Probably the best time to start a new series on what is in season each month is to start at the beginning, at the start of a new year. That is the theory at least, in practice the hardest month of all to write about in this context has to be January, followed closely by February, what a task I have given myself! The good thing is that it will get easier as the year progresses.
January, cold, miserable, probably snowy and definitely icy and bound to be wet, thoughts at this time of year turn quite naturally to warming rib-sticking, lip-smacking comfort foods, you know the ones, those that put pounds (or should that be kilo’s) on to the waistline. Dishes like steak and kidney pie, Lancashire hot pot, heart-warming casseroles and steamed sponge puddings with lashings of custard.
What we should be thinking about is game at this time of year, although this is officially the last month of the game season Pheasant represents better value for money now that it does earlier in the year, you are getting more bird for your money now. They have by now started to put on a little more fat than earlier in the year and of course this helps with the flavour when roasting as well as keeping the bird moist. Towards the end of the season they also tend to be a little cheaper. Wild ducks of all types from mallard to widgeon and even teal if you are lucky are still to be had. Occasionally one even sees Woodcock and Snipe for sale but these days they are not shot in the numbers they used to be, partly for conservation purposes but also because their numbers are not so great, then of course there is bird flu which is affecting all wild birds and woodcock and snipe certainly are wild birds. For my mind there is no better game bird to be had than woodcock and should one become available I would go for it over pheasant any day. Hot Tip: When roasting any bird, and this applies to chickens as well as game birds, if you remove the wishbone first it will be much easier to remove the meat from the bone once it is cooked.
In the vegetable line nothing new is going to be coming in during January but everything that has been around for the last few months will still be available this month. Brussels sprouts, parsnips, Swedes, cauliflowers and cabbages are all good now and especially red cabbage, (there is something about red cabbages which always makes me think of winter). Slowly braised with cinnamon, apples, onion, brown sugar, red wine and vinegar is the traditional way of eating it but have you tried it as a salad? For my mind it is simply wonderful, even at this time of year! It is great with all cold meats and pates.
Jerusalem Artichokes which came into season towards the end of last year are still around and although many people are more familiar with them as a game cover crop, they also make a great soup, finished with a few toasted almonds and a little truffle oil, it is fit for a king. Try celeriac at this time of year too, not a vegetable one used to see much of in the shops but now is becoming more common and can now be found in most supermarkets. Cook it with potatoes and mash them together for an interesting twist to the norm or even just mashed on its own, try roasting it around the Sunday joint as though it were parsnip, cut very thinly and then deep fried it makes great crisps too! See my recipe for Salad Remoulade, fantastic with any cold meat or pâté as too is the red cabbage.
Fish at this time of the year can be a bit hit or miss depending upon the weather. If the boats are getting out then all of the white-fleshed flaky fish such as Cod, Whiting and Haddock are good now. Scallops, Mussels and Oysters are also very good during the colder months of the year, especially scallops. Available all year round and often regarded as a summer delicacy they are so much better now in the colder months of the year rather than during the summer.
Try my recipe for whiting tart (coming soon); it makes a great snack as well as a great starter for a dinner party. I think I am going to start a whiting appreciation society; it is a much maligned and under used fish in my eyes but it can be made with any flaked or smoked fish.
Fruit is a bit scarce in January, certainly the only home-grown fruit around in any quantity would be apples and pears from store but there is one fruit that comes on to the market in January that always gets my mouth watering while waiting for it to arrive. Forced Rhubarb, its long delicate pink stalks are just sublime, so different to outdoor rhubarb the indoor variety, grown completely in the dark by only a handful of farmers in and around Wakefield (they even hold a rhubarb week in the middle of February) is unique to Yorkshire for some reason. The season starts in late December and goes on till March although by then the quality does drop off quite considerably. Although slightly tart it is never as acidic and much much sweeter and smoother than its outdoor relative, not only is it great in pies and crumbles but it also makes terrific sauces and the most wonderful sorbet of such a fantastic delicate yet vibrant pink, instead of the drab grey-green of its courser cousin. These days its uniqueness has waned thanks to the Dutch. Forced Rhubarb is now coming in from Holland as early as November but it will never have the same flavour as the home (Yorkshire triangle) grown variety.
Oranges in all their various guises are at their best during the bleak winter months look out for the bitter Seville oranges coming into the shops about now for making marmalade, their juice is also delightful when substituted for lemon juice, being sour, bitter and orangey all at once. Clementines, Mandarins, Satsuma’s, Tangerines and Kumquats are some of the varieties that are available now.
A British Christmas would never be complete without a rich, and creamy Stilton as part of it. Then in January when you are still eating it and possibly getting a little fed up with it the mind turns to wondering what to do with what’s left. Often seen on the menus of restaurants around the country, as they too are desperately trying to use up the off cuts or an over supply of the stuff, it is more often than not seen as a soup, be it Stilton and celery or Stilton and Guinness, Stilton and mushroom Stilton and chestnut, there are hundreds of recipes around for Stilton soups (the majority of which I find repulsive I must admit). Try making a Stilton dressing instead, or what about a Stilton, bacon and endive salad (all good winter ingredients), or try crumbling it over slices of baked potato, topping it with chopped spring onions and a generous amount of coarsely milled black pepper, popping it under a hot grill for a minute or two until the cheese melts then serve it on a salad of rocket with a grain mustard vinaigrette – simply delicious!
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