Test Your Nettle

The chef at Grain & Gristle teaches us to embrace the abundant, prickly spring green.

By Deena Prichep March 9, 2011 Published in the April 2011 issue of Portland Monthly

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WHEN BEN MEYER opened Grain & Gristle last December, he took a deliberate step away from the more refined kitchen craft he’d pursued over the last few years at places like Ned Ludd and Toro Bravo. “In a lot of ways, this cooking is more my roots,” Meyer says, recalling the “incredibly ugly but delicious” fare he grew up on in the Midwest. At Grain & Gristle, he now serves food that would be familiar to his Pennsylvania Dutch great-grandmother—simple, unassuming dishes that folks can drop in for throughout the week, but with a few tweaks. Sure, there are meat and potatoes, but the meat is butchered and cured in-house. And in the place of the dreaded chipped beef on white toast, there is creamed nettles on brioche.

Although Meyer is well aware of the fear that prickly nettles can instill, he’s on a mission to spread the gospel of their superfood benefits. “Nettles are one of those magic ingredients that are good for absolutely everything,” he raves. But beyond their supply of micronutrients and regional abundance (they grow like weeds here), it’s their flavor that really wins gourmands over. “They’re so intense that they’re almost effervescent,” he says. “Even after you’ve cooked out the phosphoric acid, they still have this real bright flavor on the tongue.”

For his spring menu, Meyer pairs that punch with a rich cream sauce, riffing on a dish he created at Ned Ludd. He pours the rich, piquant concoction over a slice of eggy brioche, lightly toasted to stand up to the creamy onslaught. With a sloppy-yet-delicious treat like this, Meyer’s well on his way to luring the neighbors back, night after night. 

Creamed Nettles on Brioche

  • 1 lb fresh nettles
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter (plus additional for buttering brioche)
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 dash of chile flake
  • ½–1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 ½ tbsp sour cream
  • 2 slices brioche (Meyer recommends Fressen Artisan Bakery)
  • Fried egg (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (for serving)

1) STRIP leaves from the woody stems of the nettles. (Double up on latex gloves to protect your fingers from stings.) 2) MELT butter over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. 3) ADD diced onion, sauté until translucent, add garlic, and season with salt and chile flake. 4) ADD nettle leaves one handful at a time, stirring them down as they wilt. 5) CONTINUE cooking until little liquid remains. 6) ADD enough cream to slightly cover the mixture, and increase heat until the mixture simmers gently. 7) SIMMER, stirring occasionally, until cream is reduced by ²/³ and has become golden and rich (about 20 minutes). 8) REMOVE from heat and stir in sour cream—the mixture should be fairly dark green and have a luxurious texture. 9) BUTTER and griddle brioche slices until they have a nice brown crust on both sides. 10) LAY griddled brioche on plates, spoon creamed nettles liberally over slices (add fried egg if desired), crack fresh pepper on top, add a dash of sea salt, and serve.

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