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Chestnuts, Turbot, Rabbit

20 November 2008 by

Fish

Despite average weather conditions there are good turbot and plaice around, and there are plenty of Cornish herrings. Now's the time to start curing them for Christmas. Large gurnard from south Devon, langoustines and diver-caught scallops from Scotland, squid and monkfish are all good options at present. Lobster prices have started to rise and will continue to do so until Christmas.

The Channel Islands are landing first-rate black bream, sea bass and red mullet, but mackerel is in very short supply and stocks are mainly coming from abroad.

Lemon sole prices are high, so use megrim instead. Shellfish supplies are excellent at present, and crabs are in superior condition. There is also cuttlefish and octopus from Cornwall.

Source: Chef Direct - 01275 474707

Meat

The recent weather has been disastrous for wood pigeons and rabbits, as they have been sheltering from the rain. Everyone is after them, but few are available. There is, mercifully, plenty of partridge and pheasant and some great venison around. Ducks are in short supply, but last week saw the first proper numbers of woodcock on the market - with good breeding conditions in eastern countries promising a bumper year.

Source: Chef Direct - 01275 474707

Fresh produce

Exotic-sounding, but English-grown, cavolo nero with long, slim, bobbly-textured, dark leaves is in good condition, while cabbages - Hispi and Primo in particular - are cheap and tasty. Leeks, white chard, curly kale and chicory are all fairly reasonable. White Scottish and Devon swedes are sweet and delicious, and celeriac is at its best from both France and Lincolnshire.

It seems that there are plenty of fresh chestnuts available in the markets, but yields are down on last year, so prices are higher. Spanish peppers are good value this week and they taste sweet and full of sunshine. There are a few English Romero peppers still about, and Israeli and Spanish have started. English celery has slowed down and supplies have switched abroad.

Source: 4°C - 020 8558 9708 - www.4degreesc.com

Seasonal recipe

Crab and lemon grass soup

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)

3kg crab bones and shells
300ml olive oil
2 large fennel bulbs, finely chopped
1 head of garlic, cut in half
200g shallots, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves
3tsp Maldon salt
8 star anise
2tbs fennel seeds
1tbs pink peppercorns
800ml white wine
200ml Pernod
Bunch of tarragon
Bunch of basil, roughly chopped
2 tins coconut milk
1 litre double cream
12 stems lemon grass, four smashed and eight chopped
Juice of 6 lemons
8tsp caster sugar
80g unsalted butterOptional Fresh crab meat and lemon zest to finish

Method

Put all the crab bones and shells into a large bowl and break up into small pieces with the end of a rolling pin. Put the olive oil into a large pan over a medium heat and add the broken-up bones and shells. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes, then add the fennel and cook for a further 3-4 minutes without allowing it to colour. Add the garlic, shallots, red chilli and lime leaves, and stir in the salt and all the spices. Pour in the white wine and Pernod and cook until reduced by two-thirds, then add water to cover.

Bring to a slow simmer, skim off all the scum, and add the tarragon, basil, coconut milk and cream. Bring back to a simmer, and add the chopped lemon grass stems.

Cook for 45-60 minutes, then pass through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Chop the smashed lemon grass stems and add half of them to the pan with lemon juice and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Purée in a blender with the last of the lemon grass and butter, and check the seasoning.

The soup can be finished with some fresh white crabmeat, warmed through in the soup, and a little lemon zest grated on top.

Tom Aikens, chef-patron, Tom Aikens, London. Taken from his book Fish (Ebury Press, £25).

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