Sunday, February 22, 2009

Salsify

Late each fall as salsify comes into its winter season, we feature it on our menu for variety. We use Black Salsify (Scorzonera hispanica), also known as Scorzonera, Oyster Plant, or Spanish Salsify. There is also a White Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) that you can use in the same manner. The edible part of the Black Salsify is the long, slender stick-like taproot, about 14 to 16 inches long and no more than an inch in diameter, probably averaging three-quarters of an inch. In this photo you see several unpeeled roots along with a peeled root. White Salsify has a root that looks more like a white carrot or a malnourished parsnip.

The roots are generally filthy, so a good scrubbing is in order. Then you must peel the black skin away to reveal the cream-colored interior. Immediately upon peeling, you must place the salsify in acidulated water (squeeze in a half a lemon) to prevent discoloration. I always squeeze the other half of the lemon into the cooking water as well, if I am going to boil the salsify. Some people do cook the salsify root skin on and then peel it, mainly to avoid getting the really sticky sap on their hands. I prefer to peel it raw.

Use as you would any other root vegetable: roasted, scalloped, in soup, as a cream soup, boiled and mashed, boiled and buttered, fried, etc. At the restaurant, we typically cut the root into 3-inch (8 cm) lengths, boil it to tender (about 10 minutes), and then reheat it with double cream just before service. But of late, I have been experimenting with different uses for salsify, including this round terrine set in a Sauvignon Blanc and oyster liquor aspic. This was the base for a fried oyster in a recent Chef's Tasting.

It has a mild flavor that some say reminds them of oysters, hence the common name Oyster Plant. I haven’t had much luck in detecting any oyster flavor in Scorzonera, sadly. But it's relatively low in calories and high in fiber, so as long as you don't drench it in calories, it's a good eat.

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