Well, I’m late again my apologies to one and all, I did think about not putting a blog up for May as it is so late however one or two have asked for a May blog so here it is.
As the weather gets warmer in May, beautiful British produce can be found in abundance especially large, juicy spears of asparagus which are at their very best and cheap too, when I say asparagus I mean proper English asparagus, not that stuff from Peru or America, which is a bit wishy-washy not that I have anything against overseas asparagus but English is something special and I like the short period in which we can get it, and Jersey royals the new potatoes with attitude are mouth-watering sprinkled with sea salt flakes, black pepper and golden Jersey butter melted and poured over them.
The English asparagus season officially starts on 1st May, but depending on the weather can start as early as mid-April the harvest lasts for approximately 6 weeks, until mid-June. Although asparagus was once only grown in certain areas of the United Kingdom, such as the Vale of Evesham, East Anglia, Kent, and London, it is now grown in most of the United Kingdom. It's a great accompaniment to seasonal meats and fish, steam, grill or roast it, add it to tarts or blend it into soups no matter which way you cook it you are going to be in for a tasty treat.
British asparagus, with its deep, intricate flavour, is considered by the British, at least to be the best in the world. Its profound, lush flavour is ascribed in large part to Britain’s cool growing conditions. Traditionally only green asparagus has been grown here, but there are several types and varieties, in any case whether you’re buying tips thin 'sprue' asparagus or extra-large 'jumbo' spears, always choose stems that are firm and lush, rather than dry and wrinkly.
Avoid any stems that are discoloured, scarred or turning slimy at the tips. If you're using whole spears, then make sure the buds are tightly rolled. If you're making soup, though, you could also use the cheaper, loose-tipped spears you sometimes find on market stalls.
Regardless of what you may have read or heard, it's not necessary to buy an asparagus steamer, nor to tie the asparagus into a bundle and cook it upright in a pan. For the best results, wash the stems thoroughly in a sink full of cold water. Then trim the stalks and, if the lower part of the stem seems tough when sliced and eaten raw, lightly peel the bottom third of the stem. Drop loose spears into a pan of boiling water and cook until just tender.
The cooking time varies according to the thickness of the stems but ranges between 3 to 5 minutes; the Roman’s use to have a saying similar to “In a New York Minute” it was “Quick as Asparagus”. Once it's cooked, drain, and pat dry on kitchen paper. If you're serving it cold, you'll get the best flavour if, rather than cooling under the cold tap, you spread the hot asparagus out to cool on some kitchen paper.
Conventionally coordinated with hollandaise sauce, asparagus picked just a day or so ago (try your nearest farmers' market) needs no messing with. Enjoy it with a mizzle of olive oil, a twist of black pepper and perhaps a few shavings of Parmesan cheese.
Earliest records of asparagus cultivation trace it back to Greece some 2,500 years ago. The Greeks believed that asparagus possessed medicinal properties and recommended it as a cure for toothaches. It was highly prized by the Romans who grew it in high-walled courtyards. Asparagus has been grown in England since the sixteenth century (it is not widely cultivated anywhere else in the UK) and during the nineteenth century it caught on in North America and China
Asparagus contains more folic acid than any other vegetable. It also a source of fibre, potassium, vitamins A and C and glutathione, a phytochemical with antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties
Look for firm but tender stalks with good colour and closed tips. Smaller, thinner stalks are not necessarily tenderer; in fact thicker specimens are often better due to the smaller ratio of skin to volume.
Once picked, asparagus rapidly loses flavour and tenderness, so it really is worth eating it on the day you buy it. If that isn't possible, store asparagus in the fridge with a damp paper towel wrapped around the bottom of the stalks and you can get away with keeping it for a couple of days.
PREPARING AND COOKINGWash in cold water and remove the bottom ends of the stalks (with fresh asparagus they will snap off cleanly). Boil or steam quickly until just tender, around 4 to 7 minutes depending on thickness.
For us (Maureen and meself) May is the start of our summer and as the days get longer and warmer we look forward to barbeques, picnics and lunches in the garden and the parks here in London, we always look forward to the new season asparagus delicious served cold with a nice tasty vinaigrette or a velvety, opulent Hollandaise sauce, we take pleasure in the delicate and unsophisticated texture of sea trout lightly poached in white wine with herbs or pan-fried with butter, lemon and capers we also look forward to the new season parsley, carrots, raspberries and the first of the cherries.
I remember when we were at The Whitewell Hotel, The Willow Tree Restaurant and The Great Tree Hotel we always competed with other hotels and restaurants who would be the first to serve the first of British asparagus, strawberries and jersey royal potatoes, at Whitewell we almost always won and the same can be said for the Willow Tree but down in Devon it was always a real competition with Gidleigh Park and I am miserable to say they won more than we did, however it is still always nice to get the first of this seasons new fruit and veg with such magnificent flavours.
May is unquestionably the time for new vegetables, and at this time there are so many that get going at the end of April that are either just coming into season or are in full swing it seems we are bursting at the seams with seasonal luxury this month so you must try to mix and match sumptuous asparagus, tender peas and spicy watercress to make mouth-watering salads and soups.
There are not surprisingly, other vegetables that we can look forward to see this month; New Season Carrots, Mint, Wild Mushrooms, Nettles, Parsley, Radishes, Rocket, Samphire, Sorrel, Spinach and Watercress are all on offer outdoor grown salad leaves of all types come along, as do Radishes, Broad Beans, Spinach, Broccoli, Courgettes, all start to appear this month too, English tomatoes will start to become quite evident and get better as May fades into June.
The summer vegetables will be starting but the British fruit will still be a little limited, but the first of the strawberries will be appearing. We will also begin to find that the choice of meat and fish becoming more plentiful and that the farmhouse cheeses are at their best.
Fruit at Its Best
Rhubarb and form abroad, melons such as Cantaloupe, Charentais and Gallia and cherries and apricots.
British Fruit coming in now are Strawberries from Kent, Devon, and Cornwall May customarily sees the beginning of the English strawberry season; we have always related them with much later in the year more like late June, July and August but we now get tasty early strawberries, another fruit that surprises me at this time of year is the cherry, imported of course but once these and strawberries appear in the shops then you instinctively know summer is just around the corner.
Late May also sees the first flush of summer berries, gooseberries, red currants, black currants and probably even raspberries, now that's something to look forward to isn't it?
Vegetables at Their Best
Asparagus, spinach, radishes, spring greens and purple sprouting broccoli, cucumbers, primo cabbages and cauliflowers.
Vegetables just appearing are: Main crop carrots, new potatoes especially Jersey Royals, and those other tasty varieties such as those from Pembrokeshire, and Anglesey, new season turnips, young tender broad beans and tender sweet cucumbers, plus that tasty peppery arugula/rocket. It is probably your last chance to buy Leeks, parsnips and kale.
And don’t forget the herbs basil, chervil, chives; dill, elderflower, mint, nasturtium, parsley (curly), parsley (flat-leaf), and sorrel are all now becoming widely available.
Meat, Poultry and Game at Its Best
All the usual suspects are available but it is the new season lamb you want to keep a lookout for and the outdoor reared pork, Welsh Black Beef is another that id beginning to show itself more and more.
Fish and Seafood at Its Best
After particular beautiful Cornish weather in April which as always is excellent for catching and landing fish and seafood, May is and has been more of a challenge what with strong winds at the beginning of the month and now more winds this week netting and landing the catch has become a bit more difficult of a task for the boats and the same can be said for Scotland joyfully, what's being landed is really superior produce.
For all that wonderful fresh fish look for Sea bass, Turbot and Monkfish, Salmon, Sea Trout, River Trout are at their best, Dover sole and Lobster are coming back after their low season, and Cornish crab and other shellfish are simply superb.
Line-Caught Mackerel is luscious, tasty, and plentiful right now, we are seeing reasonable sized fish, which makes for some lovely dishes whether you're eating at home with your family or cooking for a few friends too.
The first sardines should soon be appearing at the fishmongers (for those in Pimlico look at the Cornish Chins) so get the barbecue out and start grilling, even though they have always been popular with the Spanish and Portuguese they have never really caught on in this country. We all eat them quite cheerfully while on holiday but it seems when we get back to our own patch, if they do not come in tins then we don't seem to want to know them, it’s a shame really as when they are fresh they are very yummy. Drizzled with a good quality olive oil and grilled till the skin turns crispy, served with a salad of tossed leaves with a hint of lemon juice and some homemade crusty bread what could be better?
May is great for buying Brown Crab, Haddock, Lemon Sole, Langoustines, Sardines, Sea Bass, and Sea Trout.
A new online consumer guide to sustainable seafood has been launched today. The Good Fish Guide at www.goodfishguide.org.uk gives straightforward advice and cooking recipe ideas to make buying sustainable and varied seafood much simpler. The MCS Pocket Good Fish Guide has also been updated and now includes a credit card-sized guide to buying fish including top buying tips and questions to ask the fishmonger or at the fish counter.
The Latest Grocery News for May 2011
from Love British Food
- Mandatory rules for country of origin labelling are one step closer! The EU Committee for Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety has voted unanimously for country of origin labelling for all meat, poultry, dairy products, fresh fruit, and vegetables with a country of origin. Members also backed country of origin labelling for meat, poultry, and fish when used as an ingredient in processed foods. The decision will now be taken back to European Parliament in July where members must back a plenary vote.
- Tesco has started to import Black Angus beef from America, a direct competitor to Aberdeen Angus. British farmers produce 64 per cent of the beef we eat. Most of the rest comes from Ireland, but also increasingly Brazil and now, for the first time in many years, the USA. British farmers fear this increased competition will undercut their beef on price and shoppers will move away from British! Don't let this be the case – buy British today!
- Waitrose has become the first supermarket to commit to offering English only cherries for the key window of the UK season – five weeks at the height of the summer. They will begin selling cherries from May with imported produce from N. America, Turkey, and Spain. Imported cherries will then be phased out for the five week 100 per cent English season and then in August, as the English season draws to a close, it will be English topped up with imported fruit.
- Look forward to a bumper strawberry crop! The warm weather has brought crops out 2 weeks earlier than usual and is predicted to be the best harvest in 20 years. As a result the number of strawberries imported from countries like Spain has been reduced by 50 per cent. Tesco has pledged to sell predominately English strawberries from the month of May.
- Get your English aubergines now! The Yorkshire grown aubergines, supplied by English Village Salads Ltd, have come into season and will be available in supermarkets now until November.
- Tesco has met the local target it set itself back in 2006 this month. The supermarket has broken its £1bn barrier for sales of locally sourced products.
- Asda is exclusively stocking the branded Cornish Crystal potatoes this year. The Cornish new potatoes have already hit supermarket shelves, making them one of the earliest UK mainland potatoes currently being sold.
- Volume sales of English apples have risen by 6 per cent this year and could grow by a further 50 per cent on the back of recent strong support for the industry by the multiples.
- Harvey Nichols has announced it will be holding summer dining events to take urbanites out of the city and closer to traditionally produced foods. The Hand Picked by Harvey Nichols events include tours, culinary master-classes, communal lunches, and activities showcasing ethical fishing and traditional pig rearing.
- East of England Co-operative has launched a new ‘Sourced Locally’ brand in-store. 200 stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex have been using shelf barkers to highlight food miles for some time but they are now broadening the marketing so all local foods are flagged up under the Sourced Locally brand.
- A new study by The People's Trust for Endangered Species has found that nearly half of England's traditional apple, pear, and cherry orchards have been abandoned or are being neglected. The loss severely threatens rare, historic varieties of fruit such as Sheep's Snout and Slack my Girdle apples.
- Finally, planning applications are in place for at least six rabbit battery farms across the UK. Britain eats 3,000 tonnes of rabbit meat each year, virtually all of it imported, however many have concerns about the increased traffic and the animal welfare rights. Some state “They are moving away from battery farming in chickens, so it seems like a retrograde step”.
Seasonal foods at their best to look out for in the supermarkets this month:
Vegetables: asparagus, aubergine, broad beans, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, jersey royal new potatoes, kohlrabi, lettuces and salad leaves, new potatoes, onions, peas, potatoes (main crop), radishes, rhubarb, rocket, samphire, spinach, spring onions, watercress and wild nettles.
Fruit: cherries, elderflowers, raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes.
Herbs: basil, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, elderflowers, mint, mushrooms (cultivated), mushrooms (wild), nasturtium, oregano, parsley (curly), parsley (flat-leaf), rosemary, sage, sorrel and tarragon.
Meat: beef, chicken, lamb, pork, rabbit, turkey, and wood pigeon.
Fish: Cockles, Cod, Coley, Conger Eel, Crab, Herring, John Dory, Lemon Sole, Lobster, Mackerel, Plaice, Pollack, Prawns, Salmon, Sardines, sea trout, shrimp, whelks and whitebait.
Address: Tachbrook Street, SW1
Trading hours: Monday to Saturday: 8am to 6pm
Nearest tube: Victoria or Pimlico
Bus: 2, 24, 36, 185, 436
Open every day except Sunday, the number of stalls in this ancient street market increases as the week moves forwards, the market offers a wide array of goods from home furnishings and gardening equipment, to fruit and veg, fresh meat, fish, shellfish and bread and cakes, the market is home to an array of events counting late night shopping, gourmet lunchtime offers, ‘Fashion Thursdays’ and it will be hosting a brilliant Christmas market. Managed by Westminster Artisans Ltd on behalf of Westminster Council it is set to be a community hub thanks to its lively diverse array of stalls with scrumptious international hot food the paella is superb, fresh food, chocolate, cheese, olive oil, bread, funky fashion, and lots more. Discover different stalls on different days.
Sonny’s stall once again was a picture it is great to see such fresh produce full of lively colours, especially the Rhubarb it really looked vibrant and cooked up a treat when we made one of our favourite puddings so what else was on offer?
Well there were Apples English Braeburns and Bramleys, Artichokes, British Asparagus, English Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Courgettes, English King Edward Potatoes, Jersey Royal Potatoes, Fennel, Field Mushrooms, Leeks, Mache (Lambs Lettuce), Parsnips, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Radish, Watercress, you can plainly see that all of what was available was in first-rate condition. He has also obtained some of the finest tasting British Strawberries and Raspberries we have had in a long time
Our Local Butcher Freemans (Butchers)
Are displaying and ordering; The lamb is some of the best we have seen and his beef is well hung, the pork is outdoor reared and has a great taste with the fat to meat ratio spot on, we chose this week to have a small pork loin joint just for the two of us and at £4.25 for the joint we had a good 4 meals from it, The corn-fed chickens looked plump with a nice colour to them; this butcher is very proud of his offerings and has every right to be so.
Our Local Fishmonger Jon Norris on Tachbrook Street Market
Jon’s display was as usual a stunning menu of all the best the sea can offer, his Wild Black Bream was simply the best we have seen in a long time and Brown Crab, Haddock, Lemon Sole, Langoustines, Sardines, Sea Bass, and Sea Trout along with Sea Urchins, live Lobster, Brill and Dover Soles and the line caught Mackerel made it very difficult for us to make a choice.
There was Cornish Octopus, Plaice from Scotland so plump and sweet, and we chose for our meal this week some beautiful Cornish Whiting so simple to cook with just a little olive oil and butter cooked in the pan seasoned with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon and the served with those fantastic Jersey Royals and divine English asparagus.
We also bought a superb brown crab so we could make my Crab Paté you can find my recipe on MyDish just click on this link Crab Paté
Jon’s tips to buying fish and shellfish;
Fresh Whole Fish
- The eyes should be clear and convex, not sunken
- The flesh should be firm and resilient to finger pressure
- The fish should smell freshly and lightly of the sea
- Don’t buy fish with a strong ‘fishy’ or sulphurous odour, or that smells of ammonia.
- Oily fish like herring, mackerel, and salmon should have a light, fresh oil smell, like linseed oil. If they smell of rancid oil, don’t buy.
- The surface of the fillet should be moist, with no signs of discolouration.
- The texture should be firm, with no mushiness. Some separation of the muscle flakes (caused by the filleting process) is completely normal, but it shouldn’t be excessive.
- As with whole fish, the smell should be fresh and light, with no ‘off’ odours.
- Live bi-valves (including mussels, clams and oysters)
- The general rule of not buying bi-valves during any month spelled without an ‘r’ (i.e. May to August) still holds true, as this is the spawning season and quality will be poorer. When raw, the shells should be closed tight. Any slightly open shells that don’t close up in response to a few light taps should be discarded. When cooked, the shells should open – discard any that don’t.
In The Garden;
We are not growing a lot this year because of the upcoming work on our windows, we have put in some mixed spicy salad and of course our much-loved Rocket (Arugula) and they are all coming along nicely, as well as our favourite herbs of Parsley, Sage, Mint, and Thyme.
Recipes for Month
Spiced Tempura Asparagus with Asian Dipping Sauce and Cucumber Salad
A tasty Summer treat with all the flavours of Asia
Serves / Makes: 4 servings
You Will Need;
Vegetable oil for deep frying
100 grams, self raising flour
15 grams, paprika
1 teaspoon, sea salt
150ml, sparkling water
16, asparagus spears
For the Dipping Sauce
150ml, light soy sauce
20 grams, garlic, crushed
10 grams, chopped red chilli pepper
2 teaspoons, caster sugar
For the Cucumber Salad
1, Romano pepper seeded and cut into finger length strips
100 grams, sugar snap peas
10 grams, fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1, cucumber cut into finger length strips
Toasted sesame seeds to garnish
Put the salad ingredients into a large bowl and mix well, using another bowl mix the dipping sauce ingredients and put to one side.
Heat the oil in a large deep pan or fryer to 180°C
Whisk together the flour, paprika and salt with enough sparkling water to make a batter, dip the asparagus spears into the batter until well coated, shake of the excess and place in batches into the hot oil, deep fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden and crisp, remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.
Place the warm tempura asparagus over a mound of the cucumber salad sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and along with the dipping sauce serve and Enjoy!
Spring Lamb Cutlets with a Wild Garlic & Herb Crust
Have you ever made a recipe that smelled so good while it was cooking that you had to leave the kitchen because you wanted to try it before it was done? That's what happens in our house when I make this delicious dish of lamb with fresh herbs, and it's a very simple recipe to follow.
Serves / Makes: 4 servings
Prep-Time: 8 minutes
Cook-Time: 15 minutes
You Will Need
4 small or 2 large lamb cutlets
For the crust:
50 grams, white bread, torn into chunks
2 tablespoons, wild garlic leaves
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Knob of butter
Pre-heat the oven to 220°c.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy frying pan until foaming but not coloured and pan fry the cutlets for a few minutes on each side until browned.
Meanwhile, in a small blender whizz the bread, garlic leaves, rosemary, thyme and salt and pepper.
Press the mixture onto each cutlet, and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
Serve with Jersey Royal potatoes or new potatoes and buttered primo cabbage and Enjoy!
If you go down to the woods today, it's likely the smell of wild garlic (ramsons) will fill the air. This wild relative of the chive can be eaten in many ways, both raw and cooked - in soups, salads, or taking basil's place in pesto. In this month's recipe it partners traditional rosemary to flavour some equally seasonal spring lamb