Meat Woodcock is normally available from the first full moon in November (this week, on Friday 26), as this is when they fly over from Scandinavia. Other game is still available, including venison, partridge, teal and mallard. Grouse, however, is virtually finished. Most other meat is in fairly good supply, including free-range pork and Scottish beef.
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Fresh produce Swede, parsnips and Brussels sprouts have all benefited from a decent frost of late, which has improved their sweetness by making their natural starch revert to sugar. Italian wild trevisse or tardivo (part of the radicchio family) is starting to become available again - however, the price is high as it's at the beginning of its season. Spanish broccoli has been in short supply, so prices have risen accordingly. Jerusalem artichokes are also available, and chestnuts are plentiful.
Among the citrus family, red pomello is also now available - its flesh makes a striking and unusual addition to winter salads. Sweet, leafy and seedless clementines with thin, easy-to-peel skins are superb, too. Soft fruits, on the other hand, are generally expensive because they're now imported from the southern hemisphere.
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Fish Bad weather around Iceland, although it has eased off a bit in the past week, means that prices of cod and haddock remain high because fishing has been hampered and supplies are short. Lemon sole has also been affected by adverse conditions.
However, better weather around the South Coast means that good landings of hake, black bream and scallops are expected this week. Brill and skate wings are also in good supply.
Algal bloom is still a problem in some scallop fishing grounds in Scotland, which means that the affected areas have had to be closed down to fishing. But sweet-fleshed American roeless scallops are a great alternative.
….and how to use them
Wood pigeon breasts, red cabbage, chestnut purée, crisp artichokes, truffle dressing
Ingredients (serves four)
4 wood pigeon crowns
For the red cabbage (make two days in advance)
1 red cabbage
300ml white wine vinegar
110g Maldon salt
175g brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
6 juniper berries
3 star anise
For the artichokes
4 Jerusalem artichokes
300ml vegetable oil
For the chestnut purée
125ml chicken stock
Knob of butter
1tbs créme fraîche (optional)
1 egg yolk
30ml balsamic vinegar
30ml sherry vinegar
75ml olive oil
5ml white truffle oil
Make the red cabbage at least two days in advance. Slice cabbage finely, removing stalk. Place in a bowl and cover with salt. Leave for four to five hours. Add vinegar, sugar and spices to a (stainless steel) pan, bring to the boil and allow to cool. Wash salt off red cabbage, place in kilner jar, pour vinegar over cabbage and leave for at least two days - longer is better.
Peel artichokes and slice finely on a mandolin. Deep-fry in oil until crisp and golden brown. Drain, dry and gently salt.
With a sharp knife, split the skin of the chestnuts to allow steam to escape when cooking. Place into a frying pan with a little oil, cover and cook slowly for 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time. When they begin to smoke you will know they are ready. Peel them while they are still hot, and keep half back for garnish. Add the other half add to the milk and stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 35 minutes (until they start to break up). Drain and blend in a food processor, pass through a fine sieve and finish with butter and créme fraîche.
To make the truffle dressing, place all the ingredients in a bowl and emulsify with a hand blender.
To serve, seal the pigeon on top of the stove until browned all over. Place in the oven for three to four minutes. Strain cabbage dry on kitchen roll and arrange in middle of plate. Remove pigeon from oven and allow to rest for two to three minutes. Carve breasts from crown and place on top of cabbage.
Place the whole chestnuts into the pan the pigeon was cooked in and warm gently. Arrange around plate, alternating with drops of chestnut purée. Dress with truffle dressing (served at room temperature), and finish with artichoke crisps.
Recipe from Marcus Ashenford, chef-proprietor, 5 North Street, Winchcombe, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.