Sautéed Chestnuts, Onions, and Bacon

Please welcome guest author, the inimitable David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria. Looking for a good side for Christmas dinner? David shares one of his favorite recipes from his fabulous new cookbook, The New Portuguese Table ~Elise

I know within two bites if a holiday side dish is truly spectacular. Because I’ll have a nearly uncontrollable urge to elbow the turkey or ham off the table, pull the bowl to me, dunk my face in, and not come up for air until I’m finished.

Growing up, the object of my lust was my grandmother’s recheio com chouriço—a kicky bread stuffing studded with piquant chunks of my aunt’s homemade sausage; it was one of the few Portuguese dishes I would eat. Fending off cousins on both sides of my twisted family tree (there were so many of us we could’ve started our own touring Christmas chorale) wasn’t easy. But I did it, and I have the pictures of me as a corpulent fourth-grader with a self-satisfied grin to prove it.

After living in Portugal for the better part of 2007 researching my book The New Portuguese Table, I discovered this side dish, which is threatening to cause great calamity at our Christmas dinner this year. It’s a mix of chestnuts and large pearl onions sautéed in—what else? the fat of the year, if not the century—bacon drippings. And for good measure, bits of crispy-chewy, salty-sweet bacon are toss in for good measure. Chestnuts are an important crop in Portugal, where you can find the nut in just about everything from appetizers, to main courses, to desserts.

Confession (and please don’t go telling this story in your New Year’s Weight Watchers’ meetings): sometimes I whip up a batch, which takes all of 20 minutes or so, and eat the whole thing in front of the TV while watching “Dancing with the Stars.” If I want to feel classy and cultured, I use a cloth napkin and watch “Castle.”

Sautéed Chestnuts, Onions, and Bacon Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8 as a side.

Castanhas Salteadas com Toucinho Entremeado



  • 1/2 pound thick-sliced slab bacon or pancetta, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 pound pearl onions, scant 1 inch in diameter
  • 1 pound peeled, roasted chestnuts (vacuum-packed*, jarred without sugar*, or freshly roasted)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

*Vacuum-packed or jarred are preferred over freshly roasted.


1 In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the fat has rendered and the meaty bits start to crisp, about 12 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

2 Meanwhile, fill a bowl with ice and water and set aside. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Drop in the onions and blanch for 30 seconds. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and plop them into the ice water. To peel the onions, snip off the tip and remove the papery outer layers. Set aside the onions.

3 Raise the heat under the skillet to medium, plonk in the onions, and sauté in the bacon fat, stirring occasionally, until spotted with brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts, cooked bacon, and honey and toss to warm through, being careful not to break the nuts--they're fragile. Season with salt and plenty of pepper and then scoop into a decorate bowl. Sprinkle with the parsley.

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Chestnut Onion Bacon photo by Nuno Correia

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Showing 4 of 17 Comments

  • pam

    I wish I could find chestnuts in jars around here. I’ve looked all over, I guess maybe I need to search the net.

  • Gaelle

    Growing up in France, we would always have chestnuts together with the Christmas Turkey. I love them… and so do my children (especially in the form of Chestnuts spread). I am just sad chestnuts (in jar) are so expensive around us. I guess, I’ll just have to use fresh ones! Thanks for the recipe. Definitively something I’ll like.

  • Ben

    When I read your statement “it was one of the few Portuguese dishes I would eat,” I almost stopped reading, simply on principle. But I bravely soldiered on, driven by the gorgeous photo above. What a recipe. I think I know what I’m taking to Christmas dinner at the parents’ place this year.

    My family discovered (and fell in startled lust for) Portuguese cuisine while on vacation in New Bedford, about 5 years ago. When we returned home to Chicago, we were dismayed at our inability to find a single Portuguese restaurant. So it has been up to me to make it myself. I’ll definitely have to check out your book. And if you know of any Portuguese restaurants around Chicago, please please PLEASE let me know.

  • Judi

    What a tasty dish!
    And David, I also share your love of DWTS and afterwards, Castle….
    you are the first person with whom I have admitted this little diversion.
    I may just have to try your dish when the next season starts up.
    Or, before!!

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