Ramsons – aka wild garlic, stink bombs or stinking nanny (I kid you not), correctly Allium ursinum, has been, for the past couple of years, the hot fave trendy wild food. Think forgaging, think ramsons: that’s been the message in some quarters.
The plants are easy to identify (even easier once they’re in flower), they’re easy to gather and they’re prolifically present in hedgerows and woodland – and my garden – just about now. And now’s the perfect time, because the leaves are still young. Plus it’s the start of the hungry gap, the time when stored fruits and vegetables have been used up and the new season is yet to get going.
The recent popularity of wild garlic is nothing new; it’s been a useful herb for time out of mind. And that extends to more recent history too; the leaves were frequently collected and used during WW2 as a substitute for the flavouring previously provided by onions.
But – and I’m saying this as possibly the most enormous fan of all things allium since the Roman invasion of Britain – ramson leaves often leave me underwhelmed. Either they’re too strong or too slimy or they look revolting once cooked or they’re tough or – well, they can really, really dominate everything else. I recently slung some in a Thai green curry to see if they could hold their own, and they could. Roger Phillips almost left ramsons out of Wild Food – two sentences, no recipe – and I’m coming round to the point of view that he might have been right.
That’s despite the fact that wild garlic is so common round me that the air can take on a distinct and powerful garlic scent – smell – at this time of year. Places are even named after it: Crafnant near me, just outside Beddgelert, means ‘valley of the wild garlic’…
But it goes against the grain, leaving such a prolific resource untouched. I’ve found two uses I do like, and like very much. The first is a wild garlic oil, made by steeping some young leaves in olive oil for a few days.
The second use is more traditional: with fish. Gerard, after all, said the leaves made a good sauce for fish but fit only for those with ‘a strong constitution and labouring men’. I’m not the latter, and I probably haven’t got the former, so I use it to wrap round the fish instead.
Salmon wrapped in ramsons
5-6 ramson leaves, young and fresh
2 fillets of salmon
1 slice of lemon, and a squeeze as well
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees conventional, 180 degrees fan, GM 6. Spread out a piece of foil big enough to wrap the salmon generously. Put two of the leaves on the foil, cut the slice of lemon in half and put a piece on each leaf. Then put the fillets – head to toe, slim end next to fat end – on top of the leaves. Tuck more leaves between the fillets and lie two on top. Then pull the foil up around the fish and squeeze in some lemon juice. Bring the foil over the top and fold the sides together into a loose, but well-sealed, parcel.
Put the parcel in an oven-proof dish and put it in the oven for 15 minutes. Carefully unwrap the parcel – the steam inside is hot – and check that the salmon is cooked, which will depend on the size of the fillets: they should be opaque all the way through and not transparent. Reseal and return to the oven if necessary for a few more minutes.
Once cooked, unwrap the fish and remove the leaves from the top and middle. Carefully lift the fillets from their parcel and off the lemon and bottom leaves, and put them on a plate to cool. Serve with a green salad (without ramsons, unless you’re addicted), sauté potatoes and lemon mayonnaise.
Spring on a plate.
It’s not that I haven’t tried other things, as often recommended. Ramson pesto: too strong by half, takes ages before everything you eat afterwards stops tasting of garlic. Ramson leaves in salad? Use one, and make it tiny; otherwise, ditto. Ramson leaves added to saute potatoes? If you’ve ever had burnt garlic, you’ll know the risk. Let’s just say I contemplated leaving home. And had to wash everything. Maybe I just have access to very strong wild garlic…