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What’s in season… January

What’s in season… January

Fresh produce supplier James Wellock takes a look at the ingredients we can expect to see in January, while Madalene Bonvini-Hamel, chef-owner of the British Larder in Bromeswell, Suffolk, cooks up some seasonal treats for December menus

It is good to know that we will have some exciting produce to look forward to once the mayhem of December has abated. For me, January is one of the most exciting times of the year!

First up is Yorkshire forced rhubarb. Not only is this a must for every menu, we also need to support the growers and keep the traditions alive. In the 1870s there were more than 200 commercial operations, but now just four recognised growers exist. These encompass a triangle around Wakefield – the Yorkshire triangle – which has been granted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Commission.

The area offers the best possible growing conditions for rhubarb, with a cold, moist topsoil. Protected designation means that all producers must be in the designated area, and will be audited, to ensure that quality and traditional production methods are maintained.

The plants are grown outside for two years, so that the roots toughen up with exposure to frost, and each year the root is split by hand. Then the root is dug up and transferred intothe dark forcing sheds, which are kept at a constant  temperature of 13°C.

Once the plants are exposed to the warmth, they grow at an accelerated rate in search of light – you can actually hear them creaking as they shoot up. After two weeks of darkness, picking begins, which is done by candlelight – too much light can produce bitter-flavoured rhubarb.

The end product is a thing of beauty – bright red stems with a lovely yellow leaf. It takes three years and lots of back-breaking effort to produce it, and then the final bombshell hits: once the crop has finished in May, the root is binned!

As a food, it is the health enthusiast’s friend. Rhubarb is rich in calcium, fibre, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, B2, B3, provitamin A, with high levels of oxalic acid. Rhubarb is now classified as a superfood for its ratio of health benefits to calories – only seven calories per 100g. High levels of calcium mean it is a fat-free alternative to dairy products. As we will soon be in the month where everyone seems to be diet crazy, this product just ticks every box.

Blood oranges

While we are on the subject of vitamin C, my favourite orange is here: the blood orange. The current crop will now have deep vivid red flesh that just oozes juice. It’s not just the colour that is exciting, but it has extra vitamin C, with the blood orange typically providing 150-200mg per cup of juice compared with 75-125mg from a standard orange.

The navel orange is also at its best at this time of year. If you want to make marmalade, January is the short period when you can get bitter oranges, but be quick, as the supply is ever-dwindling.

Root vegetables

Another favourite of mine is the aptly named January King cabbage. I had Frances Atkins of the Yorke Arms on the phone last year, telling me it was the most flavoursome cabbage she had ever had and I totally agree. Not only this, the colours are fantastic – you get flashes of red and pink through the leaves, making it gorgeous to look at.

There will still be lots of Savoy red and white cabbages in January, as well as plenty of chervil and parsley root, crosnes and quince – all at their best at this time of year.
Apples and pears next, with Passé-Crassane and Comice both being beautiful. Gold Rush apples bring crisp acidic flavours and then sweetness, taking the tag of best eating apple, and Patte de Loup the one to use for cooking – it’s similar in appearance to the Russet but with an even more amazing flavour.Jerusalem artichokes will be at their cheapest – hopefully around £1 per kg. They fit the bill for a heartwarming soup, especially matched with haricot bean and a splash of truffle oil.

GP winners

Other GP winners are small graded red and brown English onions, which are perfect for roasting whole along with baby parsnips. Your carrot options will have increased again as the popular Chantenay will be available. It’s a rainbow of colours with purple, yellow and white as well as orange: it looks stunning on a plate.

French muscade pumpkins will also be down to around £1 per kg and get ever more popular each year. So does purple sprouting broccoli, and local growers are developing more weather-resistant varieties meaning it is a far better option than the Spanish broccoli.

CHESTNUT MOUSSE

Serves 12

Chocolate cake

  • 125g caster sugar
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • 1tbs hot water
  • 120g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder

Chestnut mousse

  • 400g unsweetened chestnut purée
  • 6 large free range egg yolks
  • 40ml hot water
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 gelatine leaves, bloomed
  • 400ml whipping cream
  • Marsala honey jelly
  • 50g clear runny honey
  • 100ml Marsala wine
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 150ml cold water
  • 3 gelatine leaves, bloomed
  • Chestnut garnish
  • 200g unsweetened chestnut purée
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 25ml cognac

Garnish

  • Meringue
  • Gold leaf

First bake the cake. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix the eggs, sugar and water with a balloon whisk in a mixer on high speed for 10 minutes, until the mixture is aerated and has doubled in volume. Sift the flour and cocoa powder over the mix; gently fold the flour into the egg mixture. Spread the cake onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper – about 2mm thick. Bake for 4 minutes; remove and leave to cool. Line the bases of 12 metal oblong moulds (8cm long, 4cm wide, 3cm high), place them on a tray and refrigerate while making the mousse.

For the mousse, first blend the chestnut purée until smooth on high speed for 2 minutes in a Thermomix, transfer the purée to a bowl and then use the same jug and place the egg yolks, water and sugar in it. Insert a butterfly whisk and set the timer for 20 minutes at 90°C, speed 4. Remove the butterfly whisk, add the drained bloomed gelatine, and blend on speed 3 for 2 minutes to incorporate the gelatine. Pour this mixture over the chestnut purée and gently fold to combine, then place the bowl over ice to chill. Meanwhile, whip the cream until the soft peak stage, then fold the cream into the mixture.

Transfer to a piping bag and fill the lined metal moulds to the top. Chill in the fridge for 6 hours. In the meantime, make the Marsala jelly. Place all ingredients apart from the bloomed gelatine in a small saucepan over a medium heat, and bring to the boil. Once boiling remove from the heat and then whisk in the drained bloomed gelatine. Pass the mix through a sieve into a small container and chill in the fridge until completely set (about 2 hours). Cut the jelly into small cubes.

For the chestnut garnish, place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a piping bag with either a very small nozzle or use a Mont Blanc piping nozzle. To serve, warm up the metal moulds using a blowtorch and slip the mousses out. Place on a plate, pipe the chestnut garnish on top in ribbons, place jelly cubes on top and then crumb meringue over and garnish with gold leaf.

GOLDEN GOOSE EGG

Serves 12

  • 300g goose leg meat, boneless
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 star anise
  • 150g minced goose meat
  • 150g Cumberland pork sausage meat
  • 50g grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (chives, chervil, parsley)
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 12 quail’s eggs
  • 60g panko breadcrumbs
  • 60g egg wash
  • 24g plain flour
  • Edible gold shimmer spray

Place the goose leg meat, garlic, thyme and star anise in a vacuum pouch, vacuum tightly and then cook at 83°C in a preheated water bath for 12 hours.

Chill the cooked goose in iced water until the core meat temperature reaches 3°C. Remove the goose from the bag, discard the bag, thyme, garlic and star anise and juice. Flake the meat, removing any bones, skin and sinew.

Mix the cooked flaked goose leg meat with the minced goose and sausage meat, mustard and seasoning until combined and one consistency. Shape into 50g balls.

Boil the quail’s eggs for 2 minutes and 40 seconds, and chill in iced water for 15 minutes. Peel and discard the eggshells, and wash the eggs in clean water, double-checking there are no pieces of shell present.

Pack the goose meat around each egg. Place in the fridge to chill and set for 30 minutes. Roll each egg in flour, dust off any excess then roll in egg wash, knock off the excess and finally roll in panko breadcrumbs. Place on a clean lined tray and chill for 30 minutes.

Deep fry at 180°C for 3 minutes then transfer to an oven tray and cook in a preheated oven at 180°C for 2 minutes.

Make sure the core meat temperature reaches 75°C.

Spray the cooked goose egg with gold shimmer spray and serve immediately.

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