off heat.

  9. Cover and wait 5-10 minutes. This allows flavours to develop and the meat to absorb some liquid. Plate and serve with steamed rice.