Frying is not usually described as a dainty act. It conjures up familiar images of brightly-lit glass cabinets, white paper caps, small wooden forks and sauce sachets. Rafts of cod with ends sharp enough to slice someone with. A forlorn and shining sausage that has fallen into the crevice between metal grill and glass.
This is not that kind of frying, beloved and missed though it is. This is frying for Fairies.
Fried flowers are both delicious and dainty, and surprisingly light. Whilst it is true that almost anything dunked in batter and deep-fried is delicious (a theory every junior chef wastes hours putting to the test – personal high; parmesan rinds, and low; green beans) there is something about deep frying flowers that is a little bit magic. And it isn’t just pretty-for-the-pictures-ism, they really are delicious to eat too.
In the UK I spent many a happy early summer frying elderflowers in restaurants, to be served with salt and sugar and perhaps a squeeze of lemon; a delicious pudding, starter or snack, and something which never fails to delight and surprise people who have never tried it before.
Here in Sardinia we are in full edible flower season. I spot them in the hedgerows everywhere I go. There are a few elderflowers (not as common as in England) but it is the Robinia that have caught my eye. A new tree to me, something I’ve never seen before.
The False Acacia, Black Locust or Robinia is a small tree which looks a bit like a white Wisteria. It has pale green, pebble-shaped leaves and delicate white flowers that dangle in dense and drooping clusters and attract bees in much the same way. It is, in fact, a part of the same family as Wisteria (Faboideae) and is a relative of peas and beans.
Perhaps it makes sense then that it is edible.
I spotted this tree by the side of the track where I walk every evening, and I caught a whiff of its heady scent. A little like orange blossom, a little like honey and vanilla, it tastes a fainter version of how it smells. It is absolutely delicious fried. The irresistible fat-flavour that frying imparts is there, but it’s the delicate crispness and freshness that is more pronounced, as well as the permeating flavour of orange blossom and vanilla. Eaten with an extra drizzle of honey there are truly ambrosial.
I’d seen this recipe on Jul’s Kitchen long ago, before I lived in Italy, and studied it with wistfulness. Now I have ready access to the flowers, I recreated it.
I found a little elderflower head too, so added that the mix. This gets a shake of icing sugar and a little lemon.
Fried delights from a Fairy-tale, for free.
A few heads of elderflower, tiny bit of stalk left on
A handful of Robinia clusters (as above)
Flavourless oil, for frying
70g plain (or 00) flour
140g cold fizzy water
Salt, icing sugar & honey to serve.
Make the batter. Mix the water slowly into the flour, whisking as you go. Add the last bit gently without whisking too hard, to preserve some fizz (this will keep your batter lighter).
Keep the batter nice and cold (or add an ice cube or two ). This helps the finished fry stay good and crispy.
Heat your oil to frying temp (around 180).
Delicately dunk and swirl the flower heads in the batter, holding the little bit of stalk you have left on, then lower them into the oil. Shake them gently as they go in, to remove excess batter.
Fry gently for a minute or two until just golden.
Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
Drizzle with honey (for Robinia), dust with icing sugar (for elderflower) and serve with lemon if you like.