Wild greens in February? Alexanders.

Alexanders grows near the coast and adds a wonderful flavour to fish dishes

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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

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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.

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Alexanders  Smyrnium olustrum

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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

Coastal foraging courses. Staithes, Summer 2013.

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The weather has been very kind to us at Staithes this year and we have enjoyed great fishing, great foraging and the company of some lovely people.  As ever the British coastline offered us a wide array of forageable foods that inspired new recipes and dinner dishes.

The quantity and quality of the seaweed on the North East coast has been particularly good this year and It always amazes me that this incredible resource is so underused in the UK.  How can it be that an island nation that is surrounded by such an abundant, tasty and nutritious foodstuff can almost completely ignore its potential as food.

In fact seaweed is not completely ignored in Great Britain, the Welsh have Laver bread , once described as “Welshman’s caviar” by Richard Burton and the Irish have Dillisk which is eaten as crisps as well as being added to  everything from apple to bread dough. But even when you take these into consideration we are still missing a trick!

One of the best facts about seaweed on the British coast is that they are all edible. Any seaweed that is attached, not washed up or just floating about, but actually attached in the intertidal zone is edible. So there are none of the worries about poisoning that we have with plants and fungi.

However, edible is one thing and palatable is another and although you will not be poisoned you might find some of the tastes and textures a little ‘challenging’ as food. Having grazed on many different seaweeds we have developed a list of 10 that we regularly use in cooking and thoroughly enjoy.

  • Laver porphyra sp.
  • Sea lettuce Ulva lactuca
  • Dulse Palmaria palmate
  • Pepper dulse  Osmundea pinnatifida
  • Sea spaghetti himanthalia elongata
  • Gutweed Ulva intestinalis
  • Oarweed Laminaria digitalis
  • Sugar kelp Laminaria sacharina
  • Carrageen Chondrus crispus
  • Bladder and toothed wrack Fucus sp.

In the following recipe we use a selection of these to make a delicious alternative to tartar sauce. We have replaced the capers and gerkins with crispy seaweeds and used lemon juice to give it a bit of extra tang.

Sea weeds used in Seaweed tartar sauce. (clockwise from the green one at the top) Gutweed, Sea spaghetti, Dulse, Sea lettuce, Oarweed, Pepper dulse.

Sea weeds used in Seaweed tartar sauce.
(clockwise from the green one at the top) Gutweed, Sea spaghetti, Dulse, Sea lettuce, Oarweed, Pepper dulse.

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Ingredients
50 g of chopped mixed seaweed ( I would definately include some pepper dulse for its garlicy taste)
4 tblsp  mayonnaise
Lemon juice to taste.

Mix all the ingredients together and serve with white fish.

Go and experiment with seaweeds. Just remember to follow these rules.

  • You must not collect seaweeds that are washed up on the shore.
  •  You must always harvest living seaweed that is still attached rocks and other seaweeds.
  • Always cut the seaweed leaving the’ holdfast’ behind. This means that the seaweed will grow back. Scissors are great for this.
  • There are no coastal seaweeds in Britain that are poisonous, so experiment!
  • Always be aware of the tides and weather conditions in the area you are foraging in. Be safe.
  • Check that the area where you are foraging does not have water quality problems.  (You can check this on the environment agency website.)

For those of you on last weeks courses here are some great photos!

Edible seaweed in a tasty Asian treat.

We like to be relaxed about our foraging: it’s nice to have an idea of what you’re looking for, but very good to be open Kelp and Dulseminded – you never know what you might find. This recipe follows that relaxed principle, as we’re after different textures and flavours not particular types of seaweed

On Saturday we ran a one day coastal foraging course at Staithes, North Yorkshire. The rocky foreshore there has an abundance of seaweeds that are good to eat and at low tide we collected Dulse, Kelp, Laver, and Pepper dulse for our lunchtime broth. There are many others that you could use for example Sea lettuce, Sugar kelp, Gutweed and Sea spaghetti and on a different day or in a different place the seaweed that we collected might not have been the same. There are some photos from the course at the bottom of the blog – thanks to all for coming, happy foraging!

Thai style lobster and seaweed broth -serves 4

  • 1 lobster, cooked

    Clockwise from the left Dulse,Kelp,Laver, Pepper dulse

    Clockwise from the left Dulse,Kelp,Laver, Pepper dulse

  • 1 lime
  • 1 small bunch of coriander
  • 1 tbsp oil for frying
  • 2cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 chilli, chopped finely (more if you like it hot)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
  • 2 lt fish stock
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 4 x 150g/5oz packet udon noodles
  • 150g mixed edible seaweed, washed and chopped (if you are using kelp chop it into very fine strips)

Start by removing the meat from the lobster and cut it in to large chunks. Divide the lobster between 4 soup bowls and into each bowl put a wedge of lime and a dessertspoonful of coriander leaves.

For the broth. Chop the coriander stalks finely. In a large pan gently heat the oil then add the ginger, chilli, garlic and coriander stalks and cook for 2 minutes until soft. Now add the fish stock and soy sauce to the pan and bring to a  simmer. When the broth is simmering add the noodles and seaweed and cook for 2-3 minutes until the noodles are heated through. Ladle the broth into the 4 bowls and serve with extra coriander and lime wedges.

One day coastal foraging 23rd June 2013 – to see more photos click here.