Apologies for the lack of update round these parts, but to be quite honest with you, its been a glorious summer- I have been practically living in the woods running courses at HGC HQ…mind you, I would much rather spend my time out in the wild enjoying it than sat in front of a computer- I think many of you will concur!
So, 7 years. 7 Years I’ve been inanely scribbling away about wild foods on this here blog and not once truly covered one of the greatest additions to the wild larder that has ever graced our soil. Horseradish.
Introduced to Britain pre-1500AD, over the years, horseradish has won over the natives of our angry island primarily as an accompaniment to beef. It seems only fitting that this fiery plant has become such a hallmark of British culinary tradition, because...and lets face it, we are a bunch of introvert, angry, whinging folk- we’re just very good at keeping our thoughts to ourselves!
Quite often I will order a roast in a country pub just so I can enjoy a bit o’radish with a Yorkshire pud. Coleman’s hot stuff is fine with me, something of the Tabasco addict coming through. What’s disappointing is when a pub tries to make there own and royally screw it up. Is it that difficult, really?
Horseradish is split into two catagories: Cultivated and Wild. Some of you may remember that delightful love story called ‘the wild gourmets?’ In the book following the series, the rather dishy Thomasina Miers is pictured fondling a rather straight, firm root which is labeled as ‘wild horseradish’- absolutely not. It was in fact cultivated horseradish that was pictured (the TV ‘fluffing’ not quite carrying over into book form) which looks like a fat parsnip and doesn’t contain the same heat as it’s warped, wildling of a cousin.
The twisted 'Donkey ear' like leaves of Wild horseradish.
Wild Horseradish is incredibly common and at this time of year the large, curled ‘donkey ear’ leaves can be easily distinguished from dock on most roadsides and country lanes- that said, you must have permission from the land owner to uproot any wild plant, but given that wild horseradish is more invasive than the Nazis and almost as difficult to get rid of, it probably wouldn’t be missed (but seriously- do get permission).
A good little tip for storing horseradish root once dug up- keep it in a bucket of soil or sand and give it an occasional glug of water- don’t leave too long or it will start sprouting!
Wild horseradish’s difference in appearance to the cultivated variety is awesome: Twisted, knarled roots that zigzag their way into the earth making them a bastard to uproot, but best of all, being the precursor to the cultivar- they are proper fierce. Like, real dangerous. The danger can be found in the high levels of a volatile oil contained in the root called sinigrin, which in itself sounds like Dickensian villain.
Sinigrin is released when the root is tampered with, most violently when it’s grated, not many things enjoy this process I’m sure, but Wild horseradish really lets you know it’s not happy to the point that it’ll make your head bleed. Of course this is all over embellishment somewhat- in the same way mustard gets up your nose, when sinigrin is broken down via cutting or grating it will produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil) which can seriously irritate the sinuses, eyes and mucous membranes. Bear in mind that with in a couple of hours of grating, the volatile oils that make wild hoseradish what it is will evaporate and become bitter and not quite as punchy. And you thought onions where a bitch…
As part of our bushtucker trials on stag do’s at HGC, horseradish takes pride of place after deer testicles. Strange, you may think- after all, what could be worse than a bollock exploding in the mouth? You obviously haven’t tried chewing a chunk of wild horseradish for 2 minutes. We’ve seen grown men cry and even vomit. Danger, danger.
The second plant we are going to look at was introduced to me by Mark Williams of Galloway Wild foods: Arsesmart (Persicaria Hydropiper- what a cool name) or Water Pepper. Historically in the UK, this plant hasn’t been used to its full culinary merit, instead it was mixed in with straw or hay bedding as a flea repellent, on occasion a leaf or two might have found its way into a nook or cranny of the sleeping occupant and the residual heat would cause a ‘smarting’ or burning sensation, hence Arsesmart.
Now Arsesmart is really common, most damp places or riversides will often be lined with the stuff, it is something that is really easy to identify: the leaves are long and pointed- similar to willow and the alternate leaves are marked on the main stem by a pinkish/red collar.
Arsesmart is certainly the closest you can get to a wild chilli in the UK, it would appear that despite having several active ingredients, the heat comes from waburganal and rutin producing a pungent taste and slight bitterness- rutin is a bioflavinoid that is good for circulation- so despite the fierce heat, its actually good for you. Japan seems to be one of the few countries that employ this plant in the kitchen serving alongside sashimi and Kobe beef.
On first taste, not a lot happens, a couple of revolutions of the mouth and a searing heat spreads across the tongue, making it almost unpalatable- ride it out if you can! Here at Hunter Gather Cook we like to show you how to use these plants as everyday ingredients, so with a bit of nip and tuck, here are two ways to transform these spicy freaks of nature into something quite tasty.
Wild horseradish sauce.
This is a mainstay in most of our courses that involve Deer- the perfect accompaniment to a venison burger or even to go with a hefty chunk of pan-fried backstrap.
- 2 TBSP of Grated wild horseradish
- 4 TBSP of Crème fraiche
- 1 tsp of English Mustard (or Dijon if you’re French and a bit of a wuss).
- 1 TBSP White wine vinegar
- Salt & Pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well and season to taste. Serve!
I took the liberty of popping down the road to Seaford heads to obtain some of the freshest mackeral out of the sea for this recipe. The blowtorch just happened to be lying around…sears a fillet to perfction in less than a minute!
- 1 TBSP of Grated horseradish
- 1 TBSP of finely Chopped Arsesmart
- A pinch of Salt
- Drizzle of olive oil
Place all ingredients in a pestle & mortar and pound vigorously until combined.
The Hunter Gather Cook team had an epic 4 days at Wilderness Festival at Cornbury park a couple of weeks back. We had over 150 people in 3 days for Deer Butchery & Foraging workshops followed by wild cocktails and canapés in our woodland lounge. Thanks to all of those who attended and we hope we have released a new breed of Hunter-Gatherers into the wild! Look forward to next year’s Festival where HGC will be going BIG! Check out the photo album from the Festival on our Facebook page.
We have a few places left on the remainder of 2013’s courses, our ‘Fish, Forage & Feast’ on the 28th September at Chalk Springs will be a belter of a day as well as my birthday- so come celebrate with us!
Also our epic Autumn ‘Fungal Foray & Feast’ is almost sold out with a couple of spaces remaining on the second date: Sunday 20th October.
...to the TREES!