Spring has now sprung in earnest, but tell me, what foods can possibly mark the beginning of spring in a world where you can buy bad strawberries all year round, and even the wild mushroom trade has turned into a global business in which countries from both hemispheres take turns replenishing that supply of morels and chanterelles at your local gourmet shop? Ramps, that’s what! Traditionally consumed as the first greens of the season, still rarely cultivated, celebrated at festivals throughout the country, ramps (aka allium tricoccum) are a species of wild onion found only in the Eastern half of North America, and, for now, only in the spring. And it’s the same in Europe, where their cousins, ramsons (aka allium ursinum) are widespread across most of the continent and make seasonal appearances on the menus of many restaurants.
It seemed like almost every restaurant I visited during my recent trip to Central Europe served its own version of ramson cream soup, from the medvehagyma krémleves in a small town near Sopron, Hungary (served with crispy ham), to the polievka z medvedieho cesnaku in a pub in Bratislava, Slovakia (garnished with croutons), to the polévka z medvědího česneku at the Templ Restaurant in Mikulov, Czech Republic (complemented with smoked salmon).
So I decided to add my own two cents to the internet’s already considerable collection of ramson cream soup recipes. And since ramsons are a wild relative of chives favored by wild boars (and brown bears, hence one of its nicknames, “bear’s garlic”), I had my ingredient pairings all planned out. Logically, this should have been a quick and easy recipe — until I started making my own wild boar ham, that is. You could just buy a thick slice of your favorite ham, and save yourself over a week of preparation, but where’s the fun in that? Knowing how to make your own ham seems to me like a requisite skill of the Central European chef, on par with making moonshine or fixing potatoes 100 different ways.
D’Artagnan doesn’t sell wild boar hind legs — only boneless shoulders (here) — but Broken Arrow Ranch does (here). Although the leg would have been a more obvious choice for a ham, I opted for the shoulder. Unlike the typical pork leg that comes coated in a thick layer of fat, the wild boar shoulder is a rather lean cut that’s notoriously difficult to cook because it can easily get dry and tough. But hey, every wild boar has two shoulders and they must be eaten. Extensive brining and cooking at a low 58 C / 136 F produces a meat that’s flavorful and worthy of the deli counter. To impart a light smoky flavor, I’m using Wright’s Applewood Liquid Smoke for the first time (I figure that if ChefSteps uses it, it should be good enough for me). A whole shoulder yields much more ham than needed, obviously. Instead of eating ramp soup every day all spring, just slice the leftovers and make sandwiches — you own a meat slicer, right?! [ETA: After a few more experiments, I concede that the leg definitely produces a much nicer ham than the shoulder.]
As for the chive oil that dots my soup, this is a darling of frou-frou restaurants because of its deep dark green color. You’ll only use a tiny bit, but at the same time you need to make enough to be able to get your blender spinning, so you’ll end up with extra. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of things to drizzle it on: wild boar ham pizza, wild boar ham pasta, wild boar ham and eggs, wild boar ham sandwiches…
Wild boar shoulder “ham”
Yields about 30 servings
10 g pink salt
170 g kosher salt
50 g sugar
25 g Wright’s Applewood Liquid Smoke
4000 g water
2000 g boneless boar shoulder, tied
- Place the pink salt, kosher salt, sugar, and liquid smoke in a blender with about 1/4 of the water, and process until dissolved. Transfer to a large pot, and mix in the remaining water. Using a brining syringe (or a metal turkey baster), inject the wild boar shoulder with about 10 percent of its weight in brine, poking the meat in different spots for an even distribution. Submerge the ham in the brine, then cover and refrigerate for 4 days, flipping the meat every day or so.
- Transfer the shoulder to a sous-vide pouch with about 500 g of the brine. Vacuum-seal, and cook in a 58 C / 136 F water bath for 72 hours. Take out of the water bath, let cool, and refrigerate while still in pouch.
- The first time you slice the ham, take it out of the pouch, discard the liquid, and remove the butcher’s twine. To extend shelf life, keep vacuum-sealed in a new sous-vide pouch between uses.
Ramp green cream
Yields 4 servings
100 g ramp greens
50 g heavy cream
- Blanch the ramp greens in a pot of salted boiling water until soft.
- Drain the greens, gently squeeze out the excess water, and transfer to a blender. Add the heavy cream, and process until smooth.
- Transfer to a plastic container, and chill in an ice bath before refrigerating.
Ramp soup base
Yields 4 servings
60 g peeled shallots, small dice
60 g cleaned ramp whites, small dice
60 g cleaned leek whites, small dice
30 g butter
black pepper, ground
15 g Dijon mustard
500 g chicken stock
100 g peeled potato, medium dice
100 g heavy cream
- In a saucepan, sauté the shallots, ramp whites, and leek whites in the butter until soft.
- Season with salt and pepper, stir in the mustard, and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the chicken stock and potato, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the potato is cooked.
- Transfer the soup base to a blender, add the heavy cream, and process until smooth. Pass through a chinois, and reserve.
Yields about 45 servings
15 g chives, very coarsely chopped
50 g grapeseed oil or canola oil
- Place the chives and oil in a blender, and process until smooth.
- Transfer to a squeeze bottle, and refrigerate. The chive oil can be kept for a couple days, but its color tends to darken.
Soft-boiled quail eggs
Yields 4 servings
12 quail eggs
- Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil.
- Remove pot from the heat, and gently immerse the quail eggs in the water using a tablespoon. Cook for 3 minutes, then transfer to a bath of iced water.
- Once the eggs are cold, peel carefully, and reserve. How do you peel quail eggs cleanly and efficiently? Like this:
Yields about 4 servings
ramp soup base
ramp green cream
0-100 g chicken stock (see below)
240 g wild boar shoulder “ham”, medium dice, room temperature
soft-boiled quails eggs, room temperature
- In a saucepan, reheat the ramp soup base mixed with the ramp green cream. Add chicken stock to obtain the desired consistency — typically, something that coats the back of the proverbial spoon with just a thin film, not a mortar-like paste. I used about 70 g of stock in my case.
- Before serving, froth the soup with a whisk.
- Divide the soup between serving bowls. In each bowl, place a small mound of diced ham in the center, and garnish with the quail eggs. Drizzle with a few drops of chive oil (don’t use too much, or it will overpower the dish). Serve!