They may call themselves the potato people, but Albert Bartlett has stepped beyond spud territory to experiment with a new piece of produce: salsify.
Boasting a slightly fishy taste, salsify is also known as the vegetable oyster. It’s common to the menus of fine dining eateries, so no surprise that it has Michel Roux Jr. as a brand ambassador – he’s previously featured the root vegetable on the menu at Le Gavroche, roasting it whole and serving with Spanish salted almonds and Cornish smoked sea salt. It was also part of the original menu at Roux at Parliament Square, where it was an accompaniment to Westcombe ricotta gnudi, while over at Corrigan's Mayfair it is currently being roasted and plated with red mullet, white onion puree and sea herbs.
Albert Bartlett is hoping salsify will tap into consumer desire for traditional foods. The veg was popular during the Victorian era, when it was peeled, boiled and cooked into patties or used as a substitute for – surprise, surprise – potatoes.
Waitrose has already taken Albert Bartlett up on salsify, stocking it through the winter when it is in season. Two different types will be available in 350g packs (£2.99): black (also known as scorzonera) and white.
The retailer is also adding Fenland celery to its offering at the same time – an ingredient Food Spark noted last December as one of a number of vegetables on the rise thanks to a growing interest in heritage produce. Other items mentioned included sprouting and baby cauliflower, candy-striped beetroot, purple and yellow heritage carrots, and Red William pears.
Salsify may not be the prettiest crop in the field, but what does Sparkie think of its odds becoming a kitchen keeper?
Salsify is an interesting one because it was always treated as something special by the foodservice sector, so it may do well amongst consumers familiar with fine dining. It is possible this may turn into a trend as brands and retailers scramble to find something to maintain the momentum created by shaped vegetables and cauliflower rice.
If this is going to turn into a wider veggie trend, I would expect more focus on vegetables commonly available but underused. Things like turnips and swede that are always available in a retailer but usually bought for a singular purpose – Burns Night, for example. Creating new uses for these super cheap products would be the most profitable angle.