Chestnut Fritters

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In colonial times, it was generally believed that American chestnuts were sweeter and of a higher quality than their European cousins. Yet another free food that literally grew on trees and seemingly fell from the sky in abundance, chestnuts were used equally abundantly by colonial cooks who prized them for their ability to last through the winter. While they were chiefly featured in sweet dishes and desserts, they were also commonly used in savory preparations, like soups, stews and stuffings.

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Ingredients

  • 1.5 pounds chestnuts (about 27)
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 shallots, chopped
  • 2 pounds lean raw bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped (about 6 tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • Pinch of ground coriander
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 slices lean raw bacon
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch fresh chives, finely chopped (about 6 tablespoons), for garnish
  • 4 sprigs fresh watercress, for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. With the point of a small paring knife, make a crisscross cut through the flat side of each chestnut and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for 35 minutes.
  3. Let the chestnuts cool, then peel and chop them finely. Set aside.
  4. Heat 11/2 tablespoons of the butter in a small skillet over medium heat, add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes, until golden brown.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked shallots, the chopped bacon, parsley, five-spice powder, coriander, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chopped chestnuts. Process until fine in a food processor. Divide the mixture into 16 equal portions.
  6. Place the bacon slices on a work surface. Place one portion of the shallot mixture in the center of each bacon slice and fold each end over the middle. Flatten each fritter with the palm of your hand, then place them on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 to 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  8. Heat the remaining 61/2 tablespoons of butter and the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Place the fritters 1/4 inch apart in the skillet and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until golden and crisp.
  9. Transfer the oysters to a baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes.
  10. To serve, sprinkle the fritters with the chives and a generous amount of black pepper. Garnish with the watercress.

Tips/Techniques

Notes from Chef Staib: Giant chestnut trees once filled East Coast forests and provided builders with exquisite hardwood and everyone with delicious nuts.