There are two ways to solve the situation. The first is to avoid it entirely. Serve guests roasted chestnuts and they'll do all the work for you (and sing your praises, to boot, particularly if the nuts are accompanied by a good red wine).
Arrange the nuts on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees, until they are fragrant and the outer shell begins to blacken and peel back from the nut, about 30 minutes. Bring them directly to the table and let folks have at them.
Cookbook writer Paula Wolfert offers a lovely spin on this by laying down a layer of coarse salt in a cast-iron pot, arranging the nuts on top and then sprinkling half a teaspoon of fennel seeds over everything. Cover and roast for about 30 minutes. The fennel adds a very subtle but wonderful hint of flavor.
Chestnuts are delicious in prepared dishes as well. And really, though peeling them will try your patience, it's not hard. The results are well worth the time spent.
Start by carving that "X" in the round side of the shell. Then plunge the chestnuts, approximately half a pound at a time, into a large pot of rapidly boiling water. Cook them until the outer shell begins to soften and become flexible, 3 to 4 minutes. Unless you're a very quick worker, don't try more than half a pound at a time or the nuts will cool and become more difficult to peel.
Transfer the boiled chestnuts to a work bowl and cover them with a damp kitchen towel. Let the chestnuts steam under that until they are barely cool enough to handle, about 2 to 3 minutes. Don't wait too long; the cooler they get, the harder they are to peel.
Use your fingers to break away the outer shell and use your fingers and a paring knife to peel the papery inner skin. Sometimes this will come off easily, other times you'll have to scrape away every scrap. The nuts should be golden with no brown skin remaining.
One pound of chestnuts in their shell, about 20 whole nuts, will make about 2 cups of coarsely chopped nuts.
Remember that because of their high moisture content, chestnuts spoil fairly quickly, so store them in the refrigerator. A few days "curing" this way will also make the nuts easier to peel and even sweeter, as enzymes begin to convert their starches to sugar.
-- Russ Parsons