FORAGING is a great experience at this time of year. Although in Scotland we see mixed summers, often filled with rain, the climate does help us nurture some incredible produce.
I find the best way to make the most of the wonderful ingredients around us is to get outdoors and into nature to see them for ourselves.
What I love about foraging is getting that chance to connect with the natural world. You get to learn about the produce you’re sourcing, understanding exactly where it comes from, seeing how it grows and what it grows next to. It’s also a great way to witness nature’s true marriages and, in turn, allows you to understand which flavours and ingredients will work well together in a dish. The real beauty of this approach is taking that knowledge and applying it to your cooking when you get home.
Although our summers are always busy at the restaurant, my wife Michaela and I try to get out foraging whenever we can, packing our treasured mushroom basket and a picnic to make a day of it. It’s such a fun way to spend time together and can be incredibly rewarding to come home and cook with the fruits of your labour. Finding wild foods, herbs and girolles still gives me a thrill and I relish discovering produce right on our doorstep here in Scotland.
There are so many wonderful ingredients out there, but if you’re going foraging for the first time it can seem daunting. I recommend you start by speaking to a local forager who can take you out and help you to source the right things. It’s not worth guessing if you don’t know, and much safer to take the advice of someone who is experienced. An expert will be able to help you find hidden gems that will taste outstanding.
Many different foods are sourced through foraging, which – although it has been practised for thousands of years – has gained recognition in recent times as a way to find some of the best and freshest produce around. So much of what we eat can be foraged from the land and sea. Wild herbs are wonderful picked fresh – summer brings with it everything from sweet cicely, pink purslane and wild garlic to wild fennel, wood sorrel and even wild raspberry leaves, which are great for making tea. As autumn approaches, you can forage for elderberries, sloe berries, rowan berries and sea buckthorn.
But for me, nothing beats foraging for mushrooms. Girolles, or chanterelles, as they are often known, are my personal favourites. They have a unique apricot flavour and are thought to be one of the finest wild mushrooms in the world. We are incredibly lucky here as they thrive in Scottish climates and grow from July right up until the first frost, around November.
We usually head to woods in Perthshire if we go out foraging for girolles, as we almost always find a good selection there. You can often find them near birch and beech trees, and they are idenfitiable by their distinctive yellow hats with gills underneath. I always use a clean knife to cut them from their stems at ground level, and this allows for the new girolles to grow.
A this time of year, girolles feature on a number of our dishes in the restaurant, from sautéed Perthshire girolles served with crispy lamb sweetbreads and a poached hen’s egg, to roasted tail of Scrabster monkfish wrapped in pancetta, served with girolles. One of my favourites, however, is roasted bone marrow with crispy ox tongue, girolles and a shallot and parsley salad.
They are also really tasty simply sautéed on toast. You need to make sure you trim and clean the mushrooms carefully. Submerge them briefly in cold water to get rid of any dirt – all mushrooms are best washed as little as possible as they tend to absorb the water and lose their flavour. Just make sure you drain them well. I’ recommend when you’re cooking them that you braise the juices they release when they’re cooked, as the flavour is outstanding and the juices can be used as an excellent stock or sauce.
GIROLLES WITH LAMB TONGUE AND LAMB SWEETBREAD
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 white onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ bouquet garni
4 lamb tongues
dash olive oil
200g lamb sweetbread
2 baby gem lettuce
Place the chopped carrot, onion, two cloves of chopped garlic and bouquet garni in a pan of boiling salted water. Place the lamb tongues in the water and braise for three and a half hours. Once cooked, leave the lamb tongues in the cool water.
Remove the tongues from the water when needed, peel off the skin, slice and set aside
In a heavy-bottomed pan heat a dash of olive oil. Add the girolles, salt and pepper and place a lid on the pan to sauté for one or two minutes.
Drain the excess liquid from the pan and keep the liquid and cooked girolles to one side.
In a frying pan, heat a dash of olive oil. Add the sweetbreads to the pan and cook for two or three minutes, until crispy.
Add the lamb tongue that was placed aside earlier, season and sauté for a couple of minutes.
Add the girolles, a teaspoon of chopped garlic and a teaspoon of chopped parsley to the pan.
Place half a baby gem lettuce on each plate, adding the girolles, lamb tongue and sweetbread. Drizzle the liquid from the cooked girolles over each dish and serve.
SCOTTISH GIROLLES ON TOAST WITH POACHED EGGS AND CHORIZO
3 litres water
100ml white wine vinegar
300g cooked girolles
2 large brunoise shallots
4 slices thick crusty loaf
fresh chives, chopped
To poach the eggs
Add vinegar to the water and bring to the boil. Stir to create a whirlpool effect. Individually crack the eggs into separate bowls. Pour from the cups into the water and poach for approximately three minutes.
To cook the mushrooms
Put a teaspoon of oil in a hot skillet. Add the girolles and cook until golden. Add the parlsey, garlic, thyme, chives and shallots. Add the chorizo and toss through.
Grill the bread until crisp and rub with fresh garlic, then drizzle with olive oil. Top with sautéed mushrooms and a poached egg.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: East
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east