The early shoots that emerge from hop plants in the spring are delicious, tasting like mild asparagus. They can be added raw to salads, steamed, pickled, roasted, and otherwise cooked like any other vegetable. Yesterday I cut back the bull shoots of my hops plants. While I kept the biggest of these to make cuttings, I was still left with a good sized pile of hop shoots, which I cooked up using this recipe. This is so-far my favorite way to prepare hop shoots – fried in garlic, with melted cheese on top. But it’s far from the only option.
In this recipe I am using a homemade raclette that I prepared using a recipe from Gavin Webber – home cheesemaking’s equivalent to Charlie Papazian. If you’d like to try your hand at it, follow the instructions on his video. My version differs only in that goats milk was used instead of cows milk, and I use a different brand of bacterial culture.
Picking and Preparing Hop Shoot
The hardest part of harvesting hops shoots is picking them at the right time. You can pick as early as you want, but this will reduce your yield. But, if you let them go for too long, they become woody and start to develop some bitterness. Hitting the sweet spot isn’t too hard though – look for shoots with one or two pairs of opened leaves. Typically, the part of the shoot from the lower pair of leaves to the top will be soft, flavourful, and not bitter. Cut the shoots as close to the ground as possible.
The shoots you pick in spring are going to be bull shoots – the earliest growth that you normally want to cut back to ensure the growth of stronger and more productive bines. Bull shoots differ from the later-growth shoots in that they are hollow (see image to the left), and have their leaves spaced farther apart. The former makes for a weaker plant, while the latter makes for a less productive plant. So don’t worry about taking all of the early growth from you plants – you’ll get a better hop crop in the fall by doing so. You can also cut later-season shoots (which you should be doing to help maximize the productivity of your main hop bines), and these too are edible. The later season shoots do tend to have a bit more bitterness to them, compared to the spring shoots.
After harvesting your hop shoots you’ll want to make sure they are free of any woody sections. While the woody sections are still edible, they are stringy, hard to chew, and can be somewhat bitter. Getting rid of the woody sections is easy. Grasp the shoot between the lowermost leaves and the base and snap it quickly – it should break off cleanly at the junction between the woody and soft portion (see the image in the previous section). These shoots won’t break cleanly if you are the middle of a woody section, and instead the halves will be held together by a fibrous joint (image to left). If it doesn’t break cleanly, move upwards and try snapping it again. Small shoots with a single set of leaves are unlikely to have a woody portion, and can simply be used whole. Dispose of the lower woody sections and keep the succulent tops.
Next, wash the hops well to remove any dirt or bugs – they’re now ready for cooking!
Garlic Hops Shoots Raclette – Recipe
In a frypan melt some butter – for the amount of shoots in the above image I used about 2 tablespoons of butter. Olive oil or another oil would also work. While the butter melts, finely chop some garlic; I used a large clove for the shoots in the above image, but you can use more or less as you see fit. Fry the garlic in the butter over low heat until the garlic is lightly browned and the butter is fragrant.
If your hops shoots are quite long you may want to cut them into shorter lengths. Once (or if) chopped, add the shoots to the frypan and toss to cover in the oil and garlic mixture. The place a lid on the pot and allow the shoots to cook until softened and the leaves are wilted.
Remove the pan from the heat, toss the hops to coat with butter one last time, and then add salt and pepper to taste. Once seasoned, spread the hops out evenly in the pan and them in a thick layer of shredded cheese. I used raclette for this batch, but any flavourful cheese should work. Place under your broiler on low until melted, bubbly, and starting to brown.