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Cattails—Chicago's Hottest New Ingredient

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Before I just looked up the definition of cattails, I didn’t know exactly what they were. Now I can tell you that they’re long-stemmed plants that grow in swampy places; the tender, meaty peeled stems are what you want to eat (to see what they look like, check out this ancient commercial of natural food expert Euell Gibbons for Grape-Nuts). In New York City, we don’t hear about them—but if you’re dining out at in Chicago, you are no doubt ahead of me, because they’re showing up on cool menus there all over the place. At Mado, the market-driven Wicker Park restaurant, they serve cattail shoots with house-cured smelts. At the Midwestern gastropub The Bristol, they offer cattails shoots with halibut and preserved lemon. And at the excellent Blackbird, chef Mike Sheerin says he gets his cattails from Spence farms in Indiana. He describes them as “like eating a young cucumber without the skin, and with a cooling effect like mint.” He keeps his cattails very simple: He slices them up and tosses them with olive oil.

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