Boil the unshelled chestnuts in hot water. This will make it easy to remove the outer shell. They are ready to peel once the water cools to the touch.
Use a knife to make small cuts at the base of the chestnut, as if scraping, to judge the thickness of the outer shell. After making a few cuts, you will have a sense of how thick it is.
Since the outer shells will be soft, after making a cut with your knife, you can peel them towards the top of the chestnut. Try to do it all with a knife might be dangerous!
Remove the skin without cutting into the flesh as shown in the photo. If there are any easily removable thick fibers, carefully strip them off.
Rinse the chestnuts, put them into a pot with water, add 1 tablespoon baking soda, and simmer over low heat. Be careful not to bring them to a rolling boil, since the chestnuts will break apart.
This is what it should look like after simmering for about 20 minutes--pitch black with thick skins. Remove from heat, then rinse each chestnut carefully with water. Then repeat Step 5.
After repeating Step 5, carefully rinse the chestnuts once more and remove any remaining shell or fibers. By simply gently rubbing the chestnuts with your fingers, you should be able to get them nice and clean.
To maintain their appearance, try to keep the chestnuts moist. The inner skins will crack easily when dry.
Fill the pot with chestnuts and enough water to cover them, add sugar, then bring to a boil. Remove any scum that rises to the top.
Simmer for about 30-40 minutes while keeping an eye on the pot, then remove from heat. Allow to cool in the pot, and add brandy or other liquor of your choice for flavoring.
If you have worked through each step carefully, you will have perfect simmered chestnuts.
Story Behind this Recipe
This is the recipe I use every year to make simmered chestnuts.
Be sure to work carefully through each step. But as long as you're not making them as a gift, it won't hurt if they aren't flawless. Adjust the sweetness to taste. The flavor may differ depending on your choice of sweetener.