This wild rice with roasted chestnuts and cranberries is a healthy Thanksgiving side dish that also happens to be gluten-free. Made with dried fruits and chestnuts, it’s ideal for holiday entertaining as it can be made in advance.
This wild rice with roasted chestnuts and cranberries recipe does triple duty at any holiday meal, providing something healthy and gluten-free and make-ahead. Make that quadruple duty seeing as it’s also immensely satisfying.–Renee Schettler Rossi
☞ Table of Contents
Wild Rice, Roasted Chestnuts, and Cranberries
- 1 1/4 pounds (about 1 1/2 cups peeled) fresh chestnuts*
- 2 cups wild rice
- 2 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth plus more as needed
- 2 cups water plus more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
- 3/4 cup dried apricots quartered
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large stalks celery trimmed and finely chopped
- 2 large carrots peeled and finely chopped
- 1 10 oz yellow onion finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons minced sage leaves
- 1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley leaves
- Freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Position the rack in the center of the oven.
- Using a sharp paring knife, carefully score the flat side of each chestnut with a big “x,” cutting through the outer shell and inner brown skin. Place the chestnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender when pierced with a fork, 25 to 30 minutes.
- When the chestnuts are still quite warm but cool enough to handle, peel them with a sharp paring knife, removing both the outer shell and the inner brown skin. Discard any chestnuts that look rotten. If there are any chestnuts that are hard to peel, rewarm them in a 400°F (200°C) oven and try again.
- Cut the shelled chestnuts in half. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C).
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the wild rice, chicken stock, water, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wild rice is tender, 40 to 50 minutes. (Occasionally check the liquid and, if necessary, add more stock and/or water as needed. Conversely, there may be excess liquid that needs to be drained after the rice becomes tender.)
- In a small bowl, combine the cranberries and apricots, add hot water to cover, and let plump for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve.
- In a 12-inch saute pan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the celery, carrots, and onion and saute until soft and lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the thyme, sage, and parsley and saute for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.
- When the wild rice is tender, drain it in a sieve and add it to the sauteed vegetables. Add the reserved chestnuts, cranberries, and apricots and stir to combine. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (The wild rice can be made up to this point 1 day in advance, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking and increase the baking time to at least 45 minutes to ensure it’s heated through.)
- About half an hour before you wish to serve this, spoon the wild rice into a baking dish slicked with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and cover it with aluminum foil. Bake the wild rice until heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve it directly from the casserole.
*How To Substitute Peeled ChestnutsIf you prefer not to roast your own chestnuts, you can buy peeled chestnuts in vacuum-sealed packages, cans, or jars at specialty foods stores. If they’re packed in liquid, drain it off. Prepared chestnuts are usually boiled rather than roasted, resulting in some flavor loss. To improve their flavor before using, place them on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them in a 350°F (175°C) oven for 12 to 14 minutes.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The combination of wild rice and chestnuts is so very good, it guarantees this dish will be a winner. Add in some herbs and dried fruit and it’s downright festive. The fact that you can make it ahead and and bake it the next day makes this pilaf a clear winner for holiday entertaining. Note that you’ll need at least 12 ounces of wild rice to get 2 cups of uncooked rice, so if your rice comes in small boxes or packets of 6 or 8 ounces, you’ll need to buy two. You’ll also want to buy and prep extra chestnuts, as there will usually be some bad ones that you’ll have to discard.
The longest cook time is the rice. It will take about 10 minutes to come to boil, and then needs to simmer for 40 minutes, so it makes sense to start the rice first. You can then prep and roast the chestnuts while the rice is cooking. The dried fruit needs to soak for the same amount of time as the chestnuts roast, so do them simultaneously and they’re ready when the oven time goes off. The vegetables can be prepped and sautéed in the 20 minutes that the chestnuts are roasting and fruit is soaking. Then the dish become a matter of assembly, and you can bake right away or the next day.
My wild rice was not fully tender after 40 minutes of simmering, and as the recipe warns, the liquid was not absorbed, so you will need to drain it. The rice did become fully puffed and tender during the baking phase, and the finished dish was perfect. I would call this 8 servings if there are a lot of other dishes.
This is a festive holiday side dish alternative to bread stuffing or dressing that looks beautiful on the table and on the plate. The nuttiness of the slightly chewy wild rice and sweetness of the fruit go together well, and then there is the crumbly sweetness of the chestnuts as well.
Preparing the chestnuts and cooking the wild rice is labor- and time-intensive, respectively, but if not at the holidays, when? (Actually, this combination would be good at pretty much any time one wants to expend the money and effort, using frozen raw or jarred pre-cooked chestnuts when the fresh ones are not seasonally available.)
It requires careful work and a very sharp paring knife to make the “x” on the flat sides of the chestnuts, and the bigger the “x” the easier I have found it to peel the chestnuts when they are out of the oven and cooled just enough to handle. I did not have to return any stubborn ones to the oven but did have several that were bad.
I used reduced-sugar Craisins. This was served alongside breaded pork chops, cranberry sauce, and cauliflower with cheese sauce. Everything looked beautiful together on the plate.
This wild rice with roasted chestnuts is definitely better the next day after the herb flavors have a chance to settle into the dish. The rice initially tasted a bit bland and I found myself wanting more flavor. I think adding some shallots or garlic would help give the recipe some more depth of flavor.
Peeling the chestnuts is definitely the most labor intensive part of this recipe.
Originally published November 25, 2019