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Sang-Hoon Degeimbre on the Oyster Plant

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Sang-Hoon Degeimbre on the Oyster Plant

Mertensia maritima. Behind this complicated name hides a small plant with an uncanny flavour of oysters, ideal for cooks hungry for new ingredients and a perfect vegan seafood alternative or for people with allergies.

Never heard of Martensia Maritima or the Oyster Plant? Let Sang-Hoon Degeimbre, chef of the two Michelin starred restaurant L'Air du Temps in Eghezée (Belgium) explains all ...

What is mertensia maritima? 
It's a perennial herb found near the sea which takes the name of the person who originally discovered it. Its particularity is that the leaves taste strangely similar to oysters.

You have mertensia maritima in your garden at L'Air du Temps. Is it difficult to grow?
We discovered it a decade ago and it hasn't been so easy to cultivate. Like any plant, it needed time to adapt because we aren't located by the seaside. But we sought advice and we understood that we just had to isolate it. It's a relatively delicate plant. There's velvet on the surface and when touched, it leaves finger marks. So you have to pick it at the last minute. It is also for this reason that  Mertensia Maritima costs a lot! It's better to grow it at home and surround it with volcanic stones to protect it from drying out. When you buy it in a tray, you miss out on its freshness and original taste.

What is the interest of mertensia maritima in cooking?
It's great for people with allergies or those who don't like the texture of oysters. For us, it's a bit like a local oyster as we don't have the sea on the doorstep (laughs). It adds a twist to the classics and it's very popular, especially with vegans who don't eat animal protein.

How to use mertensia maritima in the kitchen?
You can make an oyster mayonnaise, without oysters, add it in a salad to bring a touch of the sea side, in an emulsion for an iodized scent, in a wok, a vegetable soup or in sandwiches.

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