What's in Season: Salsify

An ideal winter vegetable


Salsify is the root of a type of sunflower plant that is used as a vegetable. It can be used raw, often seen as an ingredient in slaws, or can be cooked, when the flavor resembles that of a raw oyster to many people, and thus the alias of oyster plant and oyster root. Salsify requires a long five-month growing season, though the root can be left in the ground once it’s matured -- an easy form of storage that makes salsify an ideal winter vegetable.

Its origins are a little vague, probably because various cultivars are native to various regions of the world, though it is said to have originated in the Mediterranean.

Salsify is essentially a root vegetable, though sprouting leaves from the root can be eaten raw and are added to salad mixes.

How to buy

Salsify is best purchased fresh. The root resembles typical root vegetables, though there are several distinct types of salsify. The so-called black salsify (which, in fact, might be burdock root or true black salsify) has a dark, bark-like skin that sets it apart from white salsify, which resembles parsnips.

Salsify should be firm and crisp with a creamy white interior. Discoloration and bruising should be avoided. As a root, salsify is pretty tough, so chances are good that the fresh salsify you’ll find available is in good shape.

How to store

Salsify can be stored for long period in the ground. If the roots have already been harvested, a box of moist sand at cellar temperature can keep them fresh for months. Wrapping salsify in moist paper towels and storing them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator should keep fresh roots crisp for two weeks.

Roots can be lifted for immediate use from mid-October onwards or stored in boxes of moist sand or peat. Roots are hardy, so can be left in the ground until March-April, when tender young shoots will appear and can be cut and used as a green vegetable.

How to prepare

Since I mentioned burdock previously, a few words are in order since it is a suitable substitute for salsify. Burdock is a very crisp vegetable with a subtle flavor that is both sweet and slightly earthy (similar to an artichoke, to which it is related), sometimes with a slightly bitter edge. The bitter edge can be reduced by soaking the prepared roots in water for five to 10 minutes. Burdock is often breaded and deep-fried.

Burdock and salsify share many traits, with the most notable difference being burdock’s relatively denser, crisper texture. When cooked, both roots tend to have a slightly creamy yet firm texture and a slightly sweet flavor reminiscent of artichokes.

Peeling black salsify

Black salsify, weather true black salsify (aka scorzonera) or burdock needs to be peeled with a vegetable peeler while white salsify can be peeled, or if young and tender enough a simple scrubbing might do to remove debris and the skin. If you have difficulty peeling your black salsify you might want to soak the stems in cold water for 30-60 minutes, as that will facilitate peeling. After peeling and slicing salsify, be sure to put the pieces in acidulated water to prevent browning.

When cooking salsify whole it’s ok to leave the skin on as the flesh will slide right off the skin once the root is cooked -- a good tip for when you might want to use salsify for a soup or mash.

Light and Creamy Oyster Chowder with Salsify

Salsify, since it has a flavor resembling oysters, is sometimes used for mock oyster chowder but it’s a great way to boost the flavor of your favorite oyster dishes.

Light and Creamy Oyster Chowder with Salsify

To download the recipe, go to Light and Creamy Oyster Chowder with Salsify.

Photo: © Maura McEvoy

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  • Snooth User: Nicki Gig
    Hand of Snooth
    178306 4,217

    I just had this for the first time this past Saturday and it was delicious. My husband and I ate dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns - amazing restaurant outside of NYC in West Chester County.

    Jan 10, 2011 at 4:53 PM

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