By Franz Scheurer
Salsify is a neglected vegetable in Australia, which is a pity as it is wonderful in both flavour and texture. Salsify is also known as Oyster Plant, Vegetable Oyster or Poor Man’s Asparagus.
It comes in three varieties, the ‘true salsify’, (Trogopogon porrifolius) also known as scolymus, white and thick with a number of little side roots, the ‘black salsify’, (Scorzomera hispanica), which is black, longer and tapering and has no side shoots, and ‘wild salsify’, (Trogopogon pratensis) also called ‘Goat’s Beard’, smaller, black roots with few side shoots and furry, leek-like leaves.
Wild salsify is native to the eastern Mediterranean and was probably eaten in classical times. The earliest known reference is by Albertus Magnus in the 13th century. There is evidence that salsify was cultivated widely in Italy and France by the 16th century. It was grown in England in the 18th century for its purple flowers but never attained much popularity as a food.
White salsify is the most robust of the three and can easily be removed from the earth without damage to the roots. It is, however, hard to peel. Black salsify is a lot easier to peel but will stain your hands. (German: Schwarzwurzel mans black root) The word 'scorzomera' comes from the Catalan ‘escorzo’ meaning viper, as the plant was used to treat snakebites in ancient times. Wild salsify, to the best of my knowledge, is not something that grows in Australia. All varieties will discolour quickly once peeled. (Lemon juice or acidulated water will prevent this)
The soft, pristine white flesh has a slightly sweet, earthy taste and a wonderful, almost creamy texture, reminiscent of young asparagus or oysters, which explains some of its common names. It contains the carbohydrate inulin, which is made up from fructose units, and is suitable for diabetics. Very popular in France and Italy it is used as an accompaniment to meats, in soufflés and is a very popular snack in Belgium, cooked as a fritter, washed down with a glass of beer. An exceptionally sweet variety of black salsify grows in Sicily, known as Scorzomera mollis.
Tim Pak Poy at Claude’s Restaurant regularly uses Salsify where it commonly lies under a minute of Wagyu chuck reviving one of Australia’s first culinary exports: the Carpet Bag Steak, and it stands alone when finished with parsley & abalone sauce and it has featured along side of the Tasmanian black truffle.
Salsify is a natural companion to fresh truffles and the combination lifts both of their flavours.
Following one of my favourite recipes:
© Franz Scheurer
300g Black Salsify
1 tbs Forum Chardonnay vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp salt (pref. Fleur du Sel)
100g fresh black truffle-shavings
25g salted butter
½ cup chicken stock
1 tbs sour cream
Nutmeg, freshly grated
Freshly ground Black pepper
1 large garlic clove, peeled
Puff pastry sheets
3 tbs Béchamel sauce
For the Béchamel sauce:
1 tsp corn flour
½ cup milk
Pre-heat oven to 220C
First make a small quantity of Béchamel Sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, add flour and keep stirring until the consistency becomes granular and the roux is nice and thick, add milk and carefully bring to boiling point, stirring constantly. Take off the heat immediately and set aside.
Prepare a pot of cold water, add salt, lemon juice and vinegar. Peel salsify, wash thoroughly and put each piece into the prepared acidulated water immediately. (Otherwise the vegetable will turn an unsightly pink/yellow) Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Refresh under cold water, slice and set aside on kitchen paper, and cover.
Bring butter to foaming stage and sweat truffles in the butter, add sliced salsify and chicken stock and simmer covered for 5 minutes. Stir in Béchamel sauce and sour cream. Season with nutmeg, salt and black pepper.
Leave to cool.
Rub the inside of 6 ramekins with the raw garlic then butter the ramekin dishes. Fill ramekins with the salsify/truffle mixture. Cut circles out of the puff pastry sheets to fit the top of the ramekins, allowing approx. 2 cm overlap. Cover the ramekins with the pastry, firmly pinching down the sides and brush with egg-wash.
Bake in the oven for 5 minutes at 220C, then reduce temperature to 190C and leave for a further 10 minutes.
If you can’t find salsify at your local green grocer you might want to call John Bignall, in Bothwell, Tasmania 03 6259 5678 re more information.