5 of the best watercress recipes

5 of the best watercress recipes

by Great British Chefs 19 August 2019

Watercress is unfairly looked over a lot of the time – this peppery, mustardy green is incredibly versatile, lending a lovely fresh flavour to salads, soups, stews and plenty more. Here are five ways to put this classic British leaf to good use.

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We take watercress for granted in the UK – it’s so easily available to us all year round that we’ve become a little numb to its considerable powers. We’re often allured to other bitter greens such as rocket, and yet watercress has bags of flavour and is wonderfully versatile. On top of that, it carries an impressive array of minerals and nutrients in those shoots and leaves – watercress is naturally high in Vitamins A and K and a natural source of protein, calcium, potassium and fibre.

Though we tend to treat watercress as a bitter leaf, it’s actually far more versatile than that. It’s a closer relative of plants like mustard, wasabi and radish, which explains the intense peppery flavour that you get from the leaves and stems. Instead of lending a flat bitterness to dishes, it brings more of a mustardy heat – a rounded flavour that really accentuates certain ingredients.

Young watercress tends to be milder, making it suitable to eat fresh in sandwiches and salads. The flavour gets more pungent as the plant gets older – this is when you can start looking to other dishes. There’s something quintessentially British about watercress soup, but the possibilities stretch far beyond that – it brings a beautifully verdant flavour to purees, a wonderful peppery edge to a pesto or a salsa verde, or you can even blend it into a compound butter to spread on a sandwich!

You can buy watercress throughout the year, but it really is at its best when it’s fresh. April to September is the best time to look out for watercress grown locally (most is grown in natural spring waterbeds in Hampshire and Dorset) – the more local it is, the fresher it is likely to be. Look for fresh, bright green leaves – anything discoloured or wilted is best avoided. Once you’ve found that perfect pack, check out a few of our favourite ways to eat watercress below.

Watercress chicken Kiev

Succulent chicken breast, garlic butter, crispy breadcrumb coating – chicken Kiev is a huge fan favourite and the star of many a happy childhood memory. Hard to think this classic could be bettered, but blitzing watercress into the garlic butter really elevates the whole thing – the aroma when you first cut into the Kiev is amazing!

Aside from stuffing it into chicken breast, watercress butter is great spread on a sandwich or melted on top of a steak. Just blitz softened butter with watercress and garlic, roll it into a sausage and keep it in the freezer – you can then slice off a piece whenever you need some.

Watercress soup with potato rösti, black pudding crumb and poached egg

Is there anything more English than an egg and cress sandwich? Garden cress doesn’t have the intense flavour of watercress but the flavour combination is much the same – egg and watercress are a match made in heaven, as the sharp pepperiness of the watercress cuts pleasantly through the rich comfort of the egg. Watercress and potato are similarly happy together, so this dish combines all these flavours in one fell swoop. This is perfect for breakfast or brunch, and you can make most of the recipe in advance.

There’s a reason watercress is a popular choice for soups – not only is it delicious, it happens to look fantastically green too. To make the most of its colour only blanch the leaves for a few minutes; any longer and the leaves will start to turn dull.

Watercress and mussel risotto

Aside from the fantastic flavour, we love watercress for the wonderful colour it brings to dishes. This watercress risotto is a perfect example – not only does it have an intense and vibrant colour, it delivers on the flavour front as well, providing a fresh base for ingredients such as shellfish, which works particularly well with the peppery leaf.

The trick here is to make a watercress puree and stir it through the risotto at the end – this preserves all the fresh flavour of the watercress without overcooking it. You can use this watercress puree method for all sorts of things – it’s fantastic stirred through pasta, or served as a sauce for red meat or chicken.

Watercress tagliata

Beef and watercress is a classic pairing – anyone who has eaten a roast beef sandwich with a handful of watercress crammed in can attest to that. Tagliata is equally quintessential – albeit in Italy – and takes a similar tack, pairing thin slices of rare beef with peppery rocket. Watercress, however, brings far more to the table than rocket, adding a hit of mustard pungency as well as the peppery note that works so well with the beef.

If you’re looking for a bitter green for a salad, we’d go for younger watercress given the option – it’s still pungent but slightly mellower than the older plant. Anything you’d make with rocket, dandelion or any other bitter green can be substituted with watercress, and you can pair it with all sorts of proteins. Beef, duck, chicken, lamb, egg and oily fish like anchovy and sardines all work in perfect harmony.

Lamb rump with watercress and roast garlic pesto, braised lettuce and broad beans

Salsa verde is one of our favourite accompaniments for red meat, but the addition of watercress and a handful of pine nuts turns this classic on its head and takes it to the next level. A little goes a long way with the watercress pesto – it lends a hefty whack of pepper to the dish, which plays nicely alongside the succulent lamb and sweet broad beans. This is one of our summer favourites – perfect to serve when you can get watercress, broad beans and lamb all fresh and in season from the shops.

Chopping or blending watercress into a salsa verde or pesto gives them a more rounded and versatile flavour. This pesto recipe would be equally tasty as a pasta sauce, or try using it as a garnish for roast chicken.