Yep, it's another report from The Country Bumpkin's Wild Food Night, and the chef excelled himself last night and produced the loveliest meal I've had there yet!
We started with three canapés made with hogweed: a sweet jelly, a mousse (much like a veggie paté or dip), and a drink made with hogweed and lime. It was interesting to taste the different ways the flavour came across, sweet and savoury, and though the jelly was not for me, the other two were delicious.
Hogweed (in the same family as carrot, fennel, celery, parsnip, coriander, parsley, lovage, cumin, dill and many more) may be tricky to identify in the wild as there are so many other wild plants very similar. Wikipedia gives it the latin name Heracleum sphondylium, but points out it is very closely related to Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum, irritant to the skin, but apparently the young shoots are edible), which also looks like Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris, aka Wild Chervil), which is edible. Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is also very similar, and edible - in fact very tasty! (Just to make things even more confusing, I mistakenly tweeted about cowslip last night - a slip of the brain, sorry! Cowslips are primula-family flowers and not at all similar.) However, all these plants also closely resemble the deadly Hemlock, or may be confused with the poisonous Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium, aka Fool's Cicely) or the highly irritant Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum, aka Giant Cow Parsley...) Hmmm, confusing; I'm not sure I'm ready to go foraging for hogweed yet. I'm just glad our chef knows what he's doing!
Our starter was a crayfish bisque, made with crayfish caught in local rivers and served with a crispbread crouton topped with rouille. I'd never heard of rouille and had to look it up when I got home - it's a sauce made with oil, breadcrumbs, saffron, garlic and chilli, and used to garnish fish or fish soup. I can see why - the fresh tang of garlic and chilli and the hit of heat really complemented the delightfully rich soup. On the side, we had a sample of sesame-crayfish toast, just like the Chinese takeaway favourite, although of course much better, with a real thick layer of crayfish.
The main course was Rabbit Linguine, made with cream, bacon and tarragon. I'd never really tried rabbit before and it was really lovely; the meat was really flavoursome and succulent, and the creaminess and the tang of the tarragon went so well with it. It perhaps just lacked a little green matter - I would have liked to sample the hogweed as a plain old vegetable - but apparently even wild greens are suffering from the dry conditions of late and are in short supply.
Finally, a yogurt-based ice cream made with elderflower syrup - wow, what great flavour! I'd love to eat this again. Served with it was an elderflower fritter - just an elderflower head dipped in tempura batter, deep fried and drizzled with honey. I had a little trouble detecting the flavour of elderflower - it tasted oddly like sugar puffs! But it was a great accompaniment to the sweet and flavoursome ice cream.
Wild Food Night is a regular event in our diaries now - we're already looking forward to the next one!