Classic Rice with Chestnuts

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Castanea dentata! Chestnuts! I’m in love. Like anyone in love I’m greedy, yearning for the exotic darlings from France, Spain, Italy, or China. Oh so far away. My desire led me to wonder if I could find the lovelies near-by. Who would have thought chestnuts grow in Michigan?

In fact, I’d thought all the chestnuts in the U.S. had been killed by the blight before 1950. Cryphonectria parasitica was first identified in 1904 at the New Your Botanical Gardens and swept through the vast American chestnut forests from Maine to Florida at a rate of 50 miles per year. The dead chestnuts were cut for their excellent timber, but no new trees replaced them.

Fortunately as people migrated west, they brought chestnuts with them to Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and further west to Oregon and Washington and California. These isolated populations were mostly spared from the devastation on the east coast. These trees are not necessarily blight resistant.

Currently there is a concerted effort to protect the live trees. Chestnut trees with blight cankers can be cured with mud packs applied to each canker: the mud isolates the fungus and gives the trees time to wall off the infection. Trees also can be inoculated with a biological control based on a virus that keeps the blight fungus from killing trees. Others are working to breed blight resistant trees using Asian trees, living trees in other parts of the country, and the few naturally blight resistant trees in the infected areas.

See page 2 for information about commercial chestnut production in Michigan, and a list of some chestnut farms where you can pick your own in September and October.

Ah, to break love into its technical bits is to break the illusion of passion. Or is it an illusion? This classic recipe reveals chestnuts at their most enticing.

Classic Rice with Chestnuts
Kuri Gohan
serves 4 as a side dish

page 296

  • 1 ½ cups Japanese rice
  • 20 to 35 chestnuts (weight?)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking wine)
  • 2 Tablespoons sake (rice wine)
  • 2 Tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted
    mixed with ½ teaspoon salt

Rinse and soak the rice, drain, and let it stand in a colander for 20 minutes.
If you are using whole chestnuts, peel them as discussed here. I’ve discovered frozen peeled chestnuts at the Korean store on the corner, and I have found them acceptable. Ms. Shimbo says that using whole chestnuts is more delicious and I’m sure she is right, but…
Cut the chestnuts into ½-inch pieces.
Put the rice into a heavy bottomed pot with 1 ¾ cups water, the salt, mirin, and sake.
Put the chestnuts on top of the rice.
Put the pot over medium heat. Cook the rice uncovered until the water level is decreased almost to the level of the rice. Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot with a heavy lid, and continue cooking the rice until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). Let the rice stand for 15 minutes then toss it gently to distribute the chestnuts.
Serve the rice garnished with the salted toasted black sesame seeds. Make sure some of the chestnut pieces are visible on top of the rice.

How to peel chestnuts.

How to cook Japanese rice.

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One thought on “Classic Rice with Chestnuts

  1. Pingback: Classic Rice with Chestnuts « Tess's Japanese Kitchen | brownrice

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