Autumn Chicken and Chestnuts

This chicken, simmered with chestnuts, darkly sweet and caramelized, and savory with soy sauce, is a comfortable autumn dish. As little as two years ago, chestnuts were nearly impossible to find in southern Michigan stores. Back then, for a luxurious price, I could find marrons glacés, or marrons confits in heavy syrup, or chestnut puree (which I believe was very sweet). If we were lucky if we’d find a few fresh chestnuts at Christmas-time. These days most of the Korean, Chinese, Japanese, pan-Asian stores in my area carry peeled frozen chestnuts, and refrigerated chestnuts in syrup, and chestnuts in those shiny shelf-stable packages all year ’round. There is even more good news: people are growing chestnuts in Michigan, and I’m thinking it would be fun to visit one of the farms…

Simmered Autumn Chicken
and Chestnuts

Tori to kuri no Umani

The Japanese Kitchen
•250 Recipes in a Traditional Spirit•
by Hiroko Shimbo

page 422
serves 6

  • 60 large chestnuts
  • 2 ½ pounds chicken thighs,
  • skinless and boneless
    unless you are eating with family
    or very close friends
  • 3 Tablespoons sesame oil
  • 5 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ cup strong homemade chicken stock
  • 6 Tablespoons sake
  • 2 Tablespoons mirin
  • 4 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • a few drops of tamari
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

On the side:

  • 1 head of broccoli, separated into flowerets
  • we had brussel sprouts in need of consuming
  • 1 Tablespoon minced shiso (or parsley)
  • Yukon gold potatoes for four (or your favorites for mashed potatoes)
  • or rice

• Thaw the chestnuts.
• Cut the chicken thighs into 2-inch pieces. I used to cut them bone and all, but I dislike the errant bone fragments in my teeth (no matter how careful you are!), so I cook them whole or bone them.
• In a skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons sesame oil. Cook the chicken several pieces at a time over medium heat, turning them, until all sides are lightly golden. Reserve.
• Caramelize the sugar: Put the sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan, and heat slowly, stirring with a whisk or a fork. The sugar will melt (liquify) and begin to turn golden.
Note that this part is rather tricky and you must watch carefully so as not to burn the sugar. But be bold—you are going for the gold!
• Add the sake, and mirin to the pot, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the chestnuts to the saucepan. Add the chicken and return to a gentle boil.
• Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, covered with a drop lid, 15 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally so the chicken does not sink to the bottom.
• Add the shoyu, turn the heat to medium-high, and cook, uncovered, until 50% of the liquid is condensed. At the end of the cooking, add a few drops of tamari and some black pepper.
• In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the broccoli (halved brussels sprouts) for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain, and squeeze gently to remove excess water.
• Serve the hot chicken bathed in its sauce with your green vegetable side by side, garnished with shiso or parsley, accompanied by plain white or brown rice, or mashed potatoes. Do try the mashed potatoes. You won’t regret it. tradition or no!

Japanese Chicken with ChestnutsTori to Kuri no UmaniJapanese Chicken with Chestnuts


4 thoughts on “Autumn Chicken and Chestnuts

  1. This dish looks divine! I can almost taste the chestnuts.

    Mark and I used to visit a chestnut nursery in the country presided over by a lovely old Greek man. He would invite us for chestnut roasting nights and share his duck eggs with us. A few years ago we visited to find the nursery gone and two guys with chainsaws cutting down the last of the trees. I was aghast. We managed to collect ourselves enough to ask them what they were doing…clearing the block to put up demountables for holiday makers. Still choking we quizzed them about the wood… they had a mulcher chewing through the logs. We didn’t even stay after that to ask if they knew how precious chestnut wood is.

    I’m glad you have orchards coming in Michigan. The more we cook and eat chestnuts, I guess the more orchards there will be – and this is such a lovely recipe to begin with Tess!

  2. YIKES: mulching / chipping up chestnut logs!! Not the smartest guy, but with money to burn! What a loss!! How stupid.

    OH. Cutting down the trees in the first place was so careless. More than that…

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chestnut tree in person! But maybe J and I will see that place I linked to. They look like beautiful trees in pictures.

    Did Australia get hit with the chestnut blight that the U.S. experienced?

  3. No blight here…we have other things though – fruit fly, elm beetle, a plague of locusts moving south and the big, ugly, unloveable cane toad. The 10 year drought controlled some pests but also starved some of our oldest and most venerable trees. You asked recently is the drought over here? Well, at risk of seeing the glass half empty, Australia is mostly arid and drought is our most natural condition. There will be good rain for a year or two and then the drought will return. Ah, but how we are enjoying the rain! (-:

  4. The chestnut blight began in the early 1900’s, and the trees were almost gone by the 30’s. There were roots that were not killed off, though most never grew to produce fruit a few did. They were bred with Asian chestnuts to develop a disease resistant stock. There were also small isolated groves of trees too far from the major affected area of the Appalachian Mountains. So when I say I’ve not seen a chestnut tree, that’s why.

    The ash borer beetle has killed all the ash trees around here, and is moving west to continue the devastation. There are dead ashes all over: it was a very popular urban tree. The Great Lakes have zebra mussels and lampray eels and people are attempting to stop the Asian carp from getting into the system. Lots of non-native plants endanger locals. Deer are invading urban areas, as are coyotes.

    Enjoy the rain while you can. I’ll try not to complain about rainy days here, but there are so many.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s