Three cuts of venison sat on my friend’s plate at The Clove Club in east London. One, a perfectly cooked rare loin. Two, a cube of pressed haunch. And three, a faggot of offal, skewered on a pine twig cleaned of its lower needles, and looking much like the shaft and fletching of an arrow.
Eureka, I thought – pine trees are semi-edible! Then again, pine is a key ingredient of New Nordic Cuisine, and adorns the menus of many of the world’s best restaurants. Which is just as well, considering we discard between six and eight million pine trees every Christmas.
If you want to try cooking with pine, use branches from organic or wild trees only, to ensure they’ve not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Try steeping some in hot water to make tea, decorating your gin and tonic with a sprig, or sprucing up roast carrots by adding a small branch to the tin. Pine sprigs can also be used in marinades for meat, fish and vegetables.
Christmas tree carrots
In 2018, I did a short internship at Noma 2.0 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Besides tweezering forage on to plates with the 100 other interns for eight hours a day, each evening I’d help make their amuse-bouche, an edible butterfly made of fruit leather and studded with pine shoots. It was beautiful if rather elaborate, but the aromatic, fresh and invigorating pine oil and shoots really made the dish
Simply adding a few pine sprigs to a tray of roast meat or vegetables will impart an intriguing and appealing flavour, and at this time of year especially lend it a seasonal appearance. If you have time, make the pine oil a week in advance, to give it time to infuse well.
10g pine sprigs, plus a couple of extra sprigs to add to the roasting tray
100ml flavourless oil (eg, rapeseed or sunflower)
80g carrots per person, topped
Sea salt and black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg, to finish (optional)
Pick and wash the pine sprigs, then bruise with a pestle and transfer to a jar. Cover with the oil, seal and shake. Some flavour will leach into the oil within a few hours, but, for best results, leave for a week, shaking the jar at least once a day. After a week, strain and store in the fridge.
Depending on their size, roast your carrots whole or cut them in half or quarters lengthways. Put in a roasting tin, drizzle with a little pine oil, then season with sea salt and toss to coat evenly. Add a couple of pine sprigs to the tray, then roast in a 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6 oven for 40 minutes, or until soft and slightly caramelised. Season with black pepper and an optional grating of nutmeg.