Salsify and its close cousin scorzonera have always been hard to find even in Soho. They appear occasionally on the more adventurous stalls in Berwick Street and Roche used to sell them. Salsify is the lighter-skinned one and, living up to its name, scorzonera has a black skin. The latter is considered to have a slightly finer flavour but to all intents they are interchangeable. None of the old menus in my possession lists these delicious vegetables and the first time I ate salsify wasn’t in Soho at all but at Ma Cuisine, Guy Mouilleron’s outstanding little restaurant in Chelsea. When I rushed back to work to try it myself the reasons for its unpopularity became obvious: the tedium and difficulty of preparing it well. Salsify is always sold coated in half a field, and it needs a thorough washing before peeling (the particular type of soil it comes in does not rinse easily from your sink either). After peeling it discolours rapidly, so it must be kept in acidulated water and finally is cooked in a preparation called a blanc (more about that below). After all this palaver you are left with a rich creamy root vegetable that can almost be paired with anything, but to my mind goes best with fish.
Wash and peel the roots, then wash again. Cut into 2.5 cm lengths and drop immediately into a bowl of cold water into which you have squeezed the lemon (include the lemon halves as well). Bring 3 litres water to the boil, add the salt and, off the heat, whisk in the flour. Return to the boil and add the salsify. Boil for 15 minutes and leave to cool in the floury liquor (known in France and the canons of classical cooking as a blanc). Serve gently reheated in
© 1999 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.