Watercress sarnies

May 1, 2007

Watercress

The MC and me can’t get enough of the crisp, hot watercress that’s been around over the past few weeks. We’ve enjoyed it…

  • in sarnies – good brown bread, thick spread of butter, sprinkle of salt
  • in a soup – just a plain potato, onion and stock base – add the watercress at the end, blitz and stir in a gloop of thick cream
  • as a side dish with pretty much any meat or fish dish you can think of – it’s so versatile
  • chopped with spinach and chives as a stuffing for baked trout

Watercress used to be a popular street food of Victorian London, traditionally sold by young female costermongers. Henry Mayhew interviewed a young watercress seller in the 1840s:

“I go about the streets with water-creases, crying, ‘Four bunches a penny, water-creases.’ I am just eight years old – that’s all, and I’ve a big sister, and a brother and a sister younger than I am. On and off, I’ve been very near a twelvemonth in the streets.”

“The creases is so bad now, that I haven’t been out with ’em for three days. They’re so cold, people won’t buy ’em; for when I goes up to them, they say, ‘They’ll freeze our bellies.’ Besides, in the market, they won’t sell a ha’penny handful now – they’re ris to a penny and tuppence. In summer there’s lots, and ‘most as cheap as dirt; but I have to be down at Farringdon-market between four and five, or else I can’t get any creases, because everyone almost – especially the Irish – is selling them, and they’re picked up so quick.”

I think the longstanding British taste for this river-grown plant is related to our love of hot, sharp, intense flavours. Just watch out for that pesky River Fluke…

Adding watercress to soup

Roast lamb with watercress

September 10, 2006

Roast lamb and watercress

By far the most exciting debut in this week’s summer box was a generous bag of watercress. There are so many uses for this vegetable’s sharp, hot, clean taste. And I love that mild stinging sensation it produces in the mouth.

I remember going crayfish hunting in the River Derwent when I was working as a cook in Bakewell one summer. We didn’t find any of the wee crustacae but we did return to the restaurant with a placky bag full of wild watercress. It was pretty much the same as the cultivated stuff, except with smaller leaves and a more peppery kick. The customers loved it and, with a 100% profit margin, so did the boss. Fortunately, no one asked any questions about levels of pollution in the Derwent.

Potato and watercress soup is a great late-summer staple. In the past I’ve enjoyed making it into a ‘gusto’ – an old English sauce made with mustard and egg yolk, great with homemade fish and chips. I also find it’s a good foil, eaten plain, for very fatty meat or fish. We had a big bowl of it on the side with a shoulder of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary, roasted on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes.

In fact, we’re so excited by this week’s watercress we decided to write a letter. Here’s what we wrote…

Dear Jim’ll
Please can you fix it for us to have loads of watercress delivered by those nice Riverford people for ever and ever. Cuz it’s great.
Yours hopefully,
Gastropunk and Maths chick

Anyone else got any favourite watercress concoctions to share?