The cold weather has had a sweetening effect on English veg. Not only are parsnips and Brussels sprouts more delicious than they have been for years, but Scottish and Devon swedes and Suffolk turnips have also built up higher levels of sugar. You'll notice the difference in Savoys, January Kings and autumn greens, too. White Swiss chard and beautifully frilly purple peacock kale are both tasty wintery options from the UK, as are chervil roots, parsley roots and Jerusalem artichokes. The pick of the foreign wild mushrooms are silver and grey chanterelles from Europe and the USA, while South African cèpes are also consistent. White truffle prices are firm at around £3,000 per kg, while Périgord truffles have a surprisingly good nose, and are on the market at £800 per kg. Forced rhubarb is arriving from Holland but the Yorkshire crop isn't too far away. Clementines are on the market for Christmas and blood oranges should be starting soon. Valencia oranges from South America and South Africa are just finishing, and to replace them - funnily enough - new-crop Navelinas from Valencia.
There's lots of sea bass around at the moment from the South-west and all along the South Coast, with excellent line-caught supplies coming from Cornwall and the Channel Islands. Lobster prices have risen considerably this past week and will continue to do so up until Christmas. Crab prices, though, are stable, and there is a good meat content on them. Cuttlefish and squid are arriving from Cornwall and skate from north Devon. John Dory and Dover sole are both in very good condition. Scallop and langoustine supplies are steady from Scotland and there are supplies of line-caught mackerel from Cornwall, but they are spasmodic. There is good farmed halibut coming from Norway and wild cod and halibut from Iceland.
Source: Chef Direct - 01275 474707
Prices for prime cuts of beef have continued to fall, with demand low in the current financial climate. Fillet of beef was being sold for as little as £15 per kg in London last week, almost £10 down from earlier in the year. Pork is very good value at present but lamb supplies are drying up, with hogget around and plenty of mutton at good prices. There's still ample pheasant and French and English partridge around, and more ducks this week. Rabbit and wood pigeon are still struggling, though, with bad weather and a preoccupation with pheasant and partridge shoots affecting numbers.
Source: Chef Direct - 01275 474707
Grilled escalope of sea bass with braised onions, sauté potatoes, and Jerusalem artichoke purée
Ingredients (Serves four)
1 large Maris Piper potato
Duck fat (enough to cover potatoes)
1 bay leaf
Small bunch of thyme
200g Jerusalem artichokes
75g unsalted butter
4 Roscoff onions
1/2 bunch chives, finely chopped
1 side of line-caught sea bass from a 3kg fish
1 large head of kale
50ml red wine sauce
150g piece of cooked, smoked belly bacon cut into four pieces
Peel and wash the potato and cut into even dice, then place in a small pan and cover with the duck fat. Add the bay leaf and the thyme and place in a low oven (120°C) until soft. Allow to cool, carefully remove from the fat and reserve. Peel all but one of the artichokes and cut into small dice, sweat in 25g butter until soft, purée and season. Peel and thinly slice the onions and cook very slowly in 25g butter until very soft but not coloured, season and stir in the chives. Scale the bass and cut into four even pieces, remove pin bones and score the flesh with shallow cuts. Dry on kitchen paper. Blanch the kale in boiling salted water until tender, refresh in iced water and drain. Thinly slice the remaining artichoke and deep-fry at 160°C until crisp and golden. Cook the fish skin side down in a little olive oil until crisp. Turn over, baste with the remaining butter and lemon and allow to rest. Sauté potatoes until golden and add the kale, season and heat through. Warm the purée and the onions and reheat the bacon in the sauce. On a warm plate, place a smear of the purée, a small pile of the kale and potatoes and some of the onions, top with the fish, a piece of the bacon and drizzle with the sauce. Place a few artichoke crisps around the plate.
Matthew Tompkinson, head chef, the Montagu Arms, Beaulieu