A glossy brown nut from the tree of the same name, chestnuts are a traditional winter delicacy often sold by street vendors in cities around the world. Yes, the song suggests that chestnuts are best when roasted on an open fire, but the oven is a far more practical tool for most cooks. Chestnut trees were all but wiped out due to a fungal blight that took hold in the early 1900s, but hybridization efforts have resulted in a blight-resistant American Chestnut tree that may help to restore its numbers in the US.
Store your chestnuts correctly prior to roasting. These are high moisture nuts and can develop mold if they are kept in an airtight container. Put the nuts in a brown paper bag, roll the top closed and store them in the refrigerator for 2 days. Use a medium-sized nail to punch several holes in a plastic zipper bag. Transfer the nuts to the plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the nuts from storage and inspect them for mold or other signs of spoilage. Discard any imperfect nuts.
Lay a thick towel out on your countertop. Place a nut on the towel, flat side facing up. Using a sharp, strong paring knife, cut an X in the flat side of each nut. This will prevent bursting.
Arrange the nuts in a single layer, cut side up, on a shallow baking pan. Bake the nuts for 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan gently after 10 minutes. The shells will peel back and reveal the nutmeats.
Remove the pan from the oven and put the hot nuts in a towel-lined bowl. Cover the nuts with the towel and let them sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
Peel the nuts quickly, while they are still warm. The inside skin will come off with the outer shell.