Did you know that hop sprouts are part of Alsatian and Flemish cuisine? In the land of green gold, in an enchanting setting amongst vineyards and orchards, you can travel the "hops route." You'll find long wooden stakes set crosswise in the soil, tied together by string, for as far as the eye can see. The hardy vines climb up toward the sky. They can grow about 1 cm an hour when the sun is shining, wending their way along the taut support strings.
Growing from a perennial stock, the plant sends down roots almost 4 meters deep and can extend for up to 10 meters along the stakes, depending on the variety and growing method. When the vines put out their first shoots in the spring, only three of them will wind around the stakes and continue growing to become scions. The others are removed so as not to sap the plant's strength. This pruning is done by hand: a long, exhausting and labor-intensive job.
The sprouts that are cut off, available only for a short period, look like thin asparagus and are an exquisite food. Since Roman times, hop sprouts have been considered a sophisticated and ephemeral product, the result of a capricious harvest.
Hops have been appreciated as a multi-purpose medicinal plant since the 16th century. They are a tonic, diuretic and depurative. They have essential sedative and soporific qualities, as well as being appetite-stimulating and antiseptic because of their bitterness. Hops are an excellent tonic for the digestive system.
Hop sprouts don't keep well. Place them in the refrigerator, unwashed and wrapped in newspaper. Avoid bending the sprouts, which spoil very quickly.
Remove any sandy parts and wash under running water.
Trim with a paring knife as necessary.
- Serve with a warm sauce of melted butter and crème fraîche seasoned with salt and pepper.
- Serve with a poached egg and smoked salmon.
- Hop sprouts pair well with soft-boiled eggs, or a salad of hard-cooked eggs with mayonnaise.
Talking over Hop Sprouts with Émile Jung, Le Crocodile Restaurant in Strasbourg
Easter. The days are getting longer, the sun more assertive. Doors and windows are opening up: it's the season of rebirth. But it's also the season for hops! As soon as the first shoots poke their noses up at the spring sun, hop sprouts begin appearing on Alsatian plates. What's the best way to describe their appearance and taste? Think bean sprouts, or better yet, potato sprouts: they have a similar look and size. Hop sprouts are also reminiscent of salsify and asparagus.
It is the Belgians who developed recipes using hop sprouts. In the land of green gold, my native Alsace, you'll find long wooden stakes set crosswise in the soil, tied together by string, for as far as the eye can see. The hardy vines climb up toward the sky: they're a fixture of the Alsatian landscape, anywhere there are big breweries.
It's a fleeting, short-lived season. Depending on the weather, it begins in late March and continues through the first two or three weeks of April. That's your window of opportunity to sample hop sprouts!
Simple and quick to prepare, hop sprouts need only to be cooked in rapidly boiling salted water for 3 minutes.
The poached egg, asparagus and hollandaise sauce trilogy is a classic. Why not create an original twist by replacing the asparagus with hop sprouts?
Place the hop sprouts in a small baking dish, then place a poached egg on top napped with hollandaise sauce. You have the mildness of the egg, the creaminess of the sauce and a touch of acidity. How would I describe hollandaise? It's a sauce made without stock, so from a gustatory point of view it has great subtlety which adds character and flavor to the egg. What's also interesting is that the hop sprouts have a good consistency, providing some "length" in the mouth. The texture of the hop sprouts requires chewing, which fixes the flavors.
I never neglect to add a few spinach sprouts… it's an irresistible combination.
I see pairing hop sprouts with veal sweetbreads or the tender morsel of chicken known as the "oyster." You can also serve them with pike-perch, freshwater fish or white meat… and I mustn't forget poussin (young chicken). Hop sprouts are so subtle and delicate that they simply cannot be paired with aggressive flavors: it's impossible to imagine serving them with red meat, for instance.
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