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How to cook salsify

How to cook salsify

You may be forgiven for averting your eyes when coming across salsify. It's a rather ugly root vegetable, grubby-looking with all that earth clinging to the skin. But during the winter months, salsify makes a welcome change from parsnips, sprouts and cabbages.

So what does it taste like? The clue might be in its nickname. Salsify (Sahl-seh-fee) is known as the oyster plant or oyster vegetable. These giant pencils are members of the dandelion family, a Mediterranean plant with a delicate taste, ever so slightly sweet, some say slightly reminiscent of oyster. Many liken it to an artichoke instead, however.

Salsify is perfect on its own, but it's also a natural match with all sorts of other seasonal vegetables such as celeriac and mushrooms. The other issue besides the unsightliness, is the availability. Salsify is not easy to harvest; pulling the roots from the soil without breaking them is time consuming, making it a little hard to come by. You will probably find a bunch in the weekly organic vegetable boxes or on farmer markets stalls between October and January (and supermarkets are beginning to stock them too). Encouragingly, salsify recipes are making a comeback on restaurant menus – after all, this winter vegetable was extremely popular with the Victorians.

The good news is that it is an easy vegetable to prepare and very fast to cook. As the taste is quite mild, this vegetable should please a cross-section of people.

How to cook salsify

Ingredients

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1
To prepare the salsify, wash the salsify under cold water, scrubbing off any soil and dirt
2
Once peeled, salsify turns brown at an alarming rate. To prevent this, prepare a bowl or tray (big enough to hold the salsify) of cold water with the lemon juiced into it, ready for the peeled salsify to be submerged into
3
Peel the batons using a vegetable peeler. Plastic gloves are a good idea if you have a lot to peel as the milky residue is very sticky. Trim the ends and halve any batons which are too long to fit in the water (or chop into smaller pieces if preferred)
4
Boil the salsify in salted water for 6–8 minutes depending on the thickness. Cook like you would any other root vegetable, until soft but not mushy, or a little al dente if that’s your preference
5
Drain the salsify, season with salt and toss with a knob of melted butter

Serving suggestions

Salsify has a mild flavour which is easily enhanced by infusing with other ingredients. Try enhancing the method above by poaching the salsify in chicken stock or white wine. Adding aromatics such as a bay leaves, thyme or black peppercorns also adds depth of flavour.

Like other white-fleshed root vegetables such as parsnip or celeriac, salsify is lovely blended into a creamy soup or purée. Pollyanna Coupland’s leek and salsify gratin pairs the vegetable with a silky cheese sauce; the perfect comfort food.

Salsify also roasts nicely – basting with plenty of foaming butter will intensify the naturally nutty flavour and caramelise it to an appealing golden brown colour. Serve with some crispy salty bacon for an exciting wintry side dish.

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