David received an unusual gift this month…
He recently did a presentation on iPhone photography at a CIPR event at Fifteen Cornwall. The people who attended shot some great photos of their breakfasts and all the interesting things going in the Fifteen kitchen (including fresh pasta being rolled at speed and live lobsters wriggling about). As he was leaving he given a couple of rather unexpected presents – a wasabi rhizome and also a wasabi plant, so that he could try cooking with it and also attempt to grow his own.
The rhizome and plant were grown The Wasabi Company, who are the only people in England to actually grow wasabi. You have probably heard of wasabi, but you probably aren’t really sure what it looks like or tastes like. It’s definitely not a plant that is traditionally grown in England: it’s Japanese, and only grown in certain areas of Japan, because of the climate. It’s quite surprising what producers are able to grow in England: Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall even grows tea (again, the only company in England). Wasabi is notoriously difficult to grow: it takes about two years to mature and is really picky about its environment. If it’s grown in soil it tastes nowhere near as good: in Japan they grow it at the edges of streams and rivers, and this is what The Wasabi Company have replicated. Being native to Japan, it’s incredibly difficult to source it fresh in England, which means that a lot of restaurants have had to use a premixed paste instead. The Wasabi Company supply a lot of the top restaurants in the country, all of whom agree that they’ve achieved something incredible.
However, perhaps the most important question is what wasabi tastes like. Its nickname is Japenese horseradish (ironically, the Japanese call horseradish ‘western wasabi’), which gives you a bit of an idea of what it tastes like. It’s actually quite a bit hotter, like mustard. Fresh, it’s quite a pretty product – a little like a ginger root, but a far more appealing colour. To use it, it’s grated with a very fine grater, but you’re actually aiming to grate it in a circular motion and create a bit of a paste, rather than gratings. Once you’ve grated it, you need to cover it up or use it quite fast, as it loses it’s flavor in about fifteen minutes if it’s left uncovered. It’s often layered in sushi or used to cover things (like wasabi peas), as it’s got quite a strong flavor.
It goes beautifully with fish: it tastes incredibly fresh, and it is definitely hot, but it’s quite a pleasant heat. Unlike chilli, it’s a short blast of heat, rather than a lingering burn. Now all David has to do is successfully cultivate the plant they gave us in a stream like environment and in two years he might have his own wasabi!
Our wasabi sample was very impressive, and it seems like a company who could be huge in the next few years. Jason Atherton is a big advocate: his cooking has a lot of Eastern influence but, like a lot of chefs, he’s committed to sourcing ingredients for this country. There’s also a handful of testimonials from top chefs on their website. What would be amazing would be to see lots of people experimenting with it at home. There are probably a lot of English foodies who have never tried it, or tried a very sub-par version. Somebody would have to start writing some wasabi recipes, though, so that people know how and what to cook it with!