Chestnut choices

Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 11:24 AM

Rating packaged chestnut products

Fresh chestnuts are a wonderful thing, although they do take some effort to open (see directions in accompanying recipes). But if you're feeling lazy or your grocery store doesn't have chestnuts, packaged chestnuts have come a long way in recent years.

Here, in order of preference, are some of the options I found at local stores:

- Asian supermarkets sell packets of chestnuts that are sweet and surprisingly good, such as S&M Tasty Snack Chestnuts.

- Trader Joe's vacuum-packed chestnuts come already steamed, and they're pretty tasty.

- Whole Foods carries Minerve brand chestnuts from France in a jar, and they are okay, although not quite as good as Trader Joe's.

- Next, we see a precipitous drop in flavor and texture: Whole Foods also offers canned French chestnuts from Minerve, but they are packed in water and are to be avoided at all costs. They are gray, mushy and muddy-tasting.

- Last but not least: Minerve also makes "chestnut cream," which is a confusing name for a sweetened chestnut puree. This stuff can be absolutely scrumptious, and while this brand's version isn't top-notch, a small dollop of it on top of vanilla ice cream can make a great last-minute dessert, and it's also very good as a filling for crepes, with a little whipped cream on top.

- Anne Glusker

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