Although it was late autumn, the afternoon sun was still hot in Willow Creek. I brought my friends along to McIntosh Farm for our first chestnut gathering. Since we had no experience with the spiny husks, we only brought latex gloves. Luckily our host provided us some thick garden gloves. Stomping, pulling, picking and avoiding the poison oak, there was a lot of giggling under the 80-year-old golden chestnut trees. Even with the garden gloves, we still managed to get a few pokes. We were sweating after gathering a few pounds. I always appreciate and support our hard-working farmers — it's not an easy way to make a living.
On our way home, we talked about what to do with our harvest. I love roasted chestnuts for their sweet and buttery taste. They are also make a perfect mousse for a sweet Mont Blanc cake. Of course, my ultimate dish has to be the classic Cantonese style braised chicken with chestnuts. The warm spices of ginger and star anise and the earthy shiitake and Matsutake mushrooms make it one of my family's comfort dishes. I shared the joy of gathering chestnuts with my friend but forgot to mention how to cook them. The very next day, she sent me a picture of the chestnuts and the lid of her air fryer all over her kitchen floor. I called immediately and thank goodness she was in another room when that happened. Whew! So please be sure to cut an X on the round side of each chestnut with a sharp paring knife before roasting them. Spread them out on a baking sheet and 20 minutes in a 425 F oven should do it. To be safe, check out how to roast chestnuts in whatever particular piece of equipment you're using before making this dish. I don't want to hear about another explosion in someone's kitchen.
Braised Chicken with Chestnuts
Serves 4 to 6.
2 pound of boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
20 roasted chestnuts, shelled
10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked over night
Fresh matsutake mushrooms, sliced (optional)
¼ cup sliced ginger
2 star anises
½ cup vegetables oil (divided)
3 tablespoons corn starch (divide)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or sherry
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 cup water or chicken broth
Salt to taste
Green onion for garnish
Toss the chicken with 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of corn starch and set it aside for 1 hour or more.
In a wok or a large cooking pan over medium heat, warm the rest of the oil until a drop of water sizzles in it. Add the star anise and ginger, stir frying them until fragrant. Add the chicken and cook until lightly browned. Pour in the water or broth and bring to a boil. Add the chestnuts and mushrooms, stir everything together well, then cover and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients except the corn starch and cook for 2 minutes. Mix the corn starch with 1 tablespoon water and add it to the pan, stirring well to thicken the liquid slightly. Salt to taste. Garnish with chopped green onion and serve with steamed rice.
You can find Home Cooking with Wendy Chan classes benefitting local charities on Facebook. She prefers she/her.