Our resident chef Mark Hix on how foraging can transform your cooking

 
Mark Hix

You might think that foraging for ingredients is something of a modern culinary trend, but I can assure you that it most certainly isn’t.

I used to pick blackberries 45 years ago with my grandmother, who would send me out to the hedgerows armed with nothing but a colander. I had no more than an hour to fill it, so that I could return home in time for her to add the berries to her apple pie.

Of course, back then we weren’t privy to ramsons, rose hip, sea beet and all the marvellous stuff we now have scattered around our restaurant menus.

There’s so much that can be found for free outdoors, and with the recent focus on reducing food waste in kitchens and supermarkets (it’s completely nuts how much food gets thrown away in the average household) it makes more sense than ever to seek it all out.

Don’t forget to forage during your weekly shop at the supermarket, too. I love filling my shopping basket from the bargain shelves and taking advantage of whatever the big stores have overstocked. Most things stay fresh long past their sell-by dates, so if you cook often you’ll find that there’s very little waste involved.

Combine those discounted ingredients with food that you’ve picked yourself, and you can really start making some interesting (and cheap) dishes.

Forager’s salad

Serves 4
You can use as many wild leaves, herbs and weeds as you wish. A great book, which I still use as a bible, is Roger Phillips’ Wild Food. It’s as relevant a guide to cooking with foraged ingredients today as it was when it was released back in the early 1980s. Seek out his book online and try and find his mushroom one, while you’re at it.

Ingredients

  • A couple handfuls of wild herb nod salad leaves (bittercress, pennywort, chickweed, edible flowers etc.).
  • A couple handfuls of edible wild leaves and flowers (above) washed and dried
  • A handful of rock samphire or sea aster or wild garlic leaves or flowers, or both

For the dressing

  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 8-10 crushed fresh or frozen blackberries (or chopped up preserved damsons)

For the batter

  • 120g Doves Farm gluten-free self-raising flour
  • 150-200ml cider
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Put the gluten-free flour into a bowl and whisk in enough cider to make a fairly thick batter, then season to taste.
  2. Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.
  3. Meanwhile mix all of the ingredients for the dressing and season to taste.
  4. Dip the rock samphire or sea aster or wild garlic into the batter, a few leaves at a time, then carefully drop them into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes until golden, turning them in the oil with a slotted spoon as they are cooking, then drain on kitchen paper.
  5. Toss the leaves in the dressing and arrange on serving plates with the flowers and deep fried ingredients to serve.

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