I’ve had a lot of fun playing with Japanese knotweed, but there’s was one recipe that’s trumped all the others. Last year I took a vacation in San Francisco to enjoy the sights and eat at some amazing restaurants, three in particular: Coi, Saison, and Bouchon.
All of them were great (Coi and Saison were especially mind blowing) but there was one dessert course at Coi that I was reminded of when I was pureeing batches of Japanese knotweed. Of the three dessert courses at Coi, my favorite was a tiny scoop of what they were calling “frozen whipped rhubarb”. The texture was so velvety, so smooth, like rich ice cream, but vegan. I’d really never had anything like it, but after tasting it, I knew that I could make something similar out of knotweed.
I waited a while before trying it, but once I did I knew I’d struck gold. The knotweed sorbet was so good that I dedicated all of the remaining puree I had in the freezer to making sorbet, and nothing else.
The only downsides, if they can really be called that are the color, and the name knotweed. Diners eat with their eyes, and a scoop of green-brown sorbet doesn’t exactly scream dessert to the unadventurous.
If I’ve learned anything though, it’s that diner’s appetites rely partially on words, and the wording on a menu is like a social experiment. For example, In St. Paul, I can’t sell a soup called “cream of chanterelle” to save my life, but I can definitely sell a “cream of wild mushroom” (It’s the same soup, I just change the name).
So I made up a name for the sorbet, and I think it has the perfect balance of comfort and the unknown: Japanese Rhubarb. The flavor of the sorbet is a bit like rhubarb from another dimension, crossed with earthy green fruit.
To get people to enjoy it, I started bringing the sorbet to tables I speak with in the dining room for free here and there. I love to bring food to tables myself, it really helps me explain exactly what the food in question is in depth. Even with all the training in the world servers and food runners will never be able to articulate the finer points of some of the more obscure things I like to cook.
About 80% of the tables I brought it to, especially after hearing the story about it didn’t just like it, they were blown away. The secret’s in the fluffy texture, which mimics the frozen whipped rhubarb I had at Coi, and in combining a little bit of apple into the mix. The natural pectin in apple, as well as the mucilage of the knotweed helps to keep the sorbet soft, and also tames the heady-ness of the knotweed a bit for those who haven’t had it before.
Now I have a number of regulars who ask for the Japanese rhubarb whenever they come in, it’s that good.
Japanese Knotweed Sorbet
This is a basic recipe. If you want, exclude the apple for a pure, powerful knotweed flavor. The apple is nice though, since it’s flavor pairs well with knotweed, and the natural pectin helps to keep the sorbet smooth and soft. Cooked, pureed pears can be used too, but know that they will add a bit of grainy texture to the finished product.
Another interesting part of this recipe is that you process it in the ice cream or sorbet maker, but then allow it to thaw and then re-process in the ice cream maker an additional time. This method incorporates air into the sorbet to help make it extra fluffy and smooth.
Yield: about 5 cups of sorbet
- 4 cups sweetened knotweed puree (see my recipe here)
- ½ cup water + ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- Dash of lime juice, to taste
- 2 large tart, firm apples, like granny smith, or braeburn OR 1/2 cup high quality apple sauce
- Melt the ½ cup of sugar and water in a sauce pan to make a simple syrup.
- Meanwhile, peel the apple and dice. Puree the apple in a food processor with the lime juice until very smooth then cook for 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent browning, and reserve. If the puree looks coarse, pass through a fine strainer. (if you want, you can use 1/2 cup of applesauce here instead)
- Combine the syrup, apple puree and the remaining ingredients in an ice cream machine and process until slightly firm, about 10-15 minutes. Allow the mixture to thaw slightly for 15-20 minutes, then reprocess.
- Transfer the sorbet to a container, label, date, and freeze until needed.