Walla Walla hop shoots

Hops shoots — the young, tender shoots of hop vines — from Walla Walla Hops, the Valley’s first hops grower, are now being served for a limited time at limited locations.

A window has opened on a new Walla Walla delicacy.

Hop shoots, grown locally from the Valley’s first commercial hop yard, are making their way into the culinary creations of local chefs.

The young shoots that produce hops are among the most expensive vegetables in the world and are now a byproduct of the launch of Walla Walla Hops last year by Jeremy Petty, Erin Aycock and Nick Morgan.

Last Saturday, Public House 124 became the first restaurant to source the commercial ingredient from Walla Walla Hops.

Chef Chris Teal’s debut dish including the shoots paired them with Alaskan halibut, served with a citrus buerre blanc.

The availability of the hop shoots offers chefs something that’s both rare and local — a combination that sings on a plate.

“I’m interested in anything that grows here locally that I can get my hands on, especially something as unusual as that,” Teal said.

The vegetable fetches a lot of money because it grows in such limited quantities in a short period and requires an elaborate harvesting process.

Since they don’t grow in neat rows, they must be harvested by hand. They’re also small, so it takes a lot of time to find and pick them.

“It’s great because all the first shoots from the hops have to be pruned (or burned off in the big yards) because those primary shoots only will climb halfway up the vine and not produce as many quality hop cones,” Petty explained. “The secondary shoots are the ones that will grow to the top.”

Instead of losing the shoots, Walla Walla Hops owners decided to market them.

Petty and Aycock had pitched the idea to Teal more than a year ago when they were dining at Public House 124.

“I think they’ve got something special with those shoots,” Teal said. “I’d never even heard of them until they came along.”

The flavor profile is often compared to asparagus, although significantly more subtle.

“They’re a lot more delicate than asparagus,” Teal said. “It is much, much thinner in shape — more like a pencil. The flavor of them is really earthy.”

He said there’s a hint of spice at the end and a touch of bitterness, too.

So far, he’s blanched them and served them alongside other vegetables with emulsion of butter and stock. He’s also barbecued them with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.

His plan next is to try to pickle them, potentially as an added ingredient to the taco dish for the United Way’s Tastiest Taco promotion, in which Public House is a participant.

At around an initial $40 a pound — a price that could change with supply and demand — the hop shoots are used conscientiously. There are hundreds of shoots in a pound, but only five or so made the plate with his Alaskan halibut, Teal said.

The only other ingredient he believes has such a short harvest window and high demand is morel mushrooms.

“I’m champing at the bit to pair those together,” he said. “Hopefully those windows align.”

As word has circulated about the vegetable, Petty says orders for them have come in from skoSH food truck, Andrae’s Kitchen and Walla Walla Steak Company.

James Little, owner of skoSH, said he plans to pickle them and incorporate them into a dish called The Steven Esparza. The dish is crispy pork belly bites, glazed in skoSH fusion barbeue, grilled vegetables and pineapple, over jasmine rice and topped with pickled vegetables and wasabi ailoi.

“I’ve been hoping that as we start producing fresh local produce, we would be implementing items in and out of the dish as seasonality permits,” Little said.

“Honestly though, it’s fun to be able to play with ingredients that are so limited. It’s like you have to keep an eye on it or — boom — season’s over. The wait until next year begins.”

Little said the ingredient builds on the cool quotient of being local, exotic and having a story behind it.

That’s the hope for owners of Walla Walla Hops. With enough demand, they could end up with more plantings just to meet demand.

“We may plant hops just for this purpose moving forward if we grow this and hit the Seattle markets,” Petty said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.