The deep seated memory of chestnuts, in my mind, is one of the simplest of stories--of a mother's sweet, matchless love. Mother never baked for us because let's be honest, if you were to look into the oven of a Korean mom you would find not a batch of cookies, no, and certainly not a sponge cake in the works even though Korean sponge cake is one of the best by general consensus. Instead you would find pots and pans piled one unto another, nestled in their cozy little place because room is nowhere else to be found.
Instead of memories like licking the wooden spoon dripping in sugary cake batter, I had a different kind of "fortune", as I like to call it--one of helping mother peel her freshly roasted or boiled chestnuts. Sometimes she would steam them if kitchen equipment allowed, but the preferred method was, without a doubt, boiling them down to the core which always resulted in the most tender flesh. The method was easy and reliable, and most importantly, right at her disposal since cleaning out the oven was a burdensome ordeal in itself.
This autumn I'm re-living those memories while baby Tabitha sleeps. Peeling chestnuts just like mother did for me and my sister. It was her way of doting on us after all, and still is in some aspects, hah! Because one can not fully identify with our heritage without having experienced the fullness of "being loved through the stomach".
Most likely the idea of peeling chestnuts is haunting for you. It is for me sometimes. So if you're short on time, and it is not guaranteed that you won't be without a small finger cut or slight injury at some point if you rush the process, then I highly recommend trying this recipe with canned or pre-packaged chestnuts. Already roasted, peeled, releasing their sweet earthy aroma. Pretty much ready for consumption as a snack even. You can easily find them at a Korean grocery store and maybe even a Japanese market.
Creamy Chestnut Soup
30 whole chestnuts
water for boiling
1 strip of bacon, chopped
1/4 of an onion, chopped
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp minced ginger (or powder)
2 1/2 cups chicken stock (or other)
1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup half-and-half (and more for garnish)
salt to taste
two half pieces of toast
cheese (like cheddar)
1. If you are using raw chestnuts still in their shell, first score them from the bottom to the top of the chestnut. Slice along "the grain" and not into the flesh, just the shell. Some people like to make an "X", but I much prefer slicing on one side so it cooks better.
2. Try boiling them ahead of time for about 12-15 minutes. This makes it easier to peel and it helps cut down on the work. Drain the water, peel with the assistance of a sharp knife, and set aside until ready to use.
3. Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook chopped bacon for about 1 minute, then add the onion, garlic, black pepper, coriander, and ginger. Caramelize the ingredients slightly.
4. Add the chestnuts followed by the chicken stock, salt, and half-and-half. Turn down the heat to a low-medium and simmer for approximately 8 minutes.
5. Transfer to a blender and process until it is silky smooth and all the chunks are gone. You may also use an immersion blender. Pour into two bowls, swirl in some half-and-half, and top with cheese & toast.