Friday, 28 February 2014

Sassy seafood salad with wild greens + flowers


'Burnt lime squid and king prawns on a bed of quinoa and bulgar wheat, wild salsa verde, avocado, slow roasted cherry tomatoes and yellow pepper, with an array of foraged greens and flowers, topped off with a sorrel yoghurt'


This has got to be my favourite wild food dish thus far.  Not only does it require you to get creative in regards to what plants and flowers you pick, but it's easy to make, looks great, can be scaled up easily (great if you've got guests), and tastes delicious.

What I love about this dish is that you needn't follow a set recipe - you can chop and change what plants and flowers you use depending on what's around, you can use fish instead squid and prawns - I think flash fried whole sardines would be lovely with this - you can substitute quinoa for cous cous, the salsa verde for pesto etc etc.


Although this is an easy dish to make, it is a time-consuming one - there are five or six different components to the dish - I've split the instructions/recipes up for each component to make it easier to digest.


Top row (L-R): Three-cornered Leek, Cow Parsley, Nasturtium
Middle row (L-R): Sorrel, Ox-eye Daisy, Hairy Bittercress
Bottom row - flowers (L-R): Gorse, Rosemary, Hairy Bittercress, Red Dead-nettle


Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum):

For ID information, see a previous blog post here




Cow Parsley / Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris):

Cow Parsley is in the carrot (umbellifer) family, which contains deadly plants such as Hemlock Water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) and Hemlock (Conium maculatum).  Be VERY careful when picking Cow Parsley, as it can grow side by side with Hemlock and looks almost identical to those not in the know - this is not a plant for beginners!  




Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus):

A common garden plant and a great edible species - the peppery flowers are often used in salads, leaves are used as a garnish or can be made into pesto, and the seeds can be made in to 'poor man's capers'.  I saw this lot in an overgrown front garden, so helped myself to a few of the younger leaves - urban 'reclamation'.




Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa):

For detailed ID information, see a previous blog post here

Big leaves were picked for the Sorrel yoghurt and the smaller ones for garnish.




Ox-eye Daisy (Luucanthemum vulgare):

This herb can be found growing in meadows, fields, disturbed areas, and also my back garden.  You don't need much as it has a strong flavour.




Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta):

For detailed ID information, see a previous blog post here




Gorse (Ulex europaeus):

Gorse flowers have a mild coconut-y aroma and can be used to make syrup, wine, ice cream etc.  Flowers can also be crystallised as you would a Sweet Violet, or simply eaten au naturel.  When eating raw I find that although you get a slight coconut taste to begin with, the overriding taste is an unpleasant bitter one.  Because of this, I picked individual petals from each bud and used them to garnish the salad, instead of using the whole flower heads.




Red Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum):

Prior to flowering, the leaves and young stems are usually eaten raw in a salad or steamed as a veg, however, I picked this plant not for the leaves but for the tiny pink flowers - although they don't have much of a taste, I think they look rather quaint.




Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis):

Those that have eaten this widely-used garden herb raw will know it is not a particularly pleasant experience; the flavour is too acrid - the same can be said of the flowers, so use sparingly.





Foraged plants and flowers used in the salad

Slow roasted tomatoes and yellow peppers:

This is super easy and can be done a few hours in advance to make things easier for yourself.

Ingredients:

- 10 halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 yellow pepper cut in to chunks
- 5 sprigs of thyme
- Salt / pepper


Preheat the oven to 100ºC. Toss the tomatoes and yellow pepper in olive oil, mix in the thyme, season well.  Slow roast until they start to caramelise, turning sweet and succulent, but don't be tempted to turn the heat up - low and slow is the key for this.  When they're done take them out and put them in a plastic freezer bag and seal - this is to prevent them from drying out. When the salad is nearly ready, simply put these back in the oven to warm up.





Wild salsa verde:

This recipe is pinched straight from one of my favourite blogs - Hunter Gather Cook.  I didn't use the same plants as the recipe states as I don't leave near the coast so can't readily get hold of Alexanders, nor could I find any Ground-ivy whilst out in the woods.  Instead, I used Cow Parsley, Ox-eye Daisy and Hairy Bittercress.


Click here for HGC blog post -->   Hunter Gather Cook Salsa Verde Recipe



Ingredients:

- 1 handful of Sorrel
- 1 handful of Three-cornered Leek
- ½ handful of Hairy Bittercress
- ½ handful of Ox-eye Daisy
- ½ handful of Cow Parsley
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 4 anchovies 
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- Black pepper


Finely chop the wild greens and anchovies - if you blend them they'll turn into a green paste. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and adjust if necessary.

I forgot to take a photograph of the salsa once completed, so check the Hunter Gather Cook blog post for more info / pics.



Finely chopped wild greens


Sorrel yoghurt:

The key to this yoghurt is to not blend it for more than 5 seconds or so, as it'll become thin and lose it's viscosity.


Ingredients:

- Greek yoghurt
- Handful of Sorrel leaves
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- Salt / pepper


Put all the ingredients bar the seasoning in a blender and blitz for 5 seconds or so, season to taste. 






Burnt lime squid and king prawns:




Ingredients:

- 1 lime
- 1 whole squid
- 4 raw prawns


Cut the lime into slices and fry on a high heat with a splash of olive oil until they start to caramelise and burn.  Take the lime slices out the pan and rub into the flesh of the squid and prawns to baste the flavour on.  In the same pan, fry the prawns and squid - prawns will take a minute longer, so put them in first.  Stuff the squid with burnt lime slices and continue to baste the seafood until cooked.






Building the salad:

The base of this salad is a mix of red / white quinoa and bulghar wheat, you can buy this pre-mixed from Waitrose. Boil for around ten minutes and drain. 

Pick only the youngest Sorrel, Cow Parsely, Hairy Bittercress and Nasturtium leaves to use as garnish for the salad. Have all the flowers and greens pre-prepared ready to scatter on the seafood once it's cooked - you don't want it to go cold!


To build the salad;

  1. Place quinoa and bulghar on platter
  2. Evenly spread salsa verde on quinoa / bulghar
  3. Scatter roasted veg and avocado chunks
  4. Sprinkle chopped mint 
  5. Place squid + prawns on roast veg
  6. Garnish with wild greens and flowers
  7. Dollop with Sorrel yoghurt
  8. Tuck right in!


This was enough for two greedy people to have a real feast.  The taste was oh so sassy and oh so scrumptious - I'll be doing this again!  


A veritable feast







Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Roadkill pheasant with wild greens

  The concept of eating roadkill is something that really repulses most people, but wrongly so I think.  Of course, I'm not suggesting that you go out armed with with a spatula and start scraping squirrel pancakes off the road, that really is repulsive.  But just because an animal is dead by the side of the road does not necessarily mean it has succumb to maggot infestation or has become breakfast, lunch, and dinner for carnivorous creepy crawlies.  

You do need to apply a bit of common sense here though, if you are in any doubt that the animal in fact died from disease and not from an injury sustained from a vehicle, like a rabbit with myxomatosis, for example, then steer well clear, it's simply not worth the risk.  

In terms of telling how old the animal is, again a bit of common sense and a good smell should do the trick - if it smells rancid and has clearly been partially eaten by other animals that have got there before you, then leave it alone - it has passed it's sell-by date.  This pheasant, however, was still warm when I found it, so must have been killed very recently = good for the pot. 

A pheasant will feed two people, as I was cooking for four I had to buy another pheasant from the butchers. 

I casseroled the pheasant with fennel, butter beans and a cider/vermouth sauce and served it with a creamy mash and two wild greens; Three-cornered Leek (Alium triquetrum) and Smooth Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus). 






Quick way to prepare a pheasant:

Plucking takes a while and is a fiddly business, not to a mention a messy one too - not something you'd want to do indoors!  This method is far quicker, and although it won't leave you a whole bird with skin on, it will allow you to get at the breast and leg meat within a matter of seconds.  The aim is to pull the body and legs away from the wings and back feathers. 

1. Flip the pheasant on its back, head facing forwards
2. Stand on wings, getting your boots as close to the body as possible (so you're on top of the wing joints)
3. Pull up on the feet (this sometimes requires a bit of force)
4. Continue pulling upward until you are left standing on the wings with the body/legs in your hands
5. Voila! Flip the pheasant over and you'll find you have easy access to breast / leg meat




A fantastically quick way of getting to the pheasant meat

Wings and back feathers after pulling the body off of them

Three-cornered Leek / Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum):

This is one of my favourite wild greens, it can be used raw finely chopped in salads and salsas, steamed, boiled, blitzed and turned in to pesto, as a base for soups, the list goes on.  Three-cornered Leeks prefer milder climates and are found mostly in the south of England, particularly the south-west - when was at university in Exeter I found them in every other hedgerow and even in abundance on campus.  I'm lucky enough to have these near me at home in Kent also, this map gives a rough guide on geographical prevalence:

http://www.brc.ac.uk/plantatlas/index.php?q=plant/allium-triquetrum


Identification:

The clue is in the name; 'three-cornered' - the main identification feature for this plant is the triangular cross-sectional shape of the leaf. The face of the leaf is flat, but the back has a central raised ridge running down it, thus creating a triangular shape.  When broken, it has a garlic-y smell, like a milder Ramsons (Wild Garlic), and of course a garlic-y taste.

Beware: do not get these confused with poisonous Bluebells or other such plants - these all have flat leaves - it's not a Three-cornered Leek unless it has three corners!




Triangular cross-sectional shape

Raised ridge along the back of the leaf

Smooth Sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus):

Probably presumed to be just a weed by most, this is a actually a great edible plant, and very abundant too.  It has a bitter taste when raw, but the cooking process gets rid of this.  The Latin name oleraceus means 'hollow (referring to the stem), edible vegetable', so there you have it, proof that whoever was responsible for the nomenclature also appreciated it as a foodstuff.

Identification:

Although it appears to have prickles at a first glance, the leaves are in fact lobed and prickle free. When young, the leaves have a matte greyish green colour to them, but when the plant matures it produces a milky stem with larger, glossier leaves that clasp the stem with arrow-like lobes.  This plant frequents disturbed / waste ground - from your flower bed to the side of the road / footpaths.






As this was the first time I'd cooked this dish and it was a bit of an experiment, not everything turned out as I'd hoped. This is not to say it wasn't tasty, it was, but it could be better, so the recipe listed below is the updated and improved one.  I opted for the shove it all in a pot and cook approach, but the cooking time for the fennel / beans and pheasant is different - these are two of the improvements;

1. Roast the fennel and butter beans alone until cooked and starting to caramelise 
2. Limit pheasant cooking time to an hour maximum - any more and it'll turn tough and dry


Ingredients (serves 4):

- 2 pheasants
- 3 fennel bulbs
- Tin of butter beans
- Cider
- Vermouth
- Plain flour
- Olive oil
- Salt / pepper
-------
- Potatoes
- Butter
- Cream
-------
- Wild greens


Cut the breast meat in to chunks and leave the leg/wing meat on the bone.  Cover the pheasant with seasoned flour and brown off in a pot with a dash of olive oil, leave to one side.  In the same pot, add the roughly chopped fennel, butter beans and a generous splash of vermouth and roast at 180ºC until the fennel starts to caramelise.  At this point, add the pheasant back in along with a bottle of cider and cook for 45mins / 1 hour - check the pheasant regularly to make sure it isn't overcooking.

Whilst the pheasant is cooking boil the chopped and peeled potatoes in salted water until soft and mash with butter, a splash of cream and salt and pepper.

When the mash and the casserole is ready, quickly boil / steam the wild greens - if boiling they need only a minute or so, if steaming they'll need a few minutes longer. 








Although it looks a tad rough round the edges, the combination of the fennel, butter beans and pheasant in the casserole was very nice indeed.  The vermouth / cider sauce took on an almost creamy consistency and was full of flavour.  Fancy food this is not, but for a cold winters day it hit just the spot, despite the pheasant being slightly overcooked and the fennel not quite cooked enough for my liking. 

As and when I find my next roadkill pheasant I will certainly be experimenting with this dish further.




Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Steamed Alexanders

  Up until the sixteenth century, Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) were widely cultivated and used in place of celery, though as celery was developed to produce a milder, thick-stalked plant, the use of Alexanders has been in decline.  In the wild Alexanders are predominantly found within a few miles of the coast, which is thought to be because of their inability to sustain the harsher inland frosts.  If you've ever driven through coastal areas in Devon or Cornwall you are bound to have seen Alexanders in great profusion by the roadside, they are quite literally everywhere.  By the roadside is where I found these Alexanders, though not in the idyllic countryside of the south-west, but next to a very busy road in suburban Hastings - coastal/urban foraging.  They are also commonly found in colonies on cliff edges and sea walls.


Care should be taken when picking these as they are in the dangerous umbellifer family, which contains the deadly Hemlock Water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) and Hemlock (Conium maculatum).  Having said this, it would take an almighty lack of care and judgement to get the Hemlocks confused with Alexanders - if there is anything you could mistake it for it would be Ground-elder (Aegopodium podagraria) or Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris), both of which are edible anyway.  This plant is fairly easy to distinguish from the two aforementioned edible species, but do check your guidebooks carefully before consuming.




Vibrant green colour of the young shoots

Pick off the leaves, leaving just the stems

For this recipe it's only the stems that we're interested in, so strip off the leaves, but by all means use them in another dish, as they are just as tasty as the stems - my leftover Alexanders leaves were used alongside some Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) in a lentil, sausage and chorizo casserole, see here: http://instagram.com/p/kAmU19nqv7/


Ingredients:

- Alexanders stems
- Butter
- Salt / pepper
- Lemon juice


Once you've stripped all the leaves off the stems, cut in to bite-sized pieces and put in a steaming basket or sieve suspended above a pan of boiling water.  Steam for 5-10 minutes depending on how crunchy / fragrant you like them, mix in a small knob of butter, season with salt and pepper and squeeze over a bit of lemon juice, though not too much, as you don't want to overpower the flavour of the Alexanders.


A small bowl of steamed Alexanders makes for great great finger food and would be lovely alongside a piece of fish as a main, they have a sweet yet fragrant taste that is unlike anything I've had before - very pleasant indeed.  I steamed mine for ten minutes, but next time I think I'll reduce that down to 6/7 minutes to retain more of the unique, mildly-spiced Alexanders flavour.







Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Sloe gin - a how-to guide

  Along with Elderflower cordial, Sloe (Prunus spinosa) gin is usually one of the first dabbles in to wild food that one takes - a real Christmas classic.  Identification is simple, it's quick and easy to make, and tastes delicious, though for instant gratification you may need to look elsewhere, as the maturing process is rather sloe (oof).  Although you can drink Sloe gin after three months, it tastes better with time - I usually give it a year, so it's ready for the following festive period.

I recently found some three year vintage that had been lost at the back of the cupboard, it was extremely smooth and had turned rather syrupy, really very nice!  As with most spirits, time is the key - the longer you leave it, the nicer it'll be.






Sloes were picked on 16/12/13, around half had over ripened, but there were still plenty of ripe Sloes to go round

Sloe silhouette



A note on cheap gin;

Google 'Sloe gin recipe' and you will find pages upon pages of recipes all telling you that the first mistake one makes is to use cheap gin.  I disagree.  At Christmas we did a taste test to see if anyone could taste the difference between the Morrisons Savers used here or an expensive bottle of Bombay Sapphire - the results were quite remarkable;

- 9 of the 10 people preferred the taste of the Morrisons Savers

So, save your money and buy the £9 Savers stuff, instead of the £20 Bombay.  




Pierce the skin with a sharp object

It's best to pick Sloes after the first frost, as it helps to break down the berries and get the juices running.  It's not essential to do this - if you want to pick them early so that your gin has had time to mature before Christmas, then put them in the freezer overnight to kickstart this process.

There are many gin / sugar / Sloe quantity combinations in recipe books and on the internet, I don't like mine too sweet, so hold back on the sugar somewhat - half the weight of the berries is just fine (some recipes suggest equal weights).


Recipe:

- 70cl cheap gin
- 125g granulated sugar
- 250g Sloes (punctured)


Prick Sloes with sharp object (alternatively, put in the freezer overnight so the skin bursts), add Sloes and sugar to the gin in large glass jar.  Shake once a day for a week, then once a week for a month thereafter - the sugar will completely dissolve and the gin will turn a reddish hue. Decant into smaller bottles, you can strain the Sloes out completely leaving just the gin, though I like to add a few Sloes back in to the bottom of the bottle, it looks nice y'see. Leave for at least 3 months, though 1 year + is preferable. 


If you're not fond of drinking straight Sloe gin, it makes a great Pimm's substitute - just add lemonade, fruit, mint, cucumber etc for a refreshing summer drink.


Colour when first mixed

Colour after one month