Alexanders grows near the coast and adds a wonderful flavour to fish dishes
Here is a great recipe which combines the warm, celery like flavour of Alexanders with Leek, Chilli and Pollock to make an unusual warming winter stew.
Alexanders were brought to the UK by the Romans – as were lots of our wild weeds. Historically the plant would have been used as celery, cooked as a vegetable or added to the cooking pot to add flavour, texture and nutrients to a stew.
The medieval name for the plant translates as ‘Rock Parsley of Alexandria’ it has been said that the plant was named after Alexander the Great but it is likely that the plant came from the city of Alexandria where it was found growing. See bottom of page for foraging notes.
Alexanders fish Stew
Collect the tender stems of the Alexanders before it flowers, this can be from February through to late spring. If you can’t get Pollock use another firm fleshed white fish.
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- half a teaspoon of fennel seeds
- 2 leeks washed and sliced
- 50g butter
- 500g new potatoes cut into 2cm pieces
- 1ltr fish stock
- 500g Pollock fillet skinned and cut into chunks
- Salt and Pepper
- ½ cup of mayonnaise
- ½ red chilli chopped finely
- 200g Alexanders stems
To prepare the Alexanders first give them a good wash, cut off the leafy tops and trim the stem bases. Remove the strings and cut the stems in to 5cm pieces. Now to make the stew, melt the butter in a large pan, add ½ of the garlic, fennel seeds and the leeks and cook gently for 2 minutes. Add the potatoes and the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. While the soup is cooking make a quick rouille by combining the mayonnaise, garlic and chilli – mix well then set aside. When the soup has been cooking for 15 minutes add the fish to the pan and stir gently. Now steam the Alexanders stems for 2 – 4 minutes until just nicely cooked. Before serving check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. Spoon in to 4 bowls topping with the Alexanders and rouille.
Some of you will have eaten a similar stew on the first night of our 2 day Staithes Coastal Course. We often use Sweet Cicely or fennel as flavouring instead of Alexanders, it is different but equally good.
To learn about coastal foraging we have places on our 1 day coastal foraging courses in July and September where we teach about the edible seaweeds, shellfish and coastal plants around Staithes in North Yorkshire. Click here for more information.
Alexanders Smyrnium olustrum
A biennial plant that’s identification can be confirmed by smell (leaves and stems smell like Parsley/celery when crushed between your fingers). At the start of spring shiny bright green leaves appear forming a hummock. The leaf is made up of small glossy leaflets attached to small stalks which are then attached to stalks and then the main leaf stem. The flowering stems grow up to 1.2m and are topped with yellowy green umbrella like flowers. The flowers are followed by seeds from summer onwards which turn from green to black. The plant dies after it has set seed but usually there are others waiting to take its place.
The plant is commonly found around the coasts and occasionally inland but it is at its most obvious at this time of year when it is one of the first plants to be seen growing in the hedge bottoms and at the sides of coastal paths