You, My Friend, Are Not A Parsnip

Salsify

Like a parsnip, only better - much, much better

Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much when I finally uprooted these babies from the garden the other day. I fully expected that my first attempt to grow salsify would not have amounted to much, but instead I pulled some reasonably-sized (if somewhat forked) specimens from the ground.

I still wasn’t expecting that much when I cooked them for the first time, despite the reports that these parsnip-like roots tasted, well, much better than parsnips.

I was even skeptical about the recommendation that the best way to enjoy them was to do nothing more than have them boiled. I mean, surely some molecular gastronomist somewhere has come up with something more elaborate that than?

However.

Let me tell you that I was wowed.

Wonderfully flavoursome roots, which tasted very much like asparagus or even artichoke heart to me. Salsify and its dark-skinned cousin, scorzonera, have been around for centuries but, as my copy of Dr. D. G. Hessayon’s Vegetable and Garden Expert notes, in this part of the world, “they still remain oddities”.

I wonder why that should be.

They’re long and thin and don’t attain as much girth as, say, a parsnip. But they’re easy to grow (as evidenced, if nothing else, by the complete lack of attention they received from me), fairly hardy (as evidenced by their survival of the winter we just had) and taste bloody good.

There again, it’s not always about raw talent. Somewhere along the line, you’ll find that parsnips probably had some friends in high agricultural places. Perhaps salsify just needs a better PR machine (and hey, I’m available for a small fee).

So (in my new role as Chief Salsify Officer), I do recommend that you try salsify out if you get the chance. It’s right at the tail-end of its availability here, but you might come across it at farmer’s markets (and for those in Dublin, I have seen the black-skinned version, scorzonera, in Fallon and Byrne). And if you’re of a gardening bent, do consider getting some salsify seeds – I sourced mine from The Organic Centre – it’ll soon be time to plant and they’ll reward you well.

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Boiled Salsify

This really is both the simplest and possibly best thing that you can do with salsify.

I followed the cooking advice contained in my Vegetable and Garden Expert, which explained that the secret to achieving top flavour lay in peeling the salsify after, and not before, boiling it in salted, lemony water.

Can I just say that salsify plucked straight from the garden and cooked like this was a revelation. I had to restrain myself from eating the asparagus-like chunks straight from the pot.

You’ll need:
  • 600g salsify
  • approx 1.25l water
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tblsp lemon juice
  • butter and chopped flat leaf parsley to serve
The Steps:
  • Scrub your salsify very well under a running tap, then, leaving the skin on, trim the ends and cut into pieces approx. 5cm long. Note that when you cut salsify, it will exude a slightly sticky, milky substance, alternatively brown and white in colour. Nothing to be concerned about, just sayin’ it’ll be stickier and messier than dealing with, oh, parsnips, for example.
  • Bring around 1.25l of water to a boil, add the salt, lemon juice and salsify and boil until the salsify is fork-tender – approx. 25 minutes or so – less for pieces that are very thin.
  • Drain, scrape off the skins and serve tossed in a little melted butter and chopped parsley.
The Variations:
  • You don’t have to boil it, of course – you can bake it, batter and fry it, put it in a gratin or even make fritters (see below).
The Results:
  • Serves around 4 as a side-dish
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Salsify Fritters

Salsify Fritters With Lemon

Hugh Fearnley-Whatshisname had an article on salsify recipes in The Guardian a few months back which included lots to interest newcomers to the vegetable, including a recipe for salsify fritters. I have used his version as a template here, swapping out his chili and coriander and using thyme, parsley and parmesan instead, plus some lemon juice to finish – all of which work well with salsify. You can just eat these with a dollop of yoghurt or, if you’re in a brunchy kind of humour, you might just like to have a poached egg alongside too. I know I would.

You’ll need:
  • 300g salsify
  • small pinch of dried thyme (less than 0.25 tsp) or use about 0.5 tsp fresh thyme if you have it
  • 2 tblsp butter
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly
  • 3 tblsp fine wholewheat breadcrumbs
  • 2 tblsp grated parmesan
  • 3 tblsps chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tblsp polenta
  • olive oil for frying
To serve:
  • lemon wedges
  • natural yoghurt (optional)
The Steps:
  • Scrub the salsify, peel them, trim the ends and grate coarsely. The salsify will discolour as you’re doing this, but it doesn’t really matter, as you’ll be frying it anyway.
  • Place a large frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the butter and allow to melt.
  • When the butter has melted, add the grated salsify and thyme. Stir and fry until the salsify has softened – around 15-20 minutes – then remove from the heat.
  • In a bowl, combine the salsify, egg, breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, garlic, salt and black pepper, then divide the mixture into 6 individual patties.
  • Place the polenta in a separate bowl, then dip each patty into the polenta and coat on both sides.
  • Place your pan back on a medium heat and add enough olive oil to coat the pan.
  • Fry the fritters until golden, around 4 minutes or so on each side.
  • Serve with a wedge of lemon and a dollop of yoghurt if you like. Poach up an egg to go with them if that takes your fancy.
The Variations:
  • I rather fancied trying these with tarragon instead of thyme, but didn’t have any to hand. I might try that next time.
The Results:
  • 6 small fritters, serves 2 (perhaps 3 if you have a lot of other things on the plate)

And for those of you who were wondering who won that wine and chocolate, the lucky winner was Yvonne Carty, who now has her Easter nicely sorted!

Comments
  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daily Spud. Daily Spud said: Some things in life are better than parsnips. Like salsify, for example. http://bit.ly/a0qs4t [...]

  • Oooh…I’m bound to fall in love with salsify because parsnips are my absolute favorite. I think I’ve only ever had salsify as a background ingredient in a soup. Can’t wait to try these delicious recipes!

  • Glad you did this. Thought salsify was an herb! See, these are the things we learned from you. These are the things…

  • Am plotting my vegetable, erm, plot atm, and might have to add this to the list. Thank you!

  • While you’re on the subject of ‘hard to find’ veg, can you ever find samphire? It’s used all the time (partic on current fave masterchef) but i can never EVER find it anywhere. Realise i’m in Edinburgh and you in Dublin but any tips would be appreciated… Mmmm, can see my having to grow my own like your good self!

  • How interesting! I have heard of salsify but can’t say I’ve ever seen or tasted it before. We love parsnips and artichoke hearts, so I will have to track down some seeds and give it a go.

  • Ok, I’m drooling. By your luscious description, I know I would love salsify! I wonder if I can persuade my brother to grow some this year. I will check the farmer’s markets here and I sure hope I find some. It sounds too good to miss.

    And, just for the record, I’m a huge parsnip fan. ;)

  • Phyllis: I think it’s not uncommon to find salsify in soups or stews but, if you can, it does deserve to be tried on its own terms!

    Duo Dishes: glad I’m here to help :)

    Sarah: thanks for dropping by and happy plotting – good luck with whatever you decide to grow!

    Hilsters: Gosh, I can’t think that I’ve ever seen samphire for sale here (though admittedly, I haven’t been actively looking) – I guess I would try looking in some of the fancier food shops or perhaps you could ask some fishmongers whether they would have it (seeing as it is a coastal plant and often eaten with fish). As for growing it, I’d be curious to try that myself sometime!

    Phoo-D: good luck with tracking down salsify seeds over there – I gather it’s none too common over in the US so I don’t know how easy the seeds will be to come by

    Diva: Hope you find some – and that your brother can find some seeds and grow them for you – I know you would love it too! And for the record, I also count myself as a parsnip fan – one of my favourite vegetables to roast – I was just hugely impressed by how flavourful simple boiled salsify was.

  • MMMMM,…your salsify fritters or patties look just wonderful & ooh so tasty!!

    I also love salsifies but their season is ending here in Belgium but I am going to make these this evening!! They look so tasty!!!

  • Congratulations on your successful and satisfying salsify! A root that tastes like asparagus or artichoke hearts? Sold! Honestly, I’m going to be on the watch out for salsify – I couldn’t possibly pass up something with that kind of flavor analogy, or a chance to make these delicious, crunchy fritters.

  • I’ve only heard of this stuff recently and this is the first time I’ve seen a description of what it’s like and how to cook it. I might have thought they were duff parsnips if I’d spied them at the farmer’s market but now I will know!

  • Sophie: hope you got hold of some salsify & enjoyed the fritters :)

    Tangled Noodle: I really hope you can find some – with that flavour profile, as you say, it deserves to be more widely known!

    Sarah: they do look like duff parsnips (which probably doesn’t help their case) but hope you can find some to try out

  • Oh, thank you for teaching me a New Thing! I’ve heard of salsify before, but now I can pick it out of a lineup!

  • Hubby loves it when I make these… I have played with recipes for them in the past, and the ones we get do not look so buff! That Irish soil produces some hunky good looking veggies!

  • So that’s salsify/ scorzonera! Thanks Aoife, I had dinner in Cafe Paradiso in Cork and scorzonera was part of my delicious dish. Not much chance I’ll grow it but I’ll definitely look out for this vegetable and will be trying your recipe.

  • Jenni: I am trying to picture the situation in which you end up perusing a police-style line-up including salsify – the possibilities are damned intriguing :D

    Chef E: that’s good Irish soil for ya alright!

    Peter: glad I could clear that up for you – if you do come across salsify or scorzonera, it’s definitely worth picking some up

  • I’ve only had salsify one way before…cooked in cream and served with oysters. Tastes fabulous, but the cream and oysters seem to take center stage. need to try your boiled salsify so I know what I’ve been missing!

  • Ooh, gastroanthropologist, having salsify with cream and oysters does sound fabulous – in fact salsify is also known as the oyster plant because some liken the taste to oysters, though I think asparagus is closer to the mark. Do try boiling it if you manage to get your hands on some, definitely worth a try.

  • [...] inclined to think that salsify, if you can get or grow it, would make an eminent substitute for white asparagus [...]

  • [...] Fantastic info on broiling and a recipe for Salsify Fritters [...]

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