As a chef, it’s hard to cooking something you don’t like eating. It sucks in fact. You want to be excited about what you’re serving, and when you just can’t quite wrap your lips around a certain ingredient, it’s hard to love your dish. You always have to taste your dish, and you don’t like the taste of a certain ingredient, it’s difficult to do. That said, people do it every day. There are legions of vegetarians working on meat-heavy menus, broccoli haters that need to add that dreaded vegetable to their dishes. Despite our own culinary biases, we still need to make it work because we know (at least intellectually) that people have different tastes.
For me, that ingredient is purslane. Purslane, known to botanists as Portulaca oleracea, is a native of the old world that has become naturalized in the U.S. Many consider it a weed (like most wild foods), but it is very high in Vitamin C and Omega 3’s (probably what gives it it’s slimy taste).
Although I haven’t seen it in SF, this wild edible is abundant up in Northern California. It looks beautiful in salads – I’ve seen it prepared picked and thrown into salads, as well as sautéed, and people seem to really like it. However, I just can’t get myself to like it. I want to like it. To me, it tastes like okra, which is another plant I’ve never loved. It’s the slime that gets me. Not to put off your stomach (because, believe it or not, this post will include a recipe), it feels like someone spit in my mouth. People say it’s because I haven’t had it cooked correctly, which might be true, but as of now, I’m not a fan. Sure, you can fry it, but that seems like a cop out (although I did do that in one of the dishes I prepared for the Eat Real Festival last weekend).
Held at Jack London Square at the end of August, the Eat Real Festival is a three-day food fest that features chefs, farmers, artisans and street food and really great presentations on everything from sourdough bread baking to animal butchering. If you haven’t gone, you should. It’s a lot of fun, and they really seem to have gotten it down this year. This was my second time at Eat Real –a year ago I sold sea beans I had foraged up north (or more correctly, gave away samples, people didn’t really know what they were). It was really great for me, my first time really getting forageSF out into the public, which gave me an amazing amount of exposure.
This time around I was doing something a little different. It was a program called The Urban Farmstand. The idea was to partner a chef with a farm, the chef would use the farms make a dish or two, and the farm would sell the produce. Cool idea, needs a bit of tweaking if they’re going to do it next year, but overall a good thing. I like the way it shows people what can be done with the raw ingredients that are being sold right next-door. I think the signage they had was confusing. Although we were all independent vendors, the signs made it seem like we were associated with eat real. I had several people come up to me and ask if we were doing a cooking demo. Overall good though, and as someone who organized events myself, I was impressed, especially by the workshops and demos, which were in large part organized by my very own girlfriend, one ms. Valerie Luu. I partnered with Heirloom Organics, who can be found at the Ferry Building Market as well as other farmers markets. “WAIT,” you say, “Aren’t you a forager, you shouldn’t be getting anything from a farm?!”
Well, that’s where purslane comes in.
There are several wild veggies that grow on farmland, without any help from the farmer (and often in spite of their ideas for the land), and purslane is one of them. It moved in a couple years ago at Heirloom, and now they have hundreds of pounds each year. With this, I talked to Grant from Heirloom and decided that purlsane was going to be wild ingredient. I also used Heirloom Organics blue potatoes, salad greens, broccoli, red, gold, and chioggia beets, and baby corn (which is just corn picked when its small).
I made two dishes: one was a salad with spring greens, a duck gelee vinaigrette (gelee is what you have left over after making duck confit, a good way to think about it is as essence of duck), It’s a gelatin that has this great savory, salty flavor that’s amazing in dressings, or even on its own, pickled, as well as raw shaved, golden, red and chioggia beets, and the afore mentioned cheat, fried purslane. This was a nice dish (if I do say so myself). The raw beets paired really nicely with the tart pickles, and the duck pulled it all together. The sad fact is that people don’t really want to eat salads at street food events though, so we didn’t sell too much.
The second dish I did was duck confit and duck fat fried blue potatoes, with sautéed purslane, broccoli, and baby corn. People seemed to respond well to this. My idea was to cover up the sliminess of the purslane as much as possible with the savory duck, starchy potatoes, and finally, the crisp baby corn (which I blanched quickly to give it some tenderness).
So overall a good weekend. Too much prep for too little sales, but I learned a few things, which are:
simple is best at street food events
you can't really go wrong with duck confit
duck gelee is a wonder ingredient on par with anchovies for adding flavor
Here’s the recipe for the duck dish I did, hope you like it. The hardest part is making the duck confit, but you’ll be well rewarded:
-1 lb blue potatoes
-1 cup duck confit, picked from the bone (here’s a good easy recipe for duck confit. Takes some time, but its worth it. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Duck-Confit-102313)
-1 lb broccoli rabe
-1/2 lb purslane (you can find this at the farmers market)
-3 ears baby corn (heirloom is the only place I’ve ever seen this fresh, they’re at the ferry building farmers market)
-1 sprig thyme
-1/2 lb heirloom tomatoes
Get two pots of boiling water going, well salted (like the sea), as well as two bowls filled with ice water (also salted)
Scrub the potatoes, prepare the broccoli, and shuck the corn
When the water boils, throw your potatoes in one until nearly cooked through (about 10 minutes for the small ones), and throw your corn into the other.
Mince garlic and thyme, dice tomatoes
After about 3 minutes, remove corn with a slotted spoon and place in ice bath. Repeat for broccoli, cooking until just under done, 4 minutes or so.
When potatoes are done, put them in the second bowl of ice water
Quarter potatoes, dry other ingredients
Heat large sauté pan to medium high with reserved duck fat from confit
Fry potatoes until they start to brown, add garlic and thyme, add purslane, cook 4 minutes, add broccoli, cook 3 minutes, adding oil as needed. (If it looks like your garlic is about to burn, you can throw in a small squirt of water to cool down the pan). Salt and pepper to taste. That’s about it. Plate then garnish with tomatoes and corn on the side, feeds four or so.