Cooking with Cattail

Cattail
Cooking with Cattail Shoots

In early spring, cattails send up small, immature shoots that are rich and succulent and taste a bit like zucchini. These first sprigs of fresh cattail can be put into stir-fries, soups, pasta sauces, or any other recipe that calls for fresh, green vegetables. My favorite preferred use is in Asian-style stir fries. Their taste especially complements the texture and flavor of water chestnuts.

Cooking with Cattail Hearts

When cattail shoots mature in mid spring, the rich “heart” at the base of the leaf-blades becomes full of nutrients. These can be used in the same contexts as cattail shoots, but will lend a slightly stronger flavor and crunchier texture. A cattail heart’s texture is something like a cross between a bamboo shoot and an artichoke heart, and its flavor is like a cross between a rutabaga and a melon rind. They are ideal for pickling and canning.

Cooking with Cattail Heads

One of my all-time favorite foods is what I call “cat on the cob”, a delightful dish that tastes remarkably similar to sweet, white corn. Immature cattail heads that do not yet have a cotton-like texture– best harvested in early summer— are tasty and wonderful additions to any meal. They can be boiled or put into soups and stir-fries, but I prefer to cook them in a buttered skillet over medium heat and serve them in place of corn.


Cooking with Cattail Pollen

When the flowers, or heads, of the cattail plant mature in mid-summer, their pollen can be gathered and used in the same context as corn starch. The pollen gives an excellent flavor to breads and pancakes when it is added to flours, or it can be used as a thickener in gravies, soups, and
stews. Its flavor is mild and barely noticeable, but it makes a fine addition to the pantry of any foraging chef.

Cooking with Cattail Roots
The cream of the cattail crop is its rhizome, or root, which can be harvested any time between late fall and early spring. Cattails store starches in their roots over winter, similarly to potatoes and carrots, and provide a succulant, fibrous meal base when the root is properly harvested. These rhizomes can be prepared like potatoes or used along with them. Cattail roots make a great addition to mashed potatoes, greens, and root-bakes.
Regardless of the route you choose for cooking cattails, be sure that you have properly identified the plant. While there are few poisonous plants that resemble the cattail at any stage of life, it is still critical that all foragers cook wild plants only if they are certain that it has been accurately identified.
When the flowers, or heads, of the cattail plant mature in mid-summer, their pollen can be gathered and used in the same context as corn starch. The pollen gives an excellent flavor to breads and pancakes when it is added to flours, or it can be used as a thickener in gravies, soups, and
stews. Its flavor is mild and barely noticeable, but it makes a fine addition to the pantry of any foraging chef.


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