I happened on a beautiful grove of devil’s club today. This isn’t the sort of approbation one normally hears about the ornery plant. Devil’s club, with its nasty spines and towering stalks, is the bane of hikers in the Pacific Northwest, especially off-trail hikers. Get stuck in a swampy bog of devil’s club and you’ll learn to avoid the stuff at all costs.
But this grove was right off the trail, allowing for a quick detour with safe passage nearby, and the buds were perfect harvest size, which is to say about two to three inches long, with nascent spines still soft—in stark contrast to the sharp, hardened spines on the stalk. I nabbed a scant two cups and was back on my way, with only a few flecks of blood on gloveless hands for my trouble.
The buds have a resinous, piney flavor that strikes me as a powerful distillation of a Northwest conifer forest. I’ve used them to infuse cream for a chocolate sauce and to lend a woodsy edge to a bordelaise sauce. They’re terrific simply sautéed in butter. With this in mind, I decided to stir-fry this batch to go with some Sichuan leftovers.
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 loose cups devil’s club buds
5 green onions, split lengthwise and cut into 3-inch sections
1 small red pepper, cut into 3-inch slivers
1 tbsp peanut oil
splash chicken stock
1. Heat oil in wok until hot but not smoking. Add garlic, stirring, careful not to overcook.
2. When garlic is fragrant and just starting to turn golden, tip wok back and forth a few times, spreading oil throughout. Add devil’s club buds, green onions, and red pepper, stirring vigorously. (Tipping the wok and stirring vigorously prevents buds from immediately soaking up all the oil.)
3. Stir-fry together a few minutes, until green onions begin to darken. The wok will likely be dry. Add a splash of chicken stock, stir a few more times, and remove to a serving dish. Sprinkle a few generous pinches of salt.
Note: As an alternative, omit the garlic and fresh pepper; instead, add half a teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns and and several dried chile peppers (halved and de-seeded) to the hot oil, stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds, before adding the devil’s club buds and green onions.