Chestnut soup

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The details:

  • Serves about 4 people

  • Time: 30 minutes prep, 45 minutes cooking

  • Shopping list:

    • One half yellow onion​

    • One celery stalk

    • One medium Yukon gold potato

    • About thirty or so chestnuts, uncooked

    • About a cup of fuller bodied white wine (like a cheap, oaky Chardonnay)

    • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter

    • One can of chicken broth (about 14 oz.)

    • 2 tablespoons of sugar

    • Salt and pepper, to taste

    • Heavy cream (half and half or whole milk will also work) (about 1 cup or so)

  • Garnish:​

    • Chives​

    • Sliced and baked sunchoke chips

    • Ground pepitas

Years ago, I ran into a recipe by the famous Thomas Keller (of the French Laundry in California and Per Se in New York City) for a "silky" chestnut soup, which I presumed would be an excellent item for a winter meal, either to begin or end a dinner. When the time came to deploy this dish on a recent tasting dinner I was planning for family, I found myself confounded by the chestnuts. What the hell is wrong with these little things?? Everywhere I'd looked told me to cut an "X" into the side of the shell and roast before peeling. Well, everywhere else is full of it, because that didn't work for me at all (although I probably just messed up...) and I abandoned the soup and went with some sort of easy curried bisque.

This winter, I found myself seeking, yet again, a chestnut to shave over a squash terrine I was making as part of a Christmas Eve meal. My mother returned home with more than one chestnuts. She had a veritable cornucopia of chestnuts, and asked me if I could use all of them. My mind (forgetting my past wounds) turned back to the chestnut soup, and I managed to find a method of chestnut peeling that was much simpler, but still a pain in the ass. But sweeeeeeet lawd, it was next-level worth the toil, and my variation of the recipe will now have a permanent spot on my go-to list when I have the time to slave over chestnut peeling.

PREPARING THE CHESTNUTS:

First, the chestnuts. Preheat the oven to 350 F. I had success just soaking the raw, shelled nuts in warm water for about 15 or 20 minutes, draining them, slicing a line in the side with a sharp knife, and pulling the shell and skin underneath off the nut. Some were more cooperative than others, but it ended up being much easier than the infernal little "X" I cut in them last winter. Once the chestnuts are all shelled, place them on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven. After ten or fifteen minutes, the nuts should have a nice golden yellow color, which means they are good to go. Let them cool while you begin the soup, and slice each of them in half.

 

THE SOUP:

 

Make sure the wine and chicken stock are room temp. Melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Slice up the onion, potato, and celery, and add to the butter once melted. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are a bit translucent and fragrant, about 5 minutes, and add the halved chestnuts. Stir so the fat coats all the ingredients. Throw a dash of salt and pepper in for good measure.

Once the veggies and nuts are coated, pour in about half of the white wine. Allow it to heat and simmer and reduce by about half, and then stir in the sugar. Stir well for a few minutes, and then add in about half the chicken broth. Simmer, stir, and reduce.

As the ingredients continue to cook in the broth and wine, and the liquid gets more reduced, add more chicken stock and wine as necessary, replenishing the liquid until you can break apart the chestnuts with a utensil with little resistance.

 

Making sure there is still a good amount of reduced liquid in the pan, transfer the ingredients in the pan to a blender or food processor, add a half cup of cream, and process very thoroughly. Add a bit more salt and pepper to taste as the soup processes, and continue to add cream until the soup reaches a desirable consistency. I cannot stress how long you'll need to purée this stuff - you want the soup to be as silky and smooth as possible.

The soup can be transferred to a Tupperware and cooled for reheating later, or served right away. I garnished with some thinly sliced sunchokes that I baked in the oven until crisp, sliced chives, and pumpkin seeds, but you can add whatever you like!

Enjoy this delicious wintry soup! It's an impressive, but easy, showpiece for a party or dinner, but also works well as a warm comfort by the fire on a cold January night.