Monday, 28 May 2012

The menu and an essay from Chef Jared on his foraging trip

Earlier last week Amy, Kaffeines manager, and I were invited to a foraging day organized by our fresh fruit and vegetable supplier, 4 Degrees C. The itinerary involved getting out to New Spitalfield Market, followed by a tour of the warehouse, an informal chat with our guide Miles Irving, a spot of lunch, then a short drive to the Hackney Marshes for some foraging in the sun. Miles is the author of a wonderful hardback 'The Forager Handbook' and founder of Forager LTD which supplies seasonal UK foraged ingredients to some of the countries best restaurants.

Once we reached the car park entrance of Hackney Marshes, Miles was instantly distracted by a small allotment of weeds growing off the curb. This seemed like an unusual place to start the tour, however there were about six different species of plants that could be used for food or medicinal purposes. I was slightly apprehensive about sampling weeds that grow off a car park and most likely the first place dog owners take their pets when walking, so had to remind myself that Miles is the expert and probably wouldn't make us do anything to ruin his reputation. Our first tasting was Mellow, which is traditionally used to make marshmallow, a slightly fuzzy leaf with gelatinous texture - in conclusion probably better once cooked! Thankfully just about everything that followed became increasingly edible and delicious.

We sampled Bulrush growing on the edge of a pond, Miles yanked a couple of stems from the ponds edge and peeled the outer skin then proceeded to tear off chunks of the fleshy heart for everyone to try. Initially the starch of the bulrush breaks down on the tongue followed by a sweet mellow taste of asparagus. Also on the foraging menu was Hawthorn blossom which tasted of almonds, Ribwort Plantain which tasted distinctively like mushrooms and one of my favorites, Black Mustard Leaf, tasting of very strong horseradish with a pleasant lingering, bitter after taste.

The most adventurous part of the forage was wild ants! Almost everyone in our group denied this part of the tasting, however Amy put her hand up first in a predominantly male tour. She popped a red ant in her mouth, 'I can't taste anything.' Amy replied. Miles then ate an ant and confirmed that Amy's palate was right. So we walked another 20 meters until we found another ant hill. This time the ants were black. After the initial fail the rest of the group had warmed up to the idea of eating ants and thankfully this time they tasted distinctively like lemon sherbet due to their high acid content. Strangely tasty and delicious, I would easily sit down to a meal made of high protein ants. Miles then went on to tell us how we are damaging our environment by eating a narrowed variety of plants in excess. The high demand for out of season produce is reducing the richness of the soil therefore leading to a reduction in nutritional value of these foods which we all need to survive.

After our tour we headed to the lovely refurbished pub The Empress where head chef Elliot Lidstone gave us a cooking demonstration with some of the plants we had foraged earlier that day. Elliott made a Sea Purslane tartar sauce, Ribwort Plantain foam that tasted of mushrooms sauteed in butter and a dark chocolate ganache with Buckthorn berry juice.

We then sat down to a three course menu inspired by foraged produce and ate raw Bulrush with whipped anchovy butter, super tasty although not as crisp as straight from the pond! The main was Braised Pork Shoulder (from Ginger Pig) with organic spelt, hazelnuts, burdock and wild celery. By this stage my glass had been topped up several times with wine and I was ready for something fatty and salty to line my stomach, thankfully the main was one of the tastiest meals I've eaten in the last 4 years!

For dessert we ate Melilot panna cotta with rhubarb and almonds...I've since been dreaming about it. Melilot which I'd never heard of until the other day, is set to become the new vanilla and the cost of it will undoubtedly soar over the next 5 years. However if you find yourself a day, go on an excursion of foraging and get a book on free food, you'll easily be able to identify your own Melilot and pick the stuff for free!

Now I'm calling myself a born again forager and have since bought a couple of books on foraging and even successfully foraged with my brother in Hampstead Heath yesterday. Over the next few months you'll be seeing some very unusual names on our menu cards and blogs and with a bit of patience we'll be able to educate your palate and hopefully save a dolphin or two by converting many more people into a lost art.

You can find daily updates and recipes on my blog
You can also follow me on twitter @redjar50, we hope you enjoy our menu.....

Traditional bircher muesli with rhubarb and raspberry compote 3.30
Granola muesli with pomegranate molasses and rhubarb and raspberry compote 3.30
Fruit salad (pineapple, mango, strawberries, grapes, passionfruit, peach) 3.50
(add 30 p for granola or yoghurt)
Ciabatta Roll with omelette, pancetta, rocket and tomato salsa 4.70
Ciabatta Roll with courgette omelette, rocket and tomato salsa 4.70
Croissant with Italian roast ham, talleggio cheese, spinach & plum tomatoes 4.70
Croissant with gruyere cheese and plum tomatoes 3.90
Seven seed bakery bloomer toast with homemade preserves 1.70
Cinnamon and raisin toast 2.30
Banana Bread 2.20

Pastries by Seven Seed bakery
French butter croissants 1.70
Pain au chocolat 2.30
Almond croissants 2.70

Baked Treats
Nectarine and elderflower sweet muffins 2.00
Rock samphire, lemon and poppy savoury muffins 2.00
Raspberry friands 2.00
Super moist chocolate brownies 2.30
White chocolate blondies 2.30
Portuguese tarts 1.90
ANZAC cookies 1.70
Afgan biscuits 1.70


French retro baguettes 4.70
Plum tomato. Mature cheddar, rocket, chimichurri
Italian roast ham, ribwort plaintain butter, onion squash, spinach, red onion

Foccacias with sea salt and rosemary crust 4.90
Elderflower mayo w wild garlic, plum tomato, brie and capers
Crushed peas w ricotta, mint, pancetta, rocket

Salads 4.90/5.90
Pork belly, borlotti beans, wild fennel, purple wet garlic, spinach
Golden beetroot, sea beet, walnuts, goats cheese, red chillies
Fresh peas w wild asparagus, hawthorn flowers, croutons, parmesan, cos lettuce

Tart 4.00 or 6.90 with salad
Tomato with sea purslane tapenade

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