Romney Marsh, England. We arrived on the family homestead in England’s south-eastern coast a few weeks ago, and to shake off the jet-lag, took a walk in the nearby woods. There, by the train tracks, while my fiance and our baby waved to the steam train heading towards Dungeness, I found young and mature garlic mustard growing just beyond tall stands of stinging nettles.
I’ve been fascinated about garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) ever since I discovered its early-form, scalloped-shaped leaves growing in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Spicy and with a garlicy kick, garlic mustard is the kind of weed many foragers can get behind in the form of pesto or as a wild addition to salads. I love it so much that I devoted my latest Urban Forager (“Garlic Mustard”) to it.
I’m a great fan of U.K. naturalist Richard Mabey’s Food for Free (published in the early 70s, it’s England’s answer to Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus), and had read that he’d enjoyed garlic mustard, a k a Jack-by-the-hedge and “sauce alone,” minced into a traditional vinegary sauce with lamb. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the British are wild about marrying local game with the flora they’ve been grazing on, and I was eager to try this yummy wild sauce with Romney Marsh lamb.
Back home, I blended freshly washed garlic mustard—both leaves and flowering tops—with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil in the food processor. In a small bowl, I whisked sugar into white wine vinegar, along with some ground salt and pepper, and added that to the mixture. I also threw in 3 small mint leaves, for some additional complexity.
The lamb here is tender and savory, and topped with the local garlic mustard, it was as if the very land itself had plopped down upon our plates. As we gobbled it up with new potatoes and string beans, even the baby seemed to get a kick out of it.
Note: While garlic mustard is an invasive species in some states, in its native England, it seems to be kept in check (at least here on the Marsh) by the local stinging nettles. So pick your own delicious poison.