This time of year, gardens look pretty storm-ravaged, apart from the odd few nodding snowdrops and early daffodils bobbing their yellow heads in the fairly stiff breeze. Hedgerows are sparse and the countryside is bare and forsaken.
But foragers take heart. There’s still wild food to be had in February. You just have to go to a beach to find it. We spoke recently to JP McMahon of Aniar in Galway. JP is a keen forager, using much-foraged produce on his menu. He has a few wise words to say on the subject of beach foraging this month.
SEA GREENS AND SEASIDE HERBS
‘There are some sea greens and seaside herbs to be had this time of year. We’re picking sea radish, which grows in sandy areas. The leaves taste spicy and peppery like radishes, hence the name. Sea purslane is also around now in the sandy areas going down to the shoreline. Both these plants are perennials with hardy leaves and they make great winter greens. Scurvy grass is also good, so-called because sailors of old used to chew it for its high vitamin C content, which they needed to prevent and treat scurvy. Scurvy grass is very spicy, a bit like horseradish in taste. We’ve also picked leaves of sea beet, which is like spinach but much more salty.’
‘Seaweeds are also good now. The easiest one to find is sea lettuce. You’ll see it floating in little bits as the waves wash up onto the beach. You can just pick it out of the water. Sea Lettuce can be dried for use in seasonings, or you can eat it raw. If it’s a bit hard I like to cook it lightly. I just steam it or cook it in water then use the cooking liquid as a stock for soups and sauces. Sea lettuce is surprisingly good with lamb. It’s a very sustainable seaweed but like with all wild foods, only take as much as you need. If you’re picking seaweeds that are attached to rocks, the best advice is to just snip the tops off and take those. Leave the growing parts attached to the rocks. Obviously, the best time to harvest these is at low tide. I love to use seaweeds like dillisk, kelp and kombu for stocks, which we then use to make chowders or sauces which go with meat as well as fish.’
‘If you like shellfish, good ones to look for are razor clams, whelks and periwinkles. We have a guy who gets these for us. He uses the salt trick to harvest razor clams. You just sprinkle a little bit of salt on the little dimple where the clam is buried deep in the sand, and pretty soon he’ll pop up and you can grab the top and carefully pull the whole clamshell out of the sand. It’s very labour intensive but worth it! I cook razor clams by getting a pot really hot on the stove, then adding white wine and the clams. Cover and cook till they open, about a minute. Razor clams are really good served with a seaweed stock which is enriched with butter, then reduced down. Add a few leaves of sea beet to it then pour it over the cooked clams. This dish is dead easy to do at home and it looks and tastes amazing.’
Wild and seasonal foods are key to the unmissable menu served by J.P McMahon’s Galway based restaurant Aniar.
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