Smoking with Leftover Chestnut Peels
It's the season for chestnut consumption, and with that in mind, there will be precious parts of this nut going to waste.
I'm referring to the outer shell of the chestnut that you peel off after they are boiled or roasted, not to be confused with the spiky husk they have before being picked (that part is not really available to most homes, restaurants, and bars).
While many of us are concerned with the actual nut of the chestnut, the outer flaky and fibrous part can still be utilized. It's not the most interesting thing to ingest, nor the most pleasant, it can still be burned for its lovely smoke and aroma for cocktails and cocktail ingredients.
You might think that you would need loads of chestnut shells to smoke, but this may surprise you...
By grinding them up in a spice grinder, their volume will actually increase while becoming even more flammable.
This happens because of the chestnut fibers that lie within the shells. Because there are so many tightly knitted together inside the skin, once they break open up and are spun around they extend in length.
It may seem strange, but usually when we pulverize things with grinders we decrease their volume because we finely chop them into extremely small pieces. But with chestnut shells, the opposite happens, and instead of them turning into dust, they puff up into something that looks kind of like peat moss.
In their new form, they become easier to light on fire, and now that you know this, you'll be saving up chestnut shells rather than spending money on smoking woods!
Chestnut smoke smells similar to the wood smoke you would get from trees that grow nuts.
Of the most notable wood nuts out there are hickory and pecan, which resemble chestnut smoke the most.
Hickory and Pecan both have nutty and sweet flavors that are tasty both in the form of hot and cold smoke.
Chestnut shells smoke tastes similar to these woods, so use them as you would with hickory and pecan.
Because you're using the shell of a nut, try using it with any cocktails or ingredients that would pair well with nutty flavors.
Examples can be Whiskeys, Aged Rums (Traditional), Cognacs, etc.
What you will need:
An ingredient to infuse
Household Stove Pot or Smoking Gun
Flammable Spray or Torch (both optional)
Now whether or not your chestnuts are boiled or roasted, it doesn't matter. What's important is that you peel them and save their shells.
I like to pierce my chestnuts with a cross-shaped mark so that after they're cooked, their peels become easier to remove.
Once collected, spread just the skins over a baking tray and dehydrate them in a food dehydrator or oven between 75 - 100°C for 20 minutes.
You want to dry them out separately from the fruit which contains a lot of moisture. The final objective is for them to be as naturally flammable as possible!
Once they are super dry, grab a coffee or spice grinder and blitz them up at the highest speed.
You'll notice while blitzing them that the fibers within the shells whip up into a 'wool-like' substances.
I got to admit, I was pretty surprised by their new consistency, but even more excited to realize that I could have more on hand to smoke with!
Once you have a bunch of these puffy chestnut peels you can smoke your cocktails or ingredients in two different ways.
Using a Smoking Gun
Over a stove pot
If you are using a smoking gun, then congratulations! Your recipe is ready to be used!
Simply smoke your ingredient or cocktail in a closed container or bottle.
Smoking guns give bartenders and chefs the freedom to smoke anything they want with relative ease because of their overall efficiency.
You can smoke a cocktail in front of your guest on a bar top, counter, table, etc, or just pre-smoke all of your ingredients beforehand.
But if you don't have a smoking gun on hand you can still smoke the chestnut peels in a stove pot.
This approach is obviously not as versatile, in that you probably don't have a stove behind the bar, nor have the time to execute it during service.
SOLUTION: What you CAN do instead is prep your smoked ingredients before service using a stove pot, that way you can add your already smoked ingredients to your cocktails one at a time.
Rather than smoking an entire cocktail, you'll still be able to smoke your syrups, cordials, infusions, spirits, etc just as you would with a smoking gun.
Smoking an Ingredient
To show the following technique, I'll be smoking maple syrup in a covered stove pot with the burning chestnut shells beside it.
Maple syrup tastes amazing when smoked, and most cocktails that use maple syrup in them will work great with an extra layer of smoky flavor!
Old Fashioneds, Brown Derbys, Whiskey Sours, you get the idea.
Proceed with your ingredient (whatever that may be) and grab a small container to hold your chosen ingredient in. Make sure it has a wide opening on the top so that plenty of smoke can make its way in, and make sure that it will fit in the pot even with the lid covered on top.
Now before you place your ingredient inside the pot, first place your fluffy chestnut skins in the pot with nothing else in it.
SIDE NOTE: if you have a torch at your disposal, use it to light up your skins. Then put your ingredient in the pot and cover everything.
If you don't have a torch, turn the stove flame on very high until you start to see a bit of smoke coming from the blitzed chestnut skins. Once you see that smoke, place your ingredient in the pot but away from the lighted chestnut skins.
You can leave everything as it is, or speed up the smoking process by pouring in a mix of high proof alcohol and water to set the skins completely on fire.
(for lighting on fire if you don't have a torch)
Don't pour in 95% alcohol. If that's what you have on hand, dilute it first with some water to at least 1/3 of its total amount.
For example: if you have 60ml of 95% alcohol, mix it with 20ml of water.
You don't want large flames to erupt from your stove to the ceiling of your home or bar, you just want the skins to catch on fire faster to produce more smoke.
Proceed with caution by pouring very little amounts at a time to gently light up your skins.
Pour from a small container and always stand back. Never look directly down at the pot.
If you have a spray bottle, spray it onto your chestnut skins to get a small fire started.
If you have the Flammable Citrus Spray on hand you can use that too which is what I did!
Once you see fire and smoke, place your ingredient in the pot and cover the lid to put out the fire and conceal the smoke.
By covering the lid of your pot you will be removing the oxygen that feeds the flames.
Once the fire is put out, don't lift it up. Your ingredient will be infusing in the enclosed pot with smoke, slowly flavoring it.
(make sure your stove is turned off).
The amount of smoke you want to infuse in your ingredient depends on how much time you let it sit for.
I find that 5 minutes of smoke is just enough, but if you're not afraid of very smoky flavors you could leave it in for 10 minutes.
Set your timer and uncover it.
You'll notice a beautiful aroma similar to the traditional wood smokes, and although your ingredient might seem unchanged, it will have the smell and taste of smoked chestnut skins!
Bottle up your ingredient and use it at your leisure.
I'll be using my smoked maple syrup in Old Fashioneds and on my morning pancakes!