Have you seen the 2018 film “Little Forest”? It first screened earlier this year and immediately tugged at the heartstrings of Koreans everywhere. The moment roll credits came to an end, bloggers and YouTubers alike beelined to their kitchen to recreate the recipes sprinkled throughout the mouthwatering scenes; dazed viewers in a magical trance made plans to ditch their chaotic city life and set up shop in the picturesque countrysides of the peninsula. I must confess, it didn't take long for me to start whipping up bowls of hand-torn noodles, sujebi, and delve into the process of luscious rice wine, makgeolli, while pretending to live the free-spirited life of the protagonist, Song Hye-won.
The film is an adaptation of the Japanese two-part original of the same name directed by Jun'ichi Mori, which was drawn from the original manga series by Daisuke Igarashi. Though not a documentary, the Japanese original makes like a docudrama pouring recipe after recipe into each season for nearly four hours. It's a masterpiece and I call on those with even the slightest appreciation not just for food and farm-life but artful creations to go the extra mile to find and watch it this weekend. (I trust the tech-savvy in you to complete this mission.) After that, it's vital that we brighten the mood with the Korean reinterpretation. It's a sweet, light-hearted drama made to have just that effect. They share the same title and overall soul-searching-through-food storyline with salt of the earth heroines, however, at the core, their purpose and perspective is clearly distinct: a nod to each their own culture.
A recipe featured in both films that ceased to nudge me towards the kitchen was the one with the chestnuts. Maybe because it's a refreshing take on the humble nut only to make an appearance in my home as roasted, or maybe because it's autumn and their presence is limited at the market – I took to this project immediately. It's definitely not a marron glacé; it's rustic, both in flavor and preparation. At first glance, they hold a slightly labor-intensive facade; look again to see an easy, straightforward recipe. Your reward: little gems of sweetness to help pull through winter's bitter cold. I want to call it a braise or maybe even a glaze, but perhaps the more appropriate name is preserve. We can agree to disagree on the correct term; nevertheless, let's just agree on one thing: they're delicious. —kiley
Notes on how to measure:
for every 500g chestnuts, use 1 tbsp baking soda; 60% sugar of total weight peeled chestnuts; a good splash of preferred optional additions.
Place chestnuts in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let steep for 30 minutes. This step helps peel the hard shell.
Carefully peel the hard skin, leaving soft skin in tact. The more soft skin is broken and the nut exposed, the more fragile they become as they braise and may fall apart.
Place peeled chestnuts in a bowl or the wide bottom pot you'll use to simmer, cover with cold water mixed with baking soda. Let it steep for 8 hours/overnight. This step offsets the bitterness in the skin.
Transfer the chestnuts with its soaking water to a pot if still in bowl. Simmer for 30 minutes. This is the first cleanse. Skin foam during simmering process. The water will be dark and bitter. Drain. Renew water. Do this a total of three times. The water from the third cleanse should be the color of light red wine.
After the last drain, gently remove any big veins and skim off patches of fury bits left on the soft skin. You're not removing the soft skin, just tidying it up. The pointed end of a skewer helps this task along.
Just barely cover the chestnuts with clean water. Add your 60% of sugar. Simmer until all the sugar is dissolved. Right before switching off the heat, add your splash of preferred aroma. Or omit altogether. I added a generous splash of cognac.
Spoon into a clean jar, cover with soaking syrup and let cool completely before storing in fridge. I placed thin lemon slices inside the jar to infuse as it ages.
Though it can be consumed right away, the real treat lies in the several-months wait. Try it on the first day and every few days after that; take pleasure in notes that change over time. The longer they sit it the syrup, the stickier, gooier and chewier they transform. It's a good thing.