Foraging for fantastic food in the UK

CHRIS’S KITCHEN | Our resident Aussie chef Chris Ark turns forager to sniff out some tasty treats for you and your kitchen.

 
 

wild garlic bulbs
AS THE days grow longer, the slight rise in temperature can only mean one thing for us chefs. The imminent delivery of wild ingredients found in hedgerows, forest floors and coastline shores. ‘Foraging’, as it’s called, is a multi million pound industry support by dedicated enthusiasts scouring the land for wild ingredients to supply the kitchens of London.

This week in Chris’s Kitchen I am going to give you the heads up on what to look out for. Even though it’s a few weeks off from the first real crops arriving in the markets, getting the knowledge is the key to adding these wild ingredients to dishes. I was first introduced to foraging when I worked in Italy. I was shown how to collect wild garlic, fennel and asparagus for dishes such as wood fired suckling pig. From then on I was always searching the hedgerows for ingredients to add to my menus.

For centuries populations have farmed the natural growing herbs and fruits of the land. Not only have they provided ingredients for everyday use, many of the native herbs and fruits have very high nutritional and medicinal properties.

Foraging has a big following here, you can even take tours and workshops on what to look for and how to prepare your find. I will be heading to Wales next month to join Outdoors@hay on an expedition where we will paddle up a river, collect and cook ingredients found in the far reaches of Wales.

Chefs go crazy for foraged ingredients, a welcomed change from herbs and fruits commonly available throughout the year. Wild garlic would be one of the most talked about foraged ingredients in UK kitchens. Flavour wise – it’s more robust, crisp and distinctive compared to bulb garlic. Prepared as a soup or sauce it can’t be beaten.

This month we can look forward to others wild ingredients like wood sorrel and hedge mustard to marry with freshly pan-seared tuna. Wild berries are also a nice addition to the foraging repertoire. There is a bountiful supply of raspberries and blackberries to be collected (even in London) in the later part of summer. These are perfect for baked tarts, or just to collect a bucket load for jams and preserves.

I would suggest firstly you buy a good book on foraging and go out with someone who knows what they are doing before collecting any ingredients. Some can be poisonous or have a bad effect on the stomach. There are a number of single day courses out there, which are fun and a great way to meet people.

This week I will share with you my very simple wild garlic soup. It’s so simple but packed full of flavour and nutrition. Here we go – happy cooking!

Wild garlic soup

What you need:

Knob of good quality butter


1 onion, chopped

1 large potato (Maris Piper or King Edward), peeled & chopped

750 ml chicken stock

500 grams of wild garlic leaves, washed

100 ml double Cream

salt, pepper

What to do:
Melt the butter, and add the onion, cooking on medium heat until the onion is soft but not coloured.

Add the potatoes and seasoning, stirring for a few seconds. Pour in the chicken stock and cook until the potatoes are almost cooked through.

Add the wild garlic and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Blitz the soup using a blender or hand mixer. Finally, stir in the cream and heat through.

Optional extras for flavour variations: add some chopped parsley in along with the wild garlic, or add a pinch of mild curry powder to the seasoning before pouring the stock on, to give the soup added flavour.