If you’re a fan of wasabi’s sweet, peppery, palate-cleansing flare, you’ll adore it even more when it has been freshly picked and prepared. The vivid green paste is created by finely grating the wasabi plant’s rhizome, or stem root, and its quick, clean flavour–entirely different to the lingering pungency of pre-prepared wasabi–is a sophisticated complement to fresh fish. Also known as Japanese horseradish, wasabi can thrive beautifully in the mild–and, dare we say it, wet–British climate. The Wasabi Company, the first to cultivate the semi-aquatic plant in Europe, is located very near Summer Lodge Country House Hotel and Restaurant and supplies them with a luxuriant crop to serve fresh with its seasonal menus. Follow our guide on how to cultivate a successful wasabi plant to accompany some of our adventurous menu ideas.
The wasabi plant flourishes in a moist, temperate climate with plenty of shade. In the wild, it succeeds in the dappled coverage of a forest canopy, ideally beside a spring or waterfall, so a well-shaded spot out of direct sunlight is ideal. The rhizomes extend around eight inches into the earth, so prepare a fertiliser-rich soil to accommodate them, ensuring good drainage to avoid the threat of rot.
Before planting the seeds, soak them overnight in a bowl of distilled water to encourage the germination process, and sow them a few inches apart by pressing them lightly into the soil. Wasabi fares very well in moisture-rich earth, so mist the soil a few times a day and splash the seedlings often with plenty of fresh, cool water.
The wasabi plant matures over two to three years, during which time it grows to a width and height of around two feet. Once it has reached full maturation, its rhizomes will start to develop in size and flavour. They’re ready to eat once they extend to about eight inches long–dig one up to check its length before harvesting the rest. Keep the leaves to add a sharp kick to salads, and bear in mind that the fresh heat of a grated rhizome will fade after a few hours, so use only as much as you need at a time. The rhizomes will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.
As well as providing an ideal accompaniment to raw, smoked and cured fish, wasabi is an inspiringly versatile flavour to experiment with–yielding surprisingly successful results. Muddle a pinch with vinegar and olive oil, seasoning well with salt and black pepper, for a sharp salad dressing. Blended with butter, it marries very well with steak and a touch of wasabi paste whisked into mayonnaise is a delicious condiment. Can’t get enough of it? Try a tiny amount added to a steaming cup of water for a refreshing tisane.
Come and sample the fresh produce of Summer Lodge Country House Hotel & Restaurant's Kitchen Garden from our award-winning elegant seasonal menus.
Image Credits: Lead image © iStock/victoriya89. Wasabi plant © iStock/PamelaJoeMcFarlane. Wasabi leaves © iStock/HeikeRau. Wasabi roots © iStock/JonathanAustinDaniels. Grated wasabi © iStock/KarinSasaki.