Chestnuts have never been a familiar food to me. Basically, I was only familiar with the song…you know, “chestnuts roasting on and open fire….”, and that’s where the relationship ended. When we moved to Tokyo, I had no idea we would be surrounded by so many chestnuts this time of year. Sometimes you can find vendors roasting them, which is always a treat. Buying a paper bag filled with steaming hot chestnuts on a cold, cloudy day is absolute perfection. The nutty smell wafts up from the bag and at least gives the illusion that you are warming up from the inside out. Scooping out the soft flesh and taking that first bite is an incredibly satisfying and comforting moment.
I’ve been a little shy of trying to make anything involving chestnuts at home, short of this soup I made a couple years ago. This year, I decided to put on my big girl panties and try something different. Different for me, anyway. After buying a bag of pre-cooked chestnuts (sorry, but at 39 weeks pregnant I just can’t justify putting myself through the stress of trying to roast my own) and letting them sit on the shelf as I tried to come up with some novel way to use them, I finally decided on kurigohan. Kurigohan is Japanese chestnut rice. The rice is cooked with saké, mirin, a touch of sugar and soy sauce. I used my rice cooker, which is a total lifesaver. If you don’t have one, get one. Immediately.
As I meandered around the internet researching various recipes, I noticed that some called for soy sauce and others didn’t. I opted to use soy sauce because it creates this beautiful crust on the bottom of the rice. The layer becomes a little crunchy and full of umami, which the perfect way to enhance the rest of the rice dish. Also, I didn’t actually see recipes that called for sugar, but I wanted to add a touch to bring out the flavor of the chestnuts and to contrast the salty soy flavor.
The result? A steaming hot bowl full of perfect autumn flavors that made the apartment smell wonderful. I decided to experiment, as I tend to do, by adding a non-traditional ingredient that I thought made this dish appropriate for upcoming holiday feasts. I added a handful of dried cranberries to the bowl and it was amazing! The best way to add the cranberries is to just toss them in the rice cooker with the rest of the ingredients for a little pop of tart flavor. Seriously- unbelievable.
If you have a rice cooker and can find either pre-cooked or vacuum packed chestnuts, it takes literally 5 minutes to throw this together (that obviously does not include the wait-time involved while the rice is cooking). You can make it without a rice cooker and by roasting your own chestnuts- take a look at the links below for help with that.
1 cup chestnut pieces
1 1/2 cups short grain rice, washed until the water is clear
2 teaspoons saké
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons mirin
1 tablespoon light brown sugar (optional)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
1 piece of kombu
In the bowl of a rice cooker, combine the rice, 1 1/2 cups water (equal to the amount of rice), saké, soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar and chestnuts. stir gently to combine the ingredients. Place the kombu on top of the rice. Close the rice cooker and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions.
When the rice is finished cooking, allow it to sit and steam for an extra 5-10 minutes.
Toss with a rice paddle or spatula and spoon into individual serving bowls. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds and serve immediately.