French chestnut soup (velouté de châtaigne) is a wonderfully silky smooth, gently sweet and nutty soup that's perfect for the colder months. It's really easy to make, with a slightly earthy flavor from the nuts. Warming, comforting and delicious.
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Chestnuts to me are one of the signals of the changing seasons. Whether it's finding them in the store, or smelling vendors roasting them on the side of the street, it means winter is on it's way, or already here.
I know they are far less common in the US, where I live now, but growing up in the UK and visiting other places in Europe, they were a common feature. We would always roast some at home at some point or another each year and you'd find them sold by street vendors in major cities. I even remember the small village in Spain I visited one time having a mini festival, with chestnuts and sweet potatoes roasted by the side of the street for all to share.
France is somewhere that definitely prizes chestnuts and Ardèche chestnuts even have designated PDO status. You will find them used in many different ways in French cooking, both sweet and savory. This includes popular dishes like marrons glacés (candied chestnuts), the dessert Mont Blanc, chestnut stuffing and this lovely soup.
About the name, velouté de Châtaigne
Velouté de Châtaigne is the French name for chestnut soup, but it's worth explaining both parts of the name a little more.
Velouté is often used to mean a soup or sauce made with a light stock (such as chicken or fish), cream and thickened with butter and flour. This is part of the process in making this soup, but the name has another meaning, too. The word also means "velvety" and "smooth". Think that luscious texture like butternut squash soup, but with chestnut flavor, and you're pretty close.
You'll find both "Châtaigne" and "Marron used in French to mean chestnut, which can be confusing. Generally speaking, marron is used for larger chestnuts, and some argue the better quality ones. But then Ardèche chestnuts go by châtaigne and are sometimes called the "queen of chestnuts" so it's not quite that straightforward.
Generally, the names are interchangeable, though marron is often used with products made with chestnuts, like marrons glacés and chestnut paste (pâte de marrons).
Making French chestnut soup
As mentioned, this soup is very easy to make and only needs a few ingredients. Some other variations of chestnut soup add bacon or herbs, which do pair well with chestnuts but also change the flavor a little. Typically a French style chestnut soup recipe makes chestnuts the star flavor, so keeps it simple with chestnuts, stock, onion or shallot, cream, butter and salt and pepper.
You start as you would with many soup recipes by softening the onion/shallot in a little butter to give an aromatic, gently sweet base. Then you add the chestnuts and stock, let it cook a little while before blending.
You use ready roasted chestnuts so they are already cooked - the simmering is more about bringing the flavors together. You finish the soup with a little cream for extra smooth richness, adjust the seasoning then enjoy.
Choosing and preparing chestnuts for soup
As above, you add ready-cooked, peeled chestnuts when making the soup rather than adding them raw. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, it makes sure they are cooked properly as undercooked would really impact the flavor of the soup.
Secondly, it's really hard to peel uncooked chestnuts, so roasting first makes things a whole lot easier. Finally, it means you can discard any that are not up to scratch, before adding them.
The other benefit is that it means you don't have to start by preparing fresh chestnuts. Although arguably you may get a better flavor if you do, and it's definitely an option. See my how to roast chestnuts post for lots of tips on how to roast your own. You can instead start with ready-cooked chestnuts, which is definitely a whole lot easier.
If you do use pre-cooked, I highly recommend using good quality ones. If you can get French or Italian chestnuts, all the better, as the flavor is often that bit more "chestnuty". And being such a short list of ingredients, you will likely taste the difference.
Can you prepare chestnut soup in advance?
One of the great things about this, like many soups, is it works well to prepare ahead. I recommend only preparing as far as blending the soup, then store in the fridge for up to 2 - 3 days until needed.
When ready to use, re-heat it gently over medium heat and then add the cream. Ideally, you don't want to boil the soup after adding the cream as the higher heat can spoil the texture. So, reduce to a low heat as you add the cream.
Similarly, if you want to freeze the soup, do so at the same point. Again, the cream's texture may not be as good after freezing so is best added after defrosting and reheating.
While a velouté typically uses flour to help thicken, you don't really need to here as chestnuts thicken up pretty well on their own. Chestnuts do not contain gluten, so if you don't use flour, this soup is gluten free. Similarly, you can use vegetable stock or chicken stock to make this, and with vegetable stock it will be vegetarian.
Since you start by cooking in butter and add cream at the end, this is not vegan. You could swap to using olive oil and use a non-dairy cream (such as coconut cream) at the end, though the flavor will be ever so slightly different.
How to serve chestnut soup
This soup is wonderful served as an appetizer, and being such a lovely, luscious texture it's great for entertaining. In fact you may well find it as part of a festive Christmas meal in France.
It's worth keeping any sides pretty simple, such as some crispy bread or a few croutons on top. I also love frying some chopped chestnuts in butter to use on top of soups (I often do this for Brussels sprouts soup), so that would be great here, too. A small amount of chopped parsley or chives can be good as a garnish for a little color and freshness.
French chestnut soup is such a wonderfully smooth, flavorful soup that feels that bit special, despite being so easy to make. It's quick and easy, with only a few ingredients, letting the nutty, earthy flavor of the chestnuts shine. Perfect for a festive appetizer, or simply to treat yourself for lunch on a cold day.
Try these other smooth soups:
- Wild mushroom soup
- Broccoli and Stilton soup
- Roasted apple and acorn squash soup
- Plus get more French recipes and appetizer recipes in the archives.
French chestnut soup
- ½ onion or 2 shallots
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 lb roasted chestnuts
- 2 ½ cups chicken stock or more as needed
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon salt or more/less to taste
- ¼ teaspoon pepper or more/less to taste
- ¼ cup heavy cream double cream
For topping (optional)
- 3 roasted chestnuts either additional or set aside from above
- 1 tablespoon butter to toast chestnuts for topping, optional
- Dice the onion. Warm the butter in a medium pot/pan over a medium heat then add the onion once melted. Cook for a couple minutes to soften so the onion becomes translucent.
- Set aside around 1 chestnut per person for the topping, if adding (or you can use additional, if you have them) and break into pieces.
- Add the rest of the chestnuts to the onion, stir to coat with the butter and then add the stock, bay leaf, salt and pepper.
- Cover the pot, bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to keep it at a simmer and cook for around 20 minutes to let the flavors mingle.
- Meanwhile, warm the butter in a small skillet/frying pan over a medium heat and add the chestnut pieces. Cook, stirring now and then, to gently crisp and brown the chestnut pieces on each side.
- Once the soup has cooked around 20 minutes, remove from the heat and blend until smooth (either use a stick/immersion blender or transfer to a blender). Add the cream and mix in so well mixed. If needed, thin out the soup with a little more stock if it seems too thick (though this is a reasonably thick soup). You can also adjust the seasoning a little to taste as well.
- Serve the soup topped with some pieces of crisped chestnut. You can optionally use a little parsley or chives to garnish as well.
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