Recipe: French Chestnut Dressing for Turkey

By Jacqui Guglielmino

Hot chestnuts on a Paris street. Photo by Jacqui Guglielmino

Vendors sell hot chestnuts on Paris streets, an autumn tradition. Photo by Jacqui Guglielmino

On every street corner in the busy areas of Paris vendors sell marron chaude (roasted chestnuts). The smell wafts through the air as you emerge from the Métro station and you know Christmas will be here soon. When you purchase some from a sidewalk vendor he constructs a cone of newspaper and fills it with hot chestnuts for you to enjoy. Their warmth stays with you as you walk along enjoying the delights of Paris.

These humble little morsels have been part of French culture and history for a long time. King Louis XIV’s chef wrote about “Le parfait confiturier,” (The Perfect Jam) which is believed to be the first marron glace (candied chestnut). Chestnuts are a great source of protein and they saw the French through times of famine at the end of World War II.

Chestnuts can be bought in several forms: fresh from the green grocer in the shells that should roasted before eating. I have made the mistake of not piercing them before putting them in the oven. What a disaster! The hot chestnuts exploded in the oven spewing shells all over the place, so remember to pierce them before roasting. Some people do this with a fork, others makes a slit or a cross with a knife.

You can also buy chestnuts in a jar preserved in brine, known as marrons entiers, which saves you the trouble of roasting and peeling.

If your tastes run more royal, buy the marron glacé for a dessert in which the chestnut meat is coated in candied sugar.

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