I was a fish biologist in college and grad school. My favorite fish of all time was the Coelacanth, this bony fish that was thought extinct 66 million years ago but was discovered to be living in the Indian Ocean in the 1930’s. It has been called “A Fish Out Of Time” because it is a relic from the distant past.
Salsify is a dish out of time.
For those (like me) who believed “salsify” is a verb and had no idea what it meant as a noun, salsify is a root vegetable much like the parsnip with an oyster-like taste. It was historically used in cooking because of its heartiness but was less frequently used with the advent of refrigeration in the early 1900’s. It even looks like a food that is ancient:
I stumbled across salsify in Good Housekeeping’s Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries (1922) and was intrigued. What is salsify? How can I get it? How have I never heard of this? I vowed I would cook this as soon as possible. It was more difficult to locate than I imagined but I managed to find it from one manufacturer online. I paid $17 for 3 cans of cooked salsify and one week later it arrived at my house.
The recipe is as follows:
- 1 large bunch salsify
- 2 eggs
- 1½ cupfuls milk
- 3 tablespoonfuls butter
- 1 tablespoonful chopped chives
- 1¼ teaspoonfuls salt
- ¼ teaspoonful pepper
- ½ teaspoonful paprika
Scrub the salsify well and cook until tender in boiling, salter water. Drain, cover wtih cold water, drain again, and remove the skins. Cut in dice and place in layers in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle each layer with salt, pepper, paprika, and chives, and dot over with butter. Beat two eggs slightly, add milk, and pour over the salsify. Bake until set in an oven registering 325°F.
I considered getting salsify seeds and growing it for a more authentic experience but did not have the patience to wait. Because I had canned salsify, I could bypass the cooking part and go straight to the dicing and layering.
The only modifications that I made were that I did substitute some minced onions when I ran low on chives.
We were unsure of what “set up” meant so we cooked it until it appeared finished:
Because salsify is supposed to taste like oysters, my husband made an oyster stew and we had the salsify as a side.
My husband initially said that the dish tasted like celery but changed his mind and went with oysters once it was cooked. I initially said that the dish tasted like carrots but went with oysters once it was cooked as well. I do not eat seafood because of the aforementioned fish research (I have nightmares about it), but this was a good dish for me to eat as my husband ate his oyster stew.
Time Travel Experience: This was a unique dish because I had never heard of salsify and it was the first time in a very long time I have had a food that I have never tried previously. However, because it tasted so much like other common foods from today (carrots, celery, parsnip) it was a challenge to imagine being in the 1920’s and preparing this dish.
Overall Verdict: 7½/ 10 (husband) 7/10 (me)- I used canned salsify and as the dish cooked the salsify released a lot of water that made the finished product a little runny. My husband and I both agreed that perhaps some breadcrumbs added on the top of the dish might add some crunch that would make it better. My husband claimed to be “uncomfortably full” after taking a bite of this and did not eat more than a forkful, which I think is telling.
Oh, well. At least this post is a groundbreaking experience, as I think this might be the first time in internet history that “Coelacanth” and “salsify” have been used on the same page!