11 May 2016

Hop shoots

Wild hop plants can often be found growing in the hedgerows and field margins of Kent and Sussex. These plants are a legacy from the time when hops were a common crop in South East England. Sadly most hops used in the UK beer industry these days are imported, often from as far afield as China, though the craft beer movement is spawning a renewed interest in English hops.

Hop shoots

In mid spring, hop shoots can be harvested from hop plants. Hop shoots are the growing tips of the young tendrils of the plant. To harvest, simply pick off the top six inches or so of the shoot. Hops grow vigorously, but do leave some of the tips so that the plant can carry on growing (and so that you can come back in autumn and pick some hops). If you grow your own hops, it is fine to pinch out a few hop shoots in spring, and doing so will concentrate growth in fewer bines.

Hop shoots have a slightly bitter, fresh grassy flavour. They can be eaten raw, but have a slightly wooly mouth-feel. In my view they are better cooked. They are quite delicate, so don't require much cooking. They can simply be blanched in boiling water very briefly, or sweated down in a pan. I cooked these ones in a beer braise - reflecting the link that hops have with one of our nations favourite drinks.

To cook beer-braised hop shoots, heat up a frying pan over a medium flame. Add a little oil, and allow this to heat up, then add the hop shoots Allow them to fry off and sweat down a little. After a couple of minutes, the hop shoots will start to go a darker colour as they cook. Throw in about a tablespoon of bitter, allow to reduce a little then add a knob of butter. Shake the pan around until the reduced beer and butter coats the hop shoots, then serve. (Credit to Dan and Bonner at The Set in Brighton, from whom I got the beer braise idea).

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