March is a month of promise heralding as it does the start of spring, with the guarantee of summer not that far away, almost in sight. However, there is still not a lot of produce around yet to shout about with winter and its legacy still clinging on but the thought of what is to come over the next few months keeps all good cooks going through the bleak months.
Of all the produce around at this time of year one of my favourites are fresh Brown Shrimps, in season now through till October I always like to get hold of them as soon as they become available, whether I buy them as they are and spend half a day picking them of their shells (great fun as I tend to eat more than I ever have left) before turning them into potted shrimps, or buying them pre-potted or of course they are readily available fully shelled. What about lightly binding them with a herb mayonnaise or folding them through scrambled eggs for breakfast, what a treat for a Sunday morning! Whichever way you buy them the best accompaniment in the world is a salad of crisp watercress, lots of freshly ground black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and lots and lots of thinly sliced buttered brown bread.
Scallops are still at their best, indeed there seem to have been a lot around of late and despite the price they are always well worth the money, such a fantastic starter. There is a debate about which is best for the environment dredged or diver caught and I always believed that with diver caught scallops are best there are. I been told by an expert fisherman that dredged are better as there are too many unprofessional divers out there pillaging the seabed. I know diver caught are the most expensive but they are normally larger, fresher, certainly cleaner and undamaged, to my mind just better all round really. Whatever you do though never buy frozen scallops, if you need to buy frozen then please think again, it is like throwing your money away. They contain so much ice that once defrosted they’re a fraction of their size. Scallops for freezing are normally small, they are shelled then soaked in water which they absorb like sponges before being frozen jus before they start to spit the water out again. What you first see as a nice juicy plump scallop of 4, 5 or even 6cm diameter will end up the size of your thumb nail once defrosted. You have been warned.
There are still a couple of months left in which to eat local mussels, remember never try to cook too many at one time as the longer they take to cook the more flavour they will lose and they will also become quite tough, better to cook them in small batches very fast. Eat them by themselves or use them as part of another dish, use the liquor to make a sauce to accompany any fish, or possibly even chicken, and then garnish this with the actual meat. They also make the most fantastic soup! Click here for the recipe. When cooking your Moules Marinier try adding a touch of curry powder, chopped coriander and diced tomato just to give them a different spin.
March always sees the start of the new season’s lamb with it coming in initially at a very high price and taking months to drop to a price we can all afford, but nevertheless still a most wonderful product. I remember well in my first head chef’s job the hotel in which I worked was situated in the middle of 3,000-acre estate that farmed sheep among other things, each week I would go out with the shepherd to personally choose each lamb that I wanted for the menu the next week. Nothing quite like having the pick of the bunch!
Lamb and Scallops works particularly well, check out a recipe from my first book, “A Feast of Fish” click here for the recipe:
Traditionally, along with lamb, spring has been the time to eat chicken; although it is now so commonplace and everyday it can be hard to remember how once chicken was seen as a seasonal luxury. Battery farming turned this unassuming farmyard fowl into big business while providing a cheap source of meat for thousands more people than ever before. Unfortunately, this has meant that far from being bred for flavour they are now breed for money. This invariably means rearing them as quickly as possible in confined places while packing them with feed laced with antibiotics and hormones. Give me a real free range or organic bird any day!
Of all the fruits around in March the month must surely belong to the blood orange.
Although their season started last month they are around until April, they make fantastic sorbets and jellies, squeeze and used as fresh orange juice they are really quite bizarre, a deep red liquid in the glass yet tasting of orange! Grapefruit, and especially pink grapefruit, are very good now; again, being one of the many foods that are available all year we tend to forget they actually have a season! Indian Mangos, richly perfumed and quite luscious should be at their peak this month; they should be soft to the touch not hard and unyielding. Before buying bring one up to your nose and inhale deeply, there should be a warm rich sweetness about the smell that means it’s ripe and intensely flavoured.
Forced rhubarb will disappear this month with its place being taken by the outdoor varieties and we should see good quality ruby grapes coming into the shops too, great in salads but I like them straight from the fridge, cold and crisp.
Still those winter vegetables go on, parsnips, Swede, sprouts etc., they are all there, cabbages, and especially Savoy’s should be good this month. Purple sprouting broccoli is always irresistible to me, these early sprigs are just such a wonderful colour I can never resist buying them. They make a nice starter if you treat them as asparagus, that is to say blanch them in boiling salted water very quickly then serve with a lemon vinaigrette or with toasted pine kernels and hollandaise or what about a chorizo and herb butter.
March sees white asparagus coming into season and, for those lucky enough to be able to afford them or know where they grow, this month also sees fresh morels appearing but for me this is the month when I start to look for Spring Greens appearing in the shops, although they were available last month they will be better this month and a very worthwhile vegetable they are too! These days they seem to be available almost all year round but it is in the late months of winter and early spring that they are at their best. Be ruthless with them; strip away the tough outside leaves leaving only the tender dark green core. Blanch these in boiling salted water for about a minute then refresh. Drain well and fold to a tight neat shape about 3 inches long (that’s about 8cm in new money!) and 2in/5cm wide. Place in a pan with a little butter and season, cover and reheat. The colour is fantastic but more importantly the flavour is superb.
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