Did you know that hop shoots are known as the poor man’s asparagus? Neither did we, but as the asparagus season isn’t at its best this month we found this pretty interesting at Great British Chefs. Especially when we discovered that a hop shoot pick was taking place in Kent. We sent Doreen along to find out more & to discover how hops are used as recipe ingredient.
Photo by Anne’s Kitchen
On Friday, the 27th of April, I woke up early and made my way down to the pub at 8am.
I wasn’t getting an early start on the weekend, but rather I was meeting up at The Old Red Cow in Smithfield to go on a hop shoot pick organised by the London Brewers’ Alliance. Being an avid fan of beer and everything involved in making it, I was curious to learn more about another way to use the hop plant: as food.
Hops cones are used in the brewing process of beer to add flavour and bitterness to a beer, as well as acts as a natural preserving and stabilising agent. What I didn’t know is that the wee hop shoots can be harvested in the springtime for cooking.
Per the London Brewers’ Alliance blog post on the London Hop Shoot Festival:
The idea behind the Hop Shoot Festival is to remind Londoners of the historic connection between the city and the land. For centuries London was the brewing capital of the world. East Anglia produced and still produces the world’s best malting barley and Kent still produces some of the world’s finest hops. London’s brewers relied on both these regions for the ingredients required in huge quantities to slake the thirsts of generations of drinkers.
So, as a London drinker and a fan of local London brewers such as Kernel Brewery, Redemption Brewery, Brodie’s Beers and East London Brewery, I was especially keen to participate in this event, especially since I’ve never seen a hop plant in person before.
After meeting up at The Old Red Cow, I boarded a minibus with around twelve other people bound for the Kentish countryside, where we would meet up with other volunteers from all over London. My fellow passengers included brewers, the manager and chef of The Old Red Cow, other beer enthusiasts and a couple of journalists who were doing a piece for the Associated Press.
We arrived at Chris Lilliwhite’s hop farm, Harts Heath Farm in Staplehurst, who had set aside part of his farm for a bunch of Londoners to try their hand at hop shoot picking.
After receiving instruction from Peter from the Florence Brewery, we donned the gardening gloves we brought along or borrowed from others and went to work. Picking hop shoots was a meditative task, particularly as the drizzle we encountered in London didn’t follow us out to Kent. It didn’t seem long before I filled the tote bag I brought along with my efforts in hop shoot selection.
I tried a few hop shoots fresh while I was picking, and the taste was interesting—very green, slightly bitter and quite “spring.” I can see why these hop shoots were called the poor man’s asparagus.
Once all the volunteers filled our bags, we convened back where the minibuses were to consolidate the pickings as well as to enjoy some London beer brewed with Kentish hops, served up in a fantastically rustic style.
Also, a pair of portable hobs were used to fry up some scallop with garlic and newly-picked hop shoots, as well as hop shoots were fried on their own, to demonstrate to the volunteers (some of whom were chefs who would be preparing the meals that night) what can be done with the shoots.
Afterwards, the hops were dispersed throughout pubs in different parts of London, whose chefs used the hop shoots in various special dishes. For example, East London’s Mason & Taylor made a hop-braised rabbit with bacon, carrot and swede mash. The Strongroom in Shoreditch had hop shoot, asparagus, broad beans and buffalo ricotta fritters with white balsamic crystal ginger dressing. The Running Horse in Mayfair made a ravioli garnished with hop shoots.
Photo by Anne’s Kitchen
It was a wonderful day out, and an interesting approach to an otherwise familiar plant, especially if you’re a fan of beer. Many thanks to London Brewers’ Alliance for hosting the event, as well as Chris Lilliwhite for hosting the pick on his farm.
Have you ever cooked or eaten hop shoots? What about cooking with beer? Let us know some of your favourite beer related dishes over on Great British Chefs Facebook page?