How to Skin Chestnuts, a Fast and Simple Way | Hong Kong Food Blog with Recipes, Cooking Tips mostly of Chinese and Asian styles | Taste Hong Kong

How to Skin Chestnuts, a Fast and Simple Way

How to Shell and Skin Chestnuts

There is a Chinese folk poet suggesting when to eat chestnuts,
Pears in August,
Hawthorns in September,
Smiling chestnuts in October


Well, the lunar October just ended on November 24 this year, but I still see the happy faces of chestnuts here and there in markets.

Generally, raw chestnuts (mostly from mainland China) are priced according to how much they are processed – naked, shelled, half-shelled, unshelled, with prices ranging from about HKD25/500g to about HKD12/500g.

Although the completely skinned chestnuts are the priciest, I was once a loyal customer of them because I do not like the task of peeling their skins, which is very time-consuming even with the help of a sharp knife.

Shelled and Skinned Chestnuts

Thanks to one of my neighbors, a lady whose grandson is already 20+, I learned an easy way to skin shelled chestnuts. Her advice is to briefly boiled the chestnuts (shelled) first, and then to rub off the skin by wearing pair of rubber gloves. I later twisted it by wrapping the hot chestnuts in a thick towel, which even allowed me to skin them in a batch of five, six or even ten, as I practiced more.

That is, before skinning the chestnuts, you need to cover them in a pot of boiling water for about a minute. Then drain; working with four to five pieces in each batch, wrap the chestnuts in a towel and rub. Some of their skins actually fall apart with a soft touch.

Rub the chestnuts while they are still hot because their skins may stick to the meat after cooled. If you are working with a large quantity, just turn heat off after boiling them for one minute and fish out a few at a time by a strainer, keeping the rest in the hot water.

If they are boiled enough, it shall take you seconds to rub the skins off.

Skinned Chestnuts

I have to admit that, although unshelled chestnuts may offer me the freshest meat, shelling it does rather sap my strengthen. Dig my knife into the shells of chestnut, score a large slash or a large X along one side of a chestnut (before boiling or roasting them for easier removal) are tasks I’m not good at.

So my preference, whenever possible, is to buy shelled chestnuts (still with skin) and trade-off a little bit of freshness. But they are good enough to me if consumed within one or two days, and if they are skinned right before cooking.

With this little trick, it is like having equipped a net than a hook to fish beside a pond. I do more dishes with chestnuts, faster, easier. And I shall be sharing with you the one I just made.

Stay tuned! (Recipe on “Braised Chinese Chestnuts Chicken 栗子炆雞” posted on Dec 14, 2011.)

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  1. Ann@Anncoo Journal

    Thank you very much for sharing this great tip. I always had a hard time removing the stubborn skin from the chestnut.

  2. tigerfish

    Oh yes, it is the chestnut season so without surprise, I have had a few chestnut dishes (cooked by my friend) since. She also complained about the difficulty of shelling those nuts. I will share your tips with her. Thanks 🙂

    Chestnut season seem to be short though. Is it over there.

    Hmmm…the poet forgot about Nov and Dec? (and how about other months) LOL

  3. TasteHongKong

    Sure, feel free to pass it on. You are right, I also find the chestnuts good through the winter. Perhaps we should interpret the poet as when the chestnuts begin to flourishes : ).

  4. noobcook

    I like this type of chestnuts. remember used to buy it from the roadside vendors. thx for the peeling tip.

  5. Von

    I like helping my mum peel chestnuts in winter, though it is quite fiddly!…. We’ll have to try this method next time…but that’s in agesss since chestnut season has passed already!

  6. Lucy L

    Great tips thanks very much! shall let my mum know as she normally spends ageees peeling them! hehe

  7. TasteHongKong

    Hi There,
    I shall have limited internet access in these two days, so do excuse me if I answer you late. Thanks!

  8. Christy

    Now this is an awesome tip to share, and I am sure my mum and mum-in-law would love to have this!:)
    Chestnuts are just so tedious to skin, and I have heard complaints from my mum numerous times, which is just so sad because I love chestnuts to be used in desserts:p

  9. Angie@Angiesrecipes

    COOL! Chestnuts are delicious, but so dang time-consuming to peel the skin.
    Thanks for the tips!

  10. Tracy Ho

    HI! Thank you for the tip!

    After you boil them a minute only, can the flesh be eaten just like that? I’ve always roasted chestnuts in the oven for a while before shelling them and eating them.

    I love your website!

  11. TasteHongKong

    @Tracy Ho,
    No, that one minute boil won’t cook the chestnuts enough. You may cover the chestnuts with water and boil them until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes (or longer if you like them fluffier). Boiled in this way, you may even turn the cooked chestnuts into a simple sweet soup by adding some sugar to the water. Or, after the chestnuts are skinned, simmer them in a sauce with meat. Stay tune for the recipe in the coming 1 to 2 weeks.

  12. Christine's Recipes

    This is the trick I used too. And I found that those chestnuts in Hong Kong are more easier to peel than those in Australia by using the same method. As you said, sometimes just buy those skinned might help out. 🙂

  13. Juliana

    Thank you for your tip…now I do not have excuse to not buy them 🙂
    Hope you have a wonderful week ahead!

  14. Chris

    Unfortunately we don’t get peeled chestnuts here. What I normally do is I crack each open a bit with a nutcracker, then zap in the microwave for a few minutes. Time depends on the number of chestnuts. Have to be careful they don’t explode. I enjoy eating them that way. Don’t really cook much with chestnuts except in a couple of weeks as stuffing for the Xmas turkey.

  15. pigpigscorner

    Thanks for the tips! I always buy shelled ones 😛

  16. Lisa H.

    This is great… I love chestnuts be it boil or roast 😀

  17. TasteHongKong

    Thanks for sharing your way. I don’t own a microwave oven now, but as you suggested, be careful when using it. I have recently cooked a dish with chestnuts, which is this Braised Chestnuts Chicken 栗子炆雞, enjoy!.

  18. mycookinghut

    Good tips!!

  19. Kristy

    Do you take off the hard shell first them boil?

  20. TasteHongKong

    Usually not, I find it easier to shell the chestnuts after they are boiled (but the chestnuts needed to be scored before boil). As I said, I am not skillful at scoring and shelling chestnuts, therefore whenever possible, I buy shelled chestnuts and skin them with this simple way.

  21. food-4tots

    Great tips!! I need to share this with my mother in law. She will be very impressed with the skill I learned today. Hehehe!

  22. Jay

    I’m a little confused. Do I peel the hard shell first, leaving the skin and then boiling them until tender? After boiling with the skin on, is that when the skin will come off by simply rubbing?

  23. TasteHongKong

    Right, shell the chestnuts first, leaving their skins and boil them in hot water. You don’t need to cook them until tender – “just turn heat off after boiling them for one minute”. Then working with a few pieces at a time, wrap and rub them with towel (or rubber gloves) while they are still hot.

  24. rosalina

    Just came across your post, I was sooooo excited, immediate try it out since I have a pound+ waiting for me. I don’t know if it’s my chestnuts(I bought it in a Korean store here in US), and I have to say the chestnuts are getting a bit dry in the middle – but is that why it does not work for me? I try boiling it for 3-4 minutes and take 3-4 out immediately, the inner skin still seems to stubborn stick to the flesh, nothing as beautiful as yours…….is there any technique in the rubbing at all?

  25. TasteHongKong

    It hasn’t happened to me before, so not sure what is the cause (just suspect that they are dried). If you could take a picture of them, you may email me at tastehongkong[@]gmail[dot]com.

  26. Anna

    Here I’m in Canada “googling” how to remove chestnut skin and came across your postings. Honestly removing chestnut skin when I was in Hong Kong is not a problem at all….I have no way to do this here in Canada, not knowing why, the nuts are fresh and not dry but the skin is a huge problem; I found that the inner skin is very soft (texture is different compare to the ones in HK) when boiled and cannot be removed by rubbing it. I’m still inventing a better way to do this job other than piling the skin with a knife…poor me…I love chestnut. Anyways, please help me if you have better ideas.

  27. TasteHongKong

    Excused me for my delayed reply, I have no idea on those chestnuts. But hope you’ll soon find an easy way to deal with it.

  28. Brenda

    Like Anna, I am from Canada, and the chestnuts I find here are very hard to skin. I’ve given up on using a knife to peel the skin, because it won’t “peel”, even after roasting, steaming, boiling–even freezing! I’ve tried many methods, but always end up having to carve the skin off with a knife–removing some of the meat as well. After 50 years of fiddling, I’ve settled on a new method:

    Once I get the shell off the roasted (half-cooked) chestnut, I drop it in hot water for a few minutes, until the skin is gummy. Then I file off the skin with a microplane. The chestnut looks more like a potato, but it’s faster and much less aggravating!

  29. Anna Law

    Hi, Brenda

    Here is my most recent experience in removing the chestnut skin. Last month, before Christmas, there was chestnut imported from Italy, I saw them from Superstore and this is the first time that I remember Superstore carry this item. They come in a bag (1 kg) each and costs 9.99. Though they are more expensive but they are so easy to de-skin and taste very good, less cooking time too. Here is how: take 5-6 nuts, washed them, use a knife cut a ‘X’ across the surface, it’s not very difficult to do as the Italian chestnut shell are thinner and softer. Then, put the cut nuts in a bowl, cover it and microwave (defrost mode) for 16-18 second. You will find how easy to remove the skin. My experience is do not make more than 6 nuts each time. I stop buying chestnut imported from China now. I hope you find this easier and enjoy. By the way, I’m from Edmonton, you could find Italian chestnut from Italian store.

  30. Brenda

    Hi, Anna! Thank you for your helpful note. Since my last posting here, I had a similar experience to yours. I found fresh Italian chestnuts at the local Superstore and bought several pounds. Not having a microwave, I cut a large X across the rounded side, boiled 20 at a time in water for one minute, then roasted them in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 5 minutes. The shell split open and the skins peeled off easily in 9 out of 10 chestnuts. They were gorgeous! (Whatever we didn’t use over the holidays are now in the freezer.)

    I will not buy chestnuts imported from China again. Although they look bigger, rounder and more robust than the small, more “teardrop-shaped” Italian variety, getting the shell and skin off is too much work. I will wait for the Italian chestnuts!

    Just a note about quality: I examine each one carefully, and reject ones with holes (bugs/pests), black spots (mold), or meat that has shrunk within the shell (stale, dry).

    Thank you again.

  31. Ronnie

    Month ago just got back from my first ever trip to Italy. I was tempted to buy the street roasted chestnuts whenever I smelled them roasting but I had to save myself for Gellato too.
    In Lucca I watched the vendor roast the nuts in a perforated pan on open fire, one slit across and the nuts appears dry, not soaked. After roasting, the nuts were put in a cloth lined container and covered with a lid (steaming?) These peeled well enough for my liking. Some membrane stuck but most were not.
    With me, the tastes and aroma of roasted chestnuts are from just that, they gotta be charred to a golden hue. I am off to the store to buy some today.