On this episode of Huntavore, Nick is joined by Forager, chef, and writer, Alan Bergo. Alan has honed his craft of foraging plants, mushrooms, roots, and even everyday garden vegetable plants to bring added flavors, textures, and excitement that only wild edibles can. Alan was recently on the show, Chef vs Wild, where culinary experts make beautiful dishes out of the forage they find. Together, the two unpack foraging for novices, dive into some specific plants that hold hidden flavor, breakdown the process for creating a mushroom/wildgame chowder, and learn some culinary techniques for creamy soups, and taking the sting out of needles. Get ready for an information packed episode of Huntavore.
Alan Bergo is a talented chef that started on possibly one of the lowest rungs of cuisine, fast food and climbed up to very esteemed kitchens, where week to week the menu changed, flexing the creative capacity of these chefs to bring exciting new tastes to their customers. The lifestyle of a cooking staff is easily one that is fast paced, pressure filled, where execution of the dish every time is expected. Alan appreciated the challenge, and the chance to create with all kinds of ingredients, but like any industry that works its personnel hard, the limits of staying are short. Alan chose to walk away from the restaurant, but not from food. Now Alan is on a venture to forage all he can, play with these flavors, and create food that is exciting.
For novice foragers, Alan described his time working with wild mushrooms in the kitchen long before he found any in the wild. When it came time to find the mushrooms himself, it wasn't a mystery to key because he had past experience. As beginners, familiarize with the goal item and that will help.
Alan hits us with some amazing kitchen tips. First is if you have dehydrated your chicken of the woods, they will become woody and fibrous. However, simmering them in water or stock will extract that amazing flavor. After the simmering, you can discard the mushrooms themselves but make sure to use that beautiful flavored broth. The second tip comes about when Alan is describing the process to make a creamy soup. Create a kneaded rue, equal parts flour and butter, worked into a dough. Now when it comes time to thicken the chowder, simply cut off what you need, stir into the broth. It gives a smooth texture because of the butter already being mixed with the flour, and allows it to thicken more if needed.
Our foraging talk takes us to a plant that I have always tried to avoid coming in contact with and that is the stinging nettle. Alan explains his theory on how the plant puts so much into protection with the sharp glasslike hairs that the actual plant itself is tender, mild in flavor, and delicious. By cooking or crushing the leaves, the stinging hairs are broken leaving am amazing green to add to the plate. Alan suggests as a first go, steam the leaves for roughly 5 minutes, add some butter, a flaky salt, and a squeeze of lemon. Another use of a common plant as an edible are Shagbark Hickory Nuts. Shagbark nuts have a thinner shell, making them perfect for making hickory nut milk. Alan’s quick description is after washing the nuts, and giving a quick crack, all the shells and nut meat go into a spice grinder, vitamix, blender, or food processor. When you have achieved a powder, add the powder in a pot with twice its volume in water. Bring to simmer. The shells begin to sink and the meat begins to float and flavor the water with pecan scent. He strains off the top and will puree smooth. Alan will reduce it a bit and cook it into a custard which sounds amazing. My own trial is to try this hickory milk as a coffee creamer.
For more about Alan and his writing, head over to his website: https://foragerchef.com/
For ordering his book, The Forager Chefs Book of Flora, head here: https://foragerchef.com/the-forager-chefs-book-of-flora-2/