Nearly a year ago now, I read a blog post about Salsify in Black Forest Ham at The Wednesday Chef. I had never seen salsify before, but the case for trying it was compelling. And I thought, in that way that so often happens, that having discovered salsify, I was now sure to see it everywhere. A friend would serve it for dinner, or it would jump out at me from a table at the farmer’s market and I would say, “Of course! There you are!” and tuck a bunch of them in my bag.
Actually, that does happen to me a lot, but not this time. I kept my eyes open, but I didn’t see salsify for sale anywhere. It wasn’t exactly prime root vegetable season, for one thing. But it was gardening season, so I got a packet of seeds and planted some.
Then I forgot all about that little row of seeds.
All through the summer growing season and even into fall, when I started pulling up their next door neighbors, an interesting variety of multicolored carrots and some not-so-successful fennel bulbs, I completely forgot them.
A week or two ago, I happened across that recipe again. It still looked good. I still wished I had some salsify…
Finally, I remembered those seeds I had planted on a whim last spring. I had to put on my rubber boots, and get a spade, and squint at the faded row markers in the garden to find the exact spot, then actually dig down under the remains of the snow to get to the muddy soil where a flattened line of bright lanky greens swirled all over the ground like a terrible case of bedhead. As I turned over spadefuls of soil, I discovered the long, slender salsify roots, like white, hairy carrots. Since I hadn’t thinned the row, they were a skinny tangle, but there they triumphantly were, real true salsify.
Once the salsify were cleaned and peeled, they went straight into a pot of water with a little vinegar in it, to keep them from discoloring. After simmering them until tender, I wrapped them in ham and roasted them until crispy on the outside and tender within.
Salsify are also called oyster plant, for their alleged oyster taste. I didn’t think they tasted at all oysterish though, but rather more like a carrot without any sweetness at all—mild and pleasant. And blanketed in crispy, salty, chewy ham, they were strangely delicious.
They aren’t fancy looking, in fact they are the reverse: humble, unpretentious, the sort of thing you plunk down on the coffee table without ceremony, and then find yourself nibbling through the entire plate before you realize quite how many you have eaten.
I didn’t change the simple, four-ingredient recipe at all, except that my salsify were already skinny, so I didn’t need to cut them in half. You can find it here:
If you can find some salsify, grab it and try this recipe. If you can’t, planting season is just around the corner.