Wednesday, October 7, 2009


There is something immensely satisfying about working with ugly ingredients. Making a strawberry taste good doesn't really do it for me (where is the challenge in that?!), but making a celery root or monkfish taste good makes me feel like I have a magical power to tame scary ingredients.

Do you know what that is in the picture? That's salsify. Have you ever worked with this little beast? Neither did I until yesterday. It has recently occurred to me that it's one of those ingredients I've eaten in restaurants, but never cooked myself. I didn't even know what it looked like in its raw state until a few days ago.

On my weekly trip to Russo's I read the name tags of every unusual looking vegetables in search of salsify with no luck. Finally, I asked one of the employees where they kept it. He said they only get it for wholesale and don't put it out, but happily offered to go in the back and get me a bag.

After remembering the beautiful white sauces made with this mystery vegetable, I wasn't prepared for a bag of dirty black sticks. That's what raw salsify looks like. A bit of googling and reading instructions on the bag helped me figure out that I needed to peel it and keep in a bowl of acidulated water until ready to cook to prevent it from discoloring.

Somehow no one mentioned that in the end of the peeling process your hands will get black and very sticky. I avoid rubber gloves like the plague and do almost every kitchen job barehanded, but this is one of the few times I wished I had gloves on. After 5 minutes of scrubbing my hands, board and knife, everything was restored back to normal, and I had lots white salsify pieces ready for cooking. Some of them got a few brown spots during peeling and rinsing, but it wasn't a biggie.

I imagine salsify would be wonderful many ways (particularly roasted and braised), but for my first experiment, I wanted to recreate a salsify sauce I had on my recent trip to Philly. I braised my salsify in a vegetable broth (infused with lemon grass), pureed, strained, and warmed up with some heavy cream. Look how tame it looks now. Salsify is the white puree under the scallop.

This vegetable makes an incredibly smooth puree with a rich mouthfeel. Someone on the web described it as having the flavor of oysters. I wouldn't say that. It definitely has it's own taste, but since I don't like tastes-like-chicken analogies, I'll hold off on any comparisons. I am thinking it would go well with orange. Next time I make this sauce, I'll add a little orange juice and orange zest to the braising liquid.

Salsify Cream Sauce

For 8 servings

2 lb salsify root
1 Tbsp butter
1-2 cups homemade vegetable or chicken stock (or water)
1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Prepare a large bowl of cold water with a squirt of lemon juice or vinegar (use about 2 tsp acid per quart of water). Peel salsify with a vegetable peeler and trim the ends, rinsing each stick under cold running water as you are done with it and placing it into acidulated water.
  2. Cut salsify into 1 inch chunks and place in a medium saucepan with 1 Tbsp butter and a sprinkle of salt. Cover and cook on medium heat stirring every couple of minute.
  3. When just a hint of color is starting to appear, in 5-8 minutes, add enough stock to cover salsify and bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat to med-low, and cook covered until salsify is completely tender when you pierce it with a fork, 15-20 minutes.
  4. Take off heat and puree with a blender until completely smooth, 2-3 minutes. Force through a fine mesh sieve using a ladle in a circular motion.
  5. Return to a sauce pan, add the cream and more stock or water as needed to get the desired thickness. Season with salt to taste. Can be made in advance and warmed up over med-low heat stirring often.


Christine said...

I have never seen or eaten (I don't think) salsify. And now I'm dying to try some. Where did you eat in Philadelphia? Maybe I'll head on down to harass them about the salsify.

Helen said...

we've eaten at

Bibou -- fabulous
Amada -- very good
Vetri -- pathetic especially considering the price

Salsify was in a scallop sauce at Bibou, but they change their menu often, so not sure if it still is

emiglia said...

Wow... I am impressed! That looks like quite a task...

Jan said...

This looks fantastic! I made a similar puree of celery root recently (that looks similar) and served it under seared duck breasts
(that I learned to cook perfectly at your class!). I will have to try the salsify puree someday ... it looks great with the seared scallop. You take wonderful photos too!

Carolie said...

I am a BIG fan of salsify. There are two common kinds, Tragopogon porrifolius and Scorzonera hispanica, or black salsify. Although people say it has an oyster flavor, I think it's more like a cross between asparagus and artichoke.

I use salsify in recipes that call for burdock root (gobo in Japan) or for Jerusalem artichoke, as the flavor and preparation are very similar (remove dark peel, soak in acidulated water before use).

Salsify is super-easy to grow, though you have to be careful digging up the roots, as they break easily, and go bad fast once they break.