March 28, 2007
The aillet conundrum

garlicandonion.jpg

For two years now, I've been trying to work this one out. I haven't written about it because I had hopes of finding the key to the problem and then presenting you, our readers, with an explanation. I give up. I know that there is an edible plant in the US known as "ramps" or "ramson" and that it resembles garlic. And I know that there is an edible plant in France known as "aillet" that resembles garlic. What I can't figure out is a) whether ramps=aillet and b) whether "aillet" is just young garlic shoots or another, related, plant. Heaven knows I've tried. This site describes it as "a green garlic shoot that looks like a small leek and can be eaten raw with salt". But is it the same family as garlic or, literally, just young garlic?

So I'm putting out a call to those of you who have better French/English dictionaries or culinary dictionaries than I do - or even those who can recognise ramps in a photo. What is this stuff? The Larousse Gastronomique is strangely silent on the subject and none of my dictionaries includes the culinary definition of a ramp (though I do know how to get on or off a highway, you'll be happy to know). So help me out, do!

By the way, the above photo also includes young shallots. The shoots with the slight purple tinge on the bottom are the aillet.

And although I don't know the whole story about the species of aillet or its name in English, I do know from experience a little about cooking with it. God and our host server willing, I'll be posting a couple of recipes in the next few days to share with the world!

Note: I have just realised that we have temporarily shut down the comments function on our site while we overcome some technical difficulties. So if you want to enlighten me about this conundrum, please send me a message at my New and Improved Email Address: Meg (at) toomanychefs.com. I promise you will get full credit from me when I publish the answer!

UPDATE: Comments seem to be back in order if anyone else wants to point out how clueless I've been!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at March 28, 2007 11:13 AM Print-friendly version
Comments

A reply! Many thanks to Lucy:

Dear Meg,

I've been informed by my producers and vendors at the market that aillet is young garlic. It only comes out early in the spring. I adore your blog. Have fun with the aillet and do share what you do with it. I use it like garlic, it's not as strong and can be used also like shallots, or minced and put into creme fraiche or white cheese with lots of pepper as a spread on crackers, or rolled in puff pastry, incorporated into onion and shallot tartes, on pizza, etc. It infuses nice flavor into soups as well. I love it sliced thin in salads and also use it just like I would use shallots.

Love,
Lucy

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 31, 2007 at 10:35 AM

Hello Meg,

I don't think you'd want to eat ramps raw, they're much too strong, which leads me to believe that the two are different plants.

All Best,
Hannah

Posted by Hannah on March 31, 2007 at 10:58 PM

Ramps look very different - note the broader leaf on the pictures here:
http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-449.html

And here:
http://www.econetwork.net/~wildmansteve/Plants.Folder/Ramp.html

Posted by Bastlynn on April 2, 2007 at 4:04 PM

Ramps look very different - note the broader leaf on the pictures here:
http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-449.html

And here:
http://www.econetwork.net/~wildmansteve/Plants.Folder/Ramp.html

Posted by Bastlynn on April 2, 2007 at 4:08 PM

Hi, Meg

I happened to come across your food blog tonight: actually looking for a good recipe for Asparagus with ricotta cheese. Luckily, you've got one!

And this aillet thing... it's strange that it is so called in this way. It's just green onion, for a simple name, and a popular fresh spice in China and other Asian countries. It's a somewhat subsititue for onion or shallot in Asian cooking. It's definitely edible, with or without sauce. Basically I combine soy sauce and olive oil and green onion, to prepare a sauce for meat or tofu. Opps, forgot to say, I'm from China.

Jing

Posted by Jing on April 2, 2007 at 9:09 PM

Hi, Meg

I happened to come across your food blog tonight: actually looking for a good recipe for Asparagus with ricotta cheese. Luckily, you've got one!

And this aillet thing... it's strange that it is so called in this way. It's just green onion, for a simple name, and a popular fresh spice in China and other Asian countries. It's a somewhat subsititue for onion or shallot in Asian cooking. It's definitely edible, with or without sauce. Basically I combine soy sauce and olive oil and green onion, to prepare a sauce for meat or tofu. Oops, forgot to say, I'm from China.

Jing

Posted by Jing on April 2, 2007 at 9:11 PM

I can feel your dilemma. We've been moving around a bit in the past few years, and some foods change their name, depending on where we go. Here is anise, there it is fennel. Here it is a green onion, there it is a scallion. And so on.

I believe the last option (scallion) is what you have. Bottom line, however, is what you do with it. You can eat it cooked (gentle saute with a wee bit of butter is nice) or raw (sliced thinly into a salad gives some good depth). Then you can just call it dinner. Cheers!

Posted by almost vegetarian on April 4, 2007 at 6:18 PM

I can feel your dilemma. We've been moving around a bit in the past few years, and some foods change their name, depending on where we go. Here is anise, there it is fennel. Here it is a green onion, there it is a scallion. And so on.

I believe the last option (scallion) is what you have. Bottom line, however, is what you do with it. You can eat it cooked (gentle saute with a wee bit of butter is nice) or raw (sliced thinly into a salad gives some good depth). Then you can just call it dinner. Cheers!

Posted by almost vegetarian on April 4, 2007 at 6:23 PM

I have received another emailed response to the query:

Greetings, Chef Cutts,

Two items of business here:

First, if you've got a minute, please pay a visit to:

www.devilsfooddictionary.com

...part of a pioneering culinary reference work that
consists entirely of lies. If it does anything for
you, please consider adding it to the Too Many Chefs
links list (title: The Devil's Food Dictionary).

Second, regarding aillets/ramps, etc., I'll further
muddy the waters by telling you that I believe they're
the same thing Quebeckers call "ails des bois" (hope I
spelled that right). My uncle collects them in the
wild and pickles them. Immensely tasty.

Thanks, and all the best,

Barry Foy, Seattle

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 5, 2007 at 12:10 PM

And another comment:

Hi Meg,
I tried to leave the following comment, but it didn't go through. Also, I
forgot to add that I've made own personal problem in the last two years, I
keep finding references to ramps and I've had them in Europe before, but I
can't find them where I live, even though the New York Times keeps assuring me
that they are rampant (pun intended) in the mid-Hudson valley.

Cheers,

Mary
www.ceresandbacchus.com


I've found this for href="http://terroirs.denfrance.free.fr/p/produits_terroirs/aquitaine/aillet.html"
target="_blank"> Aillet at terroir de France
:
L'aillet est un légume (légume-tige). C'est une pousse verte d'ail (une jeune
pousse d'ail d'environ 3 mois ou ail nouveau) d'environ 20 cm de haut qui
ressemble à un mini poireau, dont la bulbille n'est pas encore formée.

Here's the translation:
Aillet is a vegetable (vegetable stem). It is a young garlic shoot of
approximately three months also called new garlic [like Beaujolais Nouveau ;)]
of around 20 centimeters in length that resembles a mini leek whose bulb is
not yet formed.

It also states that they are planted closer together than garlic that one
wishes to bring to full term and that their season is December to April.

So, in English, my guess is that you would call these guys garlic shoots, but
there might be another name for them.

Let me know if you'd like more of the description on this site translated or a
translation from another source and I can work on it.

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 5, 2007 at 12:15 PM

And yet another comment, this time from Paul:

Dear Meg,

Here is a link to what we in Michigan call wild leeks. They are known as ramps in the southern states. If you Google ramps, you will come up with more information than you wanted and yes there is a festival. If you look at the leaves on a ramp, they are different from your picture. At first glance your picture looks like good old green onions except for the purplish tinge above the white part. Hope this helps.

P.S. Regarding the link - One day my lovely bride and I will hit the trifecta. Wild leeks, morels, and fiddle head ferns. An awesome spring treat!

http://www.wild-harvest.com/pages/ramp.htm

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 5, 2007 at 12:22 PM

Okay, I think the verdict is in:

- they are not exactly the same as ramps, though probably in the same family

- they probably are just young garlic

- I am henceforth calling them garlic shoots

To those who suggested they are scallions/green onions, I should have mentioned that I know they are not. Although they look like them in the photo, they taste very different - in fact, garlicky!

Thanks, everyone, for the input. Reading your comments has been a pleasure!

BTW, the comments function is now back and working, though it make take a little while for you to see your comment as we are approving them one by one. Thanks for your patience!

Posted by Meg on April 5, 2007 at 12:39 PM

Meg,

This comment is about a year late but I do believe I have the definitive answer for the plant in question. What you have, and what the French call "aillet" is what is called green garlic (at least in California). They are young garlic plants before the bulbs are formed--we have tons of them at the manresa garden at the moment.

Garlic shoots, on the other hand, occur after the bulbs are formed yet not completely matured. The inner part of the shoots of most hard neck garlic can be peeled and eaten (though not quite so good raw). They resemble medium size asparagus shoots (without the tip of course) more than they do green onions or scallions.

You've got green garlic here for sure. Don't ask me about ramps, I live on the west coast!

bisous
Pim

Posted by Pim on April 29, 2008 at 9:14 PM

Pim, thanks much for the clarification!

Posted by Meg on May 5, 2008 at 3:10 AM
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