There is a point to this preamble of course and that is late last week, I arrived at one of my clients with their order of the 'Lunch and Supper Service', to be greeted by her waving around a number of giant, brown sticks and exclaiming 'help, come in and tell me what I do with these - in fact, what are they?'. With as much poise as I could muster (read: about as graceful as a new born calf taking first steps), I removed my green wellies and tumbled over the threshold, following my client down to the kitchen.
As tea was being made (an essential ritual before the beginning of any cooking discussion I find), I pointed out to my client that she was having a normal response to opening her weekly Veg Box and finding something that resembled very long, poking devices that have been smothered in dirt but that indeed she was holding Salsify [sals-suh-fee]. I'm not sure my telling my client that I knew what she had in her Veg Box was really very encouraging, as her next comment whilst looking blankly at the collection of stalks in her hands was, 'well that's super but what am I supposed to do with them?'.
I was tempted to say 'cook them' but felt that wouldn't be the most helpful response. So instead, we talked about salsify, it's qualities and potential uses and flavour combinations. Salsify isn't a vegetable that you can freely get in the supermarkets, probably because although easy to grow, they are extremely hard to pull out of the ground whole (without breaking). But if you do have a Veg Box or you see some of these ungainly vegetables at your local Farmers' Market, pick some up, as they are a great alternative to the humble parsnip, carrot, potato, celeriac or other root vegetable.
First off, when cooking salsify, cook for yourself/family, as they are one of those vegetables which does incite a hung jury. Salsify is also known as Oyster Plant as it tastes slightly of oysters/seafood and some people can pick this up more than others. Once cleaned and peeled, it is pale and thin and will brown easily if you don't use immediately.
What is super about using salsify is that it is terribly easy to prepare and doubly quick to cook. Look up salsify recipes on the interweb and all our household (quirky) Chefs have their own twist, Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall has Salsify & Scorzonera Gratin and Heston Blumenthal has a delish meal of Chicken Oysters (yum but prefer mine when picking clean the chicken carcass after a roast), with salsify and marrow bone, horseradish cream.
There are lists of recipes demonstrating the versatility of salsify but I prefer the simplest way which is having it as a side dish. I like to roast mine, peeling the salsify, dropping into a bowl of water with cut lemons so then don't brown. Then drying off with kitchen towel, popping them whole into a hot roasting tin which has been heating in the oven and pouring over a few glugs of olive oil. To add a little extra flavour, I throw in some bashed-up garlic cloves and two/three bay leaves and cook on 200c (gas 6) for about 20 minutes. When serving; sprinkle with sea salt and grate half a lemon rind over the top. Utterly delicious with any meaty protein - Salmon, Beef, Lamb etc.
However, back to my lovely client. The day ended up with me returning to her house (after deliveries) to show her how to make Salsify Fritters (see here for recipe). We were going to make Salsify Rosti but as is sometimes the way in life, we just ended up going in another direction - I think potentially there was a little too much chatting ...!
I served the Salsify Fritter with crispy bacon and a green salad for a quick lunch that day and my client has fallen in love with the flavour. I however, will continue to remain on the fence!