Ingredient Spotlight: Alexanders – The Herb Time Forgot

April 15, 2018, 2:20 pm
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Introduced to the UK by the Romans, alexanders (also known as horse parsley) is an ancient, leafy herb that now grows wild in coastal areas such as cliff tops and seaside hedgerows. Lime green in colour, it flowers in spring and then produces black seeds in the autumn. The whole plant is edible, with a taste similar to that of angelica and parsley. It was popular right up to and through the Middle Ages and was often used in dishes in a similar way to lovage and celery. Over the following centuries, it gradually fell out of favour and was rarely if ever cultivated and eaten. Fortunately, it is now being rediscovered by foragers and chefs alike and can even be found on sale at some specialist UK food stores.

Alexanders has a multitude of different culinary uses. The simplest way to enjoy it is to eat it fresh as a vegetable – the stems can be enjoyed raw or blanched as you would asparagus, as can the unripe flower heads and leaves. Alternatively, the peeled stems can be pickled – it makes for an unusual take on sauerkraut – or even candied to make a sweet snack. The tender hearts (which are actually the pre-formed flower buds) can be cooked like chicory, sliced and pan-fried in olive oil for a few minutes until tender and then maybe served alongside some plump scallops or lightly fried John Dory. Even the roots are edible, and are great simply peeled, salted, oiled and roasted until soft or added to stews, hotpots, gratins and casseroles. As for the small black seeds, well, they have a distinctly spicy taste that is similar to, but less pungent than black pepper, so can be used as a pepper substitute or as a spice in their own right.

For a more Asian flavour, both the ripe and unripe flower heads can be battered and deep-fried tempura-style, or added to ramen to lend a crunchy, savoury hit – as can be found on the specials menu at London’s Koya when in season. Stevie Parle serves them in a soup with a British twist at his restaurant Craft – it consists of a broth of Ross chicken, curd dumplings, wild garlic, pickled alexanders, pork scratchings and kombucha egg. Doug McMasters, chef and owner of Brighton’s renowned zero-waste restaurant Silo rates alexanders as one of his favourite ingredient, and he and his team forage for it in the local Sussex countryside. He currently serves the buds with haricots blancs and potatoes as a Sunday lunch sharing plate, and also has it on his dinner menu alongside mackerel and fermented onion.

For something completely different, frost the rim of a glass with crushed alexanders’ seeds mixed with salt, fill with homemade Bloody Mary and garnish with the stem and leaves. Or maybe just infuse it in your favourite gin – it makes the perfect base for a foraged gin and tonic with which to while away a long sunny summer’s afternoon.

 

Image: Courtesy of @rangerchrisnorthcornwall via Instagram

Content: courtesy of Flavour Feed

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