Sweet, nutty, savoury – glazed chestnuts are a special side dish for a festive meal. Roasted chestnuts are caramelized with a touch of sugar and splash of cream, then tossed with the heady notes of black garlic and fresh sage. A winning combination. Join us as we cook up a whole dinner on the winter campfire. (Or skip to recipe.)
We’ve been suffering the wild and crazy vagaries of a northern winter here in Alberta. The old saying, ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes’ has never been more true than this year. The thermometer has been crazily zigzagging from -30°C to +10°C in a mere few days and back again – don’t know whether to grab our parkas or parasols!
On one of those balmy days in the weeks before Christmas last year, we had another fun day doing one of our campfire cookouts. I never got around to posting about it before, but as I look out the windows at our snowy white world, I figure it’s still the season for a dish of glazed chestnuts and a bit of a campfire story. Those winter winds can howl, but the memories of a cozy day bustling around a crackling campfire sure do keep me warm.
A Winter Campfire Cookout
We picked a warm winter day in the beginning of December. My campfire cooking partner, Sabina, and I had to dress in a few layers for this winter cookout – boots and parkas under our aprons, but it was a lot of fun.
Our theme for this delicious campfire meal was chestnuts. We roasted up a skilletful of them over the hot fire, then used them in every course.
Campfire Cooking: Roasted Chestnut Menu
Chestnut and Buckwheat Blinis with Roasted Chestnuts, Leek, and Bacon
Fire-roasted Duck Breasts with Tangerine Madeira Sauce and Grilled Tangerines
Glazed Chestnuts with Black Garlic and Sage
Grilled Kale with Lemon
Vermicelles (Swiss Chestnut Purée with Meringues and Chantilly Cream)
Coffee with Kirsch and Whipped Cream
First Course: Chestnut and Buckwheat Blinis . . . We stirred up the batter for these light and fluffy little blinis made with chestnut flour and buckwheat flour, then cooked them over the campfire griddle. To serve them we topped them with a dollop of sour cream, campfire-sautéed leeks and crispy bacon, and finally a handful of pan-fried crumbled chestnuts and a drizzle of balsamic glaze.
Entrée: Fire-roasted Duck Breasts with Tangerine Madeira Sauce and Grilled Tangerines, Glazed Chestnuts with Black Garlic and Sage, Grilled Lemon Kale . . . Succulent duck breasts imbued with the smoky flavour of the campfire were cooked till crispy on the outside and still pink and juicy in the center, then topped with a reduction of freshly squeezed tangerine juice, madeira wine, and a touch of mustard and seasonings. We grilled tangerine halves alongside. First we scored the skins of the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern, then simply salted and peppered them and cooked them skin-side down on a griddle over the fire until the fat was rendered and the skin beautiful and crispy. To serve, we sliced them and topped them with that flavourful sauce. After roasting the chestnuts over the fire (and quickly peeling them whilst trying not to burn our fingers), we glazed them in a skillet with a touch of caramelized sugar, cream, fresh sage leaves and a smattering of sweet and nutty chunks of black garlic (that stuff is like candy!). Bright green kale, quickly sauteed and dressed in fresh lemon juice and zest made a tasty counterpart.
As we were cooking our dinner, the evening sun was slowly setting (it’s early here in the north in winter time) and by the time we were eating dessert, it was dark and cozy sitting around the fire.
Dessert: Vermicelles . . . . This traditional Swiss dessert is made by slowly simmering chestnuts in milk, then sweetening them and adding a bit of kirsch. They’re made into a purée which is squeezed through a special press (we used a potato ricer) to look like spaghetti strands. It’s served over meringues or ice cream, and topped with whipped cream. What a luscious dessert, and the perfect finale to our chestnut extravaganza!
We ended this glorious eveningwith hot coffee fortified with more kirsch and generous mounds of whipped cream. There’s something magical about sitting around a crackling fire in the dark, cradling a mug of something warm and comforting, after having enjoyed a wonderful meal cooked outdoors. It’s that feeling of connection. Connection to our past, to generations past, to nature, and to each other.
It was hard to choose which part of this memorable meal was the best – each dish was perfection on its own, and when combined, they made a meal that was a delight to the palate from beginning to end. And the whole cooking experience was such fun, as always. Cooking outdoors over a crackling campfire is a culinary adventure. Dealing with the elements sharpens our senses and brings us closer to our food. The seasonings from smoke and fresh air are magical – every bite of food becomes a treasure to savour.
Winter settled in again a few days later, and our outdoor cooking experiences will have to wait for warmer days again. But I roasted some more chestnuts in the oven and it felt cozy and wonderful.
I couldn’t resist making those fantastic glazed chestnuts again for us to enjoy. Chestnuts are sweet and buttery-nutty-starchy. They are so delicious just roasted and eaten as a snack, but they also make a wonderful side dish for a special dinner. Their natural sweetness is accented with the caramel notes of the browned sugar which pairs so well with the savoury notes from the delicate black garlic and herbacious fresh sage. Try these glazed chestnuts as a rich and elegant side dish with any roasted or grilled meats.
How to Roast Chestnuts
If you’re roasting your own chestnuts, you can do them over the campfire or in the oven. It involves a few steps, but it’s not difficult. Get the freshest, plumpest, heaviest chestnuts you can find.
- First cut a slit into the shell of each chestnut. Cut across the center of the rounded side of each nut. A sharp serrated knife makes the task a bit easier. Try not too cut into the flesh, if possible (but no worries if you occasionally do). Then soak the scored chestnuts in cold water for 30 minutes to 2 hours. This step allows a bit of water to seep in under the shells, which will help steam the nuts and make them easier to shell.
- Lay the scored, soaked chestnuts in a single layer onto a cookie sheet.
- Roast them in a preheheated 425°F (220°C) oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the shells have split widely apart at the scored lines. Or roast them in a cast iron skillet set into the hot coals or on a grill over the campfire until they are opened, shaking the skillet or stirring the nuts often as they roast.
- Remove the baking sheet or pan from the heat, cover the chestnuts with a towel, tin foil, or a pot lid to keep them warm, and quickly peel them, a few at a time while they are still hot. Use a paring knife to assist you, if needed.
Check out some of our previous Campfire Cookouts:
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Kitchen Frau Notes: See the notes above for roasting your own chestnuts, or purchase packaged, pre-cooked ones. If you don’t have black garlic, you can substitute a few cloves of roasted garlic. To roast garlic, cut the top off a whole bulb of garlic, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil, and bake at 350°F/180°C for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender. Pop the roasted cloves out of their skins and dice or mash to add to this dish and other dishes. (Or spread the soft cloves onto baguette slices and top with melted brie and a dollop of jam for a delicious appetizer. )
Glazed Chestnuts with Sage and Black Garlic
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar (preferably natural evaporated cane sugar)
- 1 lb (454gms) cooked or roasted peeled chestnuts (can be pre-cooked, vacuum-packed ones)
- 1-2 cloves black garlic, chopped (*or subsitute roasted garlic)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves (or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage)
- ¼ cup (60ml) heavy cream (whipping cream)
- salt and pepper to taste
- sage leaves for garnish (optional)
Heat the butter and sugar in a skillet and cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and starts to turn a light brown colour. Add the chestnuts and cook them in the caramel for about 5 minutes, stirring them often, until they are well coated and starting to brown in spots.
Add the chopped black garlic, sage, and cream, and continue to cook and stir for a few more minutes until the cream thickens and makes a shiny sauce for the chestnuts.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with fresh sage leaves, if desired.
Serves 4 as a side dish.
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