Some say salsify has the subtle, sweet flavor of an oyster. Some say salsify has the flavor of asparagus or artichokes. Others say no.
Two things are for sure: salsify is sometimes called “oyster plant”, and salsify can be cooked in many of the same ways as asparagus or artichokes. It can be baked, boiled, or braised.
Salsify is parsnip- or carrot-shaped with a grayish to golden skin and pearly white flesh. It commonly grows to 12 inches (30 cm) in length and about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. The salsify root is usually studded with rootlets and has shoot-like leaves reaching from its top.
A relative of salsify with very similar features but black skin is scorzonera which is also sometimes called black salsify.
Salsify can come to harvest in early summer, but it is best during winter after it has been exposed to cold weather while still in the ground. Cold temperatures activate the conversion of starch into sugar and so salsify actually sweetens as the weather grows colder.
Choose. Select salsify with well formed roots that are heavy for their size and not too gnarled. Salsify should be firm to the touch. Medium-sized roots are less fibrous than the larger roots. If you choose roots with their green shoot-like tops still attached, you will be better able to judge freshness.
Store. Salsify can be refrigerated in a perforated plastic bag for up to a week. Do not wash it before use. Salsify is best consumed fresh.
Prepare. Salsify is difficult to clean and peel. Scrub the root under cold running water and then peel it after cooking. If you should chop or cut it before cooking, drop the cut pieces into acidulated water—such as lemon water– to prevent discoloration. If salsify is broken when it is pulled from the ground, it must be used as once or it will discolor and spoil.
Serve. Young salsify can be added raw to salads. It can be cooked unpeeled cut into large pieces. After cooking, it is easy to remove the skin.
- Cook salsify until it is tender. Do not overcook it or will taste like mush. You can steam salsify for 10 to 15 minutes or boil it for 8 to 12 minutes.
- Cut salsify into short lengths and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Drain well and sauté in butter or serve with lemon juice, melted butter, or chopped parsley.
- Salsify can braised with veal, poultry or fish, or it can be added to stews or baked au gratin, topped with a béchamel or cheese sauce. It can be baked or boiled or made into a cream soup.
- You can eat salsify cold dressed in vinaigrette. Cook and cool and then serve in mustard or garlic vinaigrette with a simple salad.
- Goes well with potatoes, leeks, celery, onion and spinach. Salsify has flavor affinity for bay leaf, butter, cream, hollandaise sauce, lemon, mushrooms, nutmeg, orange, and prosciutto.
Nutrition. Salsify is a good source of potassium, vitamins B and C, folic acid, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Salsify is a native to eastern Mediterranean and has been in cultivation for at least 2,000 years. It was first mentioned in thirteenth century cookbook and became widely cultivated in Italy and France in the sixteenth century.
Today salsify is mostly grown in Russia, France, and Italy.
The botanical name for salsify is Tragopogon porrifolius.