Oh for my love of Spruce Tips... bet you don't hear that often, but I truly wish you did. Evergreens sprouting their tender, fragrant, bright green branch ends means spring has surely sprung in the north east. And spring, when the air is fragranced with wild flowers, seeds are getting planted in the ground for future harvesting and strutting wild turkeys are open season. Can you just hear the swoon in my virtual voice?
Spruce Tips, over all the other yummy and vitamin rich conifer needles, are my favorite. They taste and smell of grapefruit zest and pine. Similar to the woody and robust flavor of rosemary but Spruce Tips are much more tender. My favorite part; although the Spruce Tips symbolize spring growth, and taste bright like a zesty herb, they also resemble a rich and woodsy flavor of winter. So besides utilizing these beautiful little sprouts as a fresh herb to flavor your sweet or savory meal in spring, they also pair well with rich stews and hearty winter meats.
Foraging for Spruce Tips is probably one of the easiest ways to get into a little bit of wild foods, without all the fear of picking the wrong thing. All conifer tree needles are edible (and a yummy addition to your typical kitchen herbs) besides for the Yew variety. With out getting to far into foraging tips and hazards, Google search identifying conifers or visit our Learning Page for some helpful resources.
First things first- you don't necessarily need to hike through the woods during turkey season to find fresh spruce tips. You might not even need to enter the woods at all, if the woods aren't you're thing. A little #foragingreal tip, you might have a type of spruce growing right in your landscaping in front of your home! This year, I gathered some young spruce tips from the front of our home to preserve in salt for winter. (this 5 minute project is a must) And as I continued to gather true Spruce Tips in my pockets while walking the woods on the hunt for spring gobblers, I brought them home and kept them in an airtight container in the fridge for about 2-3 weeks to use in my spring cooking.
One of my favorite ways to use these little spring gems, is to use them to flavor fish cooked en papillote. (meaning fish cooked in paper) Typically you'd lay a fresh fish fillet over some vegetables on a large piece of parchment paper, then flavor it with wine, fat and seasonings. The paper puffs up and the fish steams in its glorious flavorings leaving you with a fillet cooked to perfection. Hence our creation of Salmon with Lemon Butter and Spruce Tips (homestead style, aka cooked outside in foil over open fire) was born.
For the fish you'll need:
Wild Caught Salmon (from our freezer)
Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
Champagne (or any kind of white wine)
On the side:
Vidalia Onions (sliced)
Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
Cast Iron Skillet
All of this was cooked over open flame on a fire grill
Lay out a nice sized piece of foil (about 12" long)
Layer lemons and garlic close together on the bottom
Sprinkle with spruce tips
Place the fish fillet on top
Add two hearty pats of butter on top of the fish
Season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
Pour on a tablespoon or two of Champagne
Now bring up the sides of the foil and make yourself a nice little sealed package for your fish to steam to perfection. (be sure that all sides are folded up in order to keep in all the lovely juices)
And now we drink the rest of the Champagne while you sit back, relax, let the fire do the work, and watch your man chop wood to keep the fire going ;)
After the fish has cooked for 5 minutes or so you'll want to start on your side (if you are making one)
I preheated my cast iron over high flame, added a pat of butter and sliced onions to cook for a minute or two before adding in the asparagus. by the time it's all done and aldente your fish will be done too. The fish (depending on how hot your flame is and the size of the fillet) takes about 10-15 minutes until done.
PRO TIP: The FDA suggests salmon be cooked to an internal temperature of 145F. I personally (along with many other chefs) prefer salmon cooked to about 125-130F to ensure it stays tender and juicy. Start to check your fish's cook after 10 minutes of cooking, You'll be able to tell it is done when you see the fat starting to seep out and turn white. (I happened to walk away from my fish and it ended up cooking to 145F that is why you are seeing so much white fat. Still tasty, but over-cooked in my opinion.)
Wild Salmon Spruce Tips & Champagne
Ready in 20 minutes
Serves 2 people
Cooked Homestead Style over open flame in the yard. This recipe is easily converted from campfire cookery to oven baked in the kitchen.
2 Wild Salmon Fillet
2 Lemons (sliced in rounds)
2-3 Cloves Garlic (minced)
½ Stick of Butter
Freshly Picked Spruce Tips
Paprika, Salt & Black Pepper
¼ Cup Champagne
Get your fire roaring with a grill placed on top or preheat your oven to 400F
On a large piece of aluminum foil lay 5 or 6 lemon slices and sprinkle with minced garlic and a bunch of spruce tips.
Layer one fish fillet on top of the lemons. Season with paprika, salt, and freshly cracked black pepper.
Place 2 or 3 pats of butter on top of the fish fillet and pour about 1-2 tablespoons of champagne over the top. (optional: Place an extra lemon on top for presentation)
Fold all sides of the foil up and seal by rolling it down the center, creating a completely closed parcel with some air space above the fish to steam
Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the fish internal temperature reaches 130F (FDA says 145F but 130F renders a flakier, more tender and juicy fillet.)
1 Tbsp Butter
½ Vidalia Onion (sliced)
1 bunch of Asparagus (trim or peel woody ends)
Salt and Cracked Black Pepper
Start about halfway through cooking the fish.
Heat a large saute pan or cast iron over med/high heat.
Add butter until melted, then add the onions. Toss to coat. Add a sprinkle of salt. Cook for about 2 minutes until slightly softened.
Add the asparagus and saute for an additional 3-4 minutes until tender.
Season with salt and pepper and serve warm alongside the fish parcels