You likely didn’t know this, but we’re right in the middle of hop shoots season!  You’ve all heard of hops before, of course, the signature ingredient in many of our favorite beers, but there’s a lot more to the perennial plant than just the soakable cones.

13895811156_f9ed1de3bb_b

Hop plants consist of a very robust root system, with annual bines that grow over 20 feet tall every summer rising from the ryzome. Hop shoots, the early spring growth of those bines after the plant is done hunkering down for the winter — are actually a very common delicacy in many areas with centuries-old hop growing cultures, including the home of this Belgian chef who runs one of San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants:

In April, Desramaults turns his attention to hops. In De Wulf lies in one of few areas in Belgium where this plant thrives. The chef prizes their young shoots, which bear a strong resemblance to soybeans. “They’re very powerful and expensive,” he says. “Earthy, but not overpowering,” they have “a nice crunch” and “a peppery note.” He has served the shoots with nothing more than “some skim milk and reduced cream” and crushed ground elder on top.

And the news gets better — our Fauquier-grown hop shoots aren’t even expensive, just delicious!  We’ll be selling them at our Manassas Farmer’s Market stand this Saturday.  Our friend Jesse of Whiffle Tree Farm (where we personally buy most of our meats) also generously offered to let us sell at his fantastic farm store in Warrenton, which is open from 3-5pm on Saturdays.  The address and other information is at his website.

And lucky for us the farm yields these shoots early, so we were able to sneak a side dish before having the crop to sell.  The texture and taste of hop shoots is great — a cross between asparagus tips and rich greens — and as a result is incredibly easy and fast to cook as it needs little amendment.  Feel free to go wild with your own application or even try the chef’s recipe above, but if you’re looking for a simple preparation, give this a go:

13919355544_4851a358b4_b

If you have the hop shoots by now, what you’re looking at is 2-4 inches of what’s called the bine of the hops.  Each perennial plant sends up several shoots in the spring, and continues to send up more as the plant works to maintain its balance of nutrients and water from root growth and good light from the bines’ leaves.

We cut these shoots off quickly, since they’ll grow several inches a day once the weather warms up for good (and up to a foot during the longest days of summer!).  Once they get too long, they lose their tenderness.

Give the hop shoots a very quick rinse, but don’t stress about this step.  You can also feel free to trim to your taste as the length of the bines will vary.  Longer bines will have a slight crunch to them (think: the texture of the middle of an asparagus shoot), the top inch or two is much more tender.  For what it’s worth we didn’t trim at all and found the dish great.

13895811431_f85705233f_b

Step 1 involves bringing a small amount of water to a boil on the stove.  Keep the hop shoots out of the water until you reach a boil, and while you’re waiting get a small strainer out and set it in the sink.  Once you reach a boil, dump in the shoots for just 25-30 seconds.  Use a wooden spoon to make sure all of the shoots are submerged. All we are doing here is tenderizing the shoots.  After 25-30 seconds turn off the stove and strain the shoots.

13895812001_bd26fd1326_b

For Step 2 grab a small skillet or frying pan and melt some butter.  As an alternative you can use coconut oil, olive oil or even cream like our Flemish friend above.  In fact fry with whatever you’d like.  In terms of amount, you’re just looking for a very light coat on the hop shoots you have.

13895812881_34cdd6eebe_b

Once you get your cooking substance of choice warmed up, start Step 3 by throwing in the hops from the strainer and tossing them around with your wooden spoon on medium-high heat, although don’t worry too much about the temperature.  Have your seasoning ready as well, we stuck to crushed pepper and a small amount of sea salt.

13918982813_38c99eeb4e_b

You are only going to be cooking the shoots for 3 minutes total; about half way through go ahead and season the dish and stir in the seasoning, working to make sure you’re getting an even cook.

13918983173_2ccaff3ecc_b

And that does it!  They tent to cool quickly as they’re a water-based green, so my advice is to not start the process until you’re ready to plate the rest of your meal.  Your quick refresher goes like this:

Step 1 Add to boiling water for 25-30 seconds, strain
Step 2 Heat up (or melt) cooking oil, butter or cream.
Step 3 Fry shoots for 3 minutes on medium high, seasoning with salt and crushed pepper while they cook
Step 4 Enjoy!

You’ll want to try these out now as hop shoot season doesn’t last long — the bines grow so fast we’re eventually forced to stop pruning back and let a couple on each plant begin their summer-long process of rapid growth, and once a couple of bines are established very few new shoots will emerge.  Thus begins the long (and very fun!) process of waiting for our hop harvest and fresh hopped beers, so stay tuned for that!

[All photos from our farm and kitchen.  You can see more at our facebook page!]