Old dog Malcolm Jolley learns a new flavour trick.
The sign at the Korean grocer said “chives”, but that’s not what they looked like. What they looked like was crab grass gone wild. But for $1.99 for a big bag of them, I thought why not, and thought maybe they were just really big chives. That evening my wife made omelettes for dinner and I suggested we try them with my new giant chives. She, in turn, suggested I try one first before I decided to get creative with her dish, and that was a good idea because the bit of leaf and bit of stem I tried had a pronounced garlicky flavour that I recognized from some of my favourite Chinese restaurant dishes.
Garlicky omelettes might be a thing, but it wasn’t going to be a thing in my house that night, so I ws quickly off to Googleland to figure out what I had bought and how to use it. I tried searching for ‘garlic chives’ and seemed to be on track, with a Wikipedia entry for Allium tubersom, which suggested it was its own kind of onion and grown to eat all around Asia. I decided to go deeper and try an expert, so added the English author and Chinese food expert Fuchsia Dunlop’s name to my search and found a post with a picture of a plant that looked a lot like what I bought and this explanation:
…[G]arlic stems (known confusingly as suan tai 蒜薹 in Sichuan, suan miao 蒜苗 in Hunan and suan xin 蒜芯 in at least some Cantonese areas… Raw, they have a strong and forthright pungency, but when you stir-fry them they become sweet and mellow. They are heavenly stir-fried with cured meats or firm pressed tofu. – fuchiadunlop.com/the-joys-of-garlic
This seemed to suggest that I’d just bought underdeveloped scapes, or maybe the part of the garlic plant that isn’t the scape but just the leaves? It had been awhile since I had looked at a garlic plant, so I think maybe Dunlop’s stems are different from what I bought, but her post was encouraging gastronomically. In any event, I had a garlicky, chive-like vegetable and a lot of it, so I turned my thoughts to the next night’s dinner. One of our favourite quick weekday night meals are on the bone chicken breast with herbs and garlic in a bit of olive oil stuffed under the skin and roasted quickly in a hot oven. It’s a perversion of an old Jamie Oliver recipe for roast chicken and a sort of poor man’s Kiev. I wondered if the garlic chives work in lieu of, say, chopped parsley and garlic, and decided to try it.
In addition to being greedy and gluttonous, I am also quite lazy, especially after a glass of pre-dinner white wine. The chicken application, therefore, had the extra appeal of being exceptionally simple and fast to prepare. I simply chopped up the garlic chives, mixed them in a bowl with a bit of olive oil to hold them together and a dash or two of salt and a bit of Cayenne for fun. The green goop was suffed under the skin of the breasts, which got their quick roast in a 475 degree oven, ad the results were fantastic.
The chicken was infused with a lovely oniony and garlicky seasoning, which made a lovely sauce, and I am now plotting similar uses for the rest of my big bag. I figure if I’m lucky, my garlic chives will last me just until ramp season.