Wait, nettle what?
Yep, stinging nettle pancakes. Savory pancakes were a vegetarian standby at a couple different restaurants I worked at, and Chef Russell Klein of James Beard nominated Meritage in St. Paul ran a version of them on their menu that often stayed most of the year, changing up the flavors as the seasons progressed. I’ve seen savory pancakes made from all the things: carrots, celery root, spinach, beets–just about anything you can imagine–the more color, the better. I use stinging nettles here, but just about any green plant, and also herbs like parsley, chives, or ramps can also be used, think of the batter as a blank canvas for whatever flavors you like.
It might seem odd at first, but bear with me–you just have to think critically about how you compose the plate it will go on. Typical sweet pancakes are mindless (and delicious, don’t get me wrong) just throw some maple syrup and butter on them, maybe a few chopped nuts and raspberries or blueberries and you’re good to go.
Savory pancakes are a little different. The basic method is the same, but since there’s no sweetness, and flapjacks are a sort of dry, starchy food, you need to find a way to keep the plate juicy, which is pretty easy. Juiciness, in a savory form, could come from a lot of things. If you’re serving for breakfast or brunch, hollandaise, or another butter sauce could be fine, same thing with some sausage gravy–just sub the pancakes for biscuits. In the dish pictured, which is probably the easiest incarnation, an over easy egg provides a natural sauce, and pairs great with the venison bacon cooked with the pheasant back / dryad saddle and chicken of the woods mushrooms.
Don’t stop at breakfast and brunch though. In restaurants, I would regularly serve these on tasting menus (small portions) or as a larger a la carte vegetarian entree, you just have to put away your prejudice and connection with maple syrup for a moment, and imagine savory pancakes as a substitute for potatoes, rice, or whatever starch. Really. Just like sweet pancakes are delicious soaked in maple syrup and melted butter, savory pancakes would love to have buttery mushroom sauce, braising liquid from meat or gravy, or any manner of juicy things that would pair good with leafy greens poured on them or in their general vicinity.
Stuffing the pancakes
To add some interest and extra juiciness to the nettle pancakes here I like to add nuggets of goat cheese to the center as they cook, so if you want, you could call them stuffed pancakes–also a good trick with peanut butter for the sweet versions.
Nettle Pancakes Stuffed with Goat Cheese
- 4 oz nettles
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 egg
- 1 ¼ cups milk
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup flour
- 4 large cloves garlic
- Fresh nutmeg a few scrapes
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- Oil the garlic, wrap in foil, and bake for 20 minutes at 350 or until just soft, then cool and remove from the skin.
- Mix the flour and baking powder. Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the nettles until just tender, about a minute.
- Remove the nettles to a bowl of cold water to cool, then wring them dry completely and chop medium-fine.
- Put half of the nettles in a blender or food processor with the egg, garlic cloves salt, butter, milk, nutmeg and pepper, then puree until smooth. Food in the remaining chopped nettles for garnish, then transfer the mixture to a bowl and fold in the flour.
- Cook scant ¼ cups of the batter for pancakes, putting a small nugget of fresh goat cheese in the middle of each one as they’ve begun to set.
- Serve with sautéed mushrooms, sausage gravy, eggs, or in place of a starch for lunch or dinner.
Nettle pancakes with Dryad Saddles, Chicken of the Woods, and Venison Bacon
- 2 oz wild mushrooms per person I used dryad saddles and chicken of the woods
- Venison bacon or another bacon optional
- Fresh squeezed lemon juice to taste, a couple dashes, or use white wine
- Fresh chopped parsley chives, ramp leaves, or another herb
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- Unsalted butter for cooking
- Over easy or poached eggs
- Cook the pancakes and keep warm.
- Meanwhile, brown the bacon until the fat renders, then transfer the bacon to another pan and cook with the dryad saddles and chicken of the woods or other mushrooms, browning them gently with a good knob of butter and seasoning to taste. Fry an egg quick in the bacon grease.
- Just before serving, hit the mushrooms and bacon with lemon juice to taste, add the herbs, then serve 1 nettle pancake per person with the eggs, mushrooms and bacon, drizzling any juices over the top.