I thought I would do something with something that's a little more Christmassy. So I got a bag of chestnuts, because that seems to be the nut of choice around this period.
Chestnuts don't taste like normal nuts at all. They're actually quite sweet and not really crunchy. Apparently in some places in Europe, chestnuts form the staple of their diet, so they're more like carby nuts. Some of you may be surprised to know that chestnuts aren't a European thing, the way I was surprised to know that they aren't an Asian thing when I first saw vendors roasting chestnuts on the streets of London.
This is adapted from my mum's "dao you ji", chicken braised with chestnuts and shiitake mushrooms in soy+oyster sauce. I used chestnut mushrooms instead that I got for free from the farmers' market that day, also because I like the idea of putting the two "chestnuts" together. And I used no chicken, which makes this a really easy and simple side that you can serve up (maybe for Christmas if you've got some leftover from preparing stuffing?)
Braised Chestnuts and Chestnut Mushrooms
400g of chestnuts in shell (or you can use ready prepared ones which will make this even simpler)
2 large handfuls of baby chestnut mushrooms
1 tbsp traditionally fermented/brewed soy sauce
1 tbsp traditionally fermented oyster sauce
1 tsp ground white pepper
few slices of ginger
few cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
To prepare the chestnuts
1. My mum always used dried chestnuts so fresh chestnuts was totally new to me. I found this really useful website teaching you how to.
Cut an 'X' on the flat side of the chestnut (important, or they will explode!!). If you can, soak overnight in water, which will help it cook and peel easier, plus it will help with the issue of anti-nutrients and digestion.
You can boil or roast, I decided to roast for ~25 min in a 200 degrees celsius oven, to bring out its sweet flavour more. Once the shells split, peel them from their shells. If you leave them to cool too long, the shells stick so it becomes harder to peel.
You'll end up with a lot less chestnuts than 400g, because of course, it's de-shelled, plus you'll have to discard the bad ones, and you'll probably munch on a couple as you go ;)
2. Add the chestnuts, together with all the rest of the ingredients, and enough water to cover in a pot. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 30 min.
Easy, no frying first, no fuss.
3. Add the chestnut mushrooms, and continue to simmer for about 15 min till cooked.
Notice sauce has already reduced by quite a bit from earlier.
4. Increase the heat so the sauce reduces, until you get a yummy sticky sauce to coat everything. Yup, no need for cornstarch or anything to thicken.
The chestnuts add a mellow nutty sweetness to the braising sauce so you've got sweet and savoury altogether. The best part is, the chestnuts and mushrooms and the garlic cloves soak up that sauce, and biting into each of them is a delicious burst of flavour. You can skip the reducing step if you want, so it's more like chestnuts and mushrooms in a light braising liquor, the way my mum does her dao you ji, also yum. I know because I taste-tested about 10 times while reducing..It was addictive ):
Anyway I know there's still nothing Christmassy about this at all except for that one ingredient. Hmm.