The famed chef gives a maligned weed some locavore love
Stinging nettle is one of the first plants to emerge from the detritus of winter, and as anyone who has been stung by it knows, it’s a nasty weed. But Jamie Kennedy, the city’s top locavore chef, isn’t put off by a few prickles. He forages for it near his home in Prince Edward County and is boldly putting it on the menu at Gilead Bistro this month as a complement to yellow perch. Once cooked, nettles taste like spring: fresh, vital and green. For newbie foragers, Kennedy offers this advice: wear gloves, try High Park, but stay away from the dog park. If all else fails, lemony-tasting fresh sorrel (available at most grocers) is a good substitute.
1 cup unsalted butter
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and finely chopped
²/³ cup chicken stock
4 cups lightly packed stinging nettle or sorrel leaves (about 100), tough stems removed
Salt, black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste
8 small potatoes, peeled
²/³ cup organic, unbleached all-purpose flour
8 boneless yellow perch fillets, 3 oz each (pickerel and whitefish work well, too)
1. In a medium saucepan, melt ¾ cup butter over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft but not brown.
2. Add chopped potato and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potato is tender.
3. Add nettle leaves and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until leaves have wilted. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
4. In a food processor (not a blender), purée nettle mixture until smooth. Pour back into rinsed-out saucepan. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.
5. Cook new potatoes in boiling, salted water for about 15 minutes, until tender. Drain well and keep warm.
6. On a large plate, season flour with salt and pepper. Dredge perch fillets in flour to coat completely. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add half of remaining butter. When butter is sizzling, add 4 perch fillets. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, turning once, until golden brown and fish flakes easily. Remove perch from skillet and keep warm. Repeat with remaining butter and perch fillets.
7. Spoon nettle purée in centre of 4 warm
dinner plates. Place 2 perch fillets on each portion of nettle purée. Place a potato on either side of fish on each plate. Serve at once.
Makes 4 servings.