Velvety smooth with a savory taste like hazelnuts and potatoes dusted with maple sugar, Potage aux Marrons is a simple French chestnut soup recipe that tastes more complicated than it is to make. If you're like me, it might be the fall tradition you never knew you were missing.
In this post I'll show you how to buy the best chestnuts and peel them like chefs do. After that we'll go over a few simple ways you can make a delicious soup that honors the past, present and future of a very special wild food.
Types of Chestnuts
Chestnut varieties can be confusing. While all chestnuts will be in the genus Castanea, there's many varieties, including hybrids. Chinese chestnuts are the most common you'll see in a grocery store. European Chestnuts are generally larger in size and give a better yield.
Due to the blight true American chestnuts (Castanea dentata) are rare and must be foraged. If you're looking to buy chestnuts, Trader Joes Italian chestnuts are $6.99 per pound compared to $12.99 or more for the Chinese variety. That's more nut for half the price!
If you want to grow chestnut trees, a cold-hearty variety is now sold as seed in Minnesota through The Experimental Farm Network.
A creation of the now defunct Badgersett Research Corporation, they're a "neo-hybrid" combination of Chinese, American, Japanese, Seguin and European chestnut species bred to resist the Chestnut blight.
Everyone knows you can roast and peel them, but roasted chestnuts are usually for eating straight from the shell as they're fully cooked. Boiled or steamed chestnuts are briefly cooked so they can be peeled and used for general cooking.
Besides scoring they can also be cut in half-a great technique from my friend Clay Bowers who forages American Chestnuts in Michigan.
How to Make Chestnut Soup
Steaming or roasting chestnuts is the most labor intensive part. Once they're peeled, you cook some onions, add stock and the nuts, simmer and puree until smooth. The images below describe the process.
The nuts have a mild flavor so only onion is added to the soup. Adding Carrot, celery or other things can hide their flavor. Less is more here.
Serve the soup garnished with fresh chestnuts and spoons of creme fraiche or sour cream.
Porcini and Chestnut Soup
Born from the Tuscan landscape where porcini grow symbiotically with wild chestnut trees, Zuppa di Castagne e Porcini is a more savory version than the Potage aux Marrons. A special way to use up those dried porcini and king boletes.
To make it, add ½ oz dried porcini mushrooms to the stock, thinning it with a little extra stock or cream if it gets too thick after pureeing. Garnish with sauteed or marinated fresh or dried porcini if you can, and threads of extra virgin olive oil. For a real treat, melt a thin slice of porcini butter on top of the soup.
Adding Caramelized Onions
Substitute caramelized onions (use the same starting weight of onions) for a layered flavor. This can be combined with the vegan and porcini versions.
Roasted Chestnut Soup
The perfect way to use up leftover roasted nuts from a holiday gathering. It will have a light smoky flavor if they were cooked on a wood fire.
Vegetarian or Vegan Chestnut Soup
Substitute coconut milk for the cream and use vegetable broth or nut milk.
More Wild Food from France
- Jean Louis Palladin's Black Truffle Ice Cream
- Jacques Chibois Mushroom Carbonara
- Rabbit Chasseur with Wild Mushrooms
- Poulet Forestiere (Chicken with Wild Mushroom Sauce)
French Cream of Chestnut Soup (Potage aux Marrons)
- 1 3 quart soup pot
- 1 Cast iron pan with lid for steaming the nuts
- 1 Blender or hand blender
- 1.5 lbs Italian chestnuts 1 lb for the soup, ½ lb for garnishing.
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 6 oz diced yellow sweet onion 1 medium onion
- 4 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
- ½ cup heavy cream or half and half
- ¼ cup marsala wine or sherry optional
- Kosher salt to taste
- Freshly ground or grated nutmeg to taste
- sliced cut chives or fresh parsley to garnish, optional
Spice Bouquet (Optional)
- 2 cloves
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 small fresh thyme sprigs
Steam and peel the chestnuts
- Keeping each nut flat-side down, score each chestnut with an X. Alternately, they can be cut in half. Put the chestnuts in a 12 inch skillet with 1 cup of water, cover, bring to a boil, turn the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes.
- Remove the chestnuts a handful at a time and peel them, keeping the unpeeled nuts together in the pan to stay warm.
- Set aside 10 ounces of nuts to puree into the soup. Reserve about 5 ounces of chestnuts (1-2 nuts per serving) cut into bite-sized pieces and reserve to garnish the finished soup.
Build the soup
- Melt the butter in a 3 quart stock pot and add the onions. Cook on medium heat until cooked and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the marsala or sherry and cook until the pan is nearly dry.
- Add the chicken stock, herb bouquet, and chestnuts. Cover the pot, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for twenty minutes. Discard the herb bouquet.
- Working in batches if needed, puree the soup in a blender until very smooth.
- Add the cream at the end, season the soup to taste with a few gratings of nutmeg, a splash of maple syrup to taste, and kosher salt. Stir, double check the seasoning again and adjust until it tastes good to you.
- Serve the soup in small bowls like the luxury it is. A 6-8 ounce portion is plenty. Garnish with dollops of creme fraiche, chopped cooked chestnuts and a sprinkle of chives.
- 2 lbs of Italian chestnuts should yield about 20 ounces of finished nuts after peeling. Chinese chestnuts will have a slightly lower yield.
- At holiday gatherings, I like to serve warm soups in a shot glass for larger parties. Loosen the soup with half and half or another liquid to make it easier to sip.
- Double the amount of cream for a richer soup.