Flavours of May

12 May 2010
Flavours of May

With an exceptionally lengthy and cold winter behind us, spring has taken slightly longer than usual to burst into all its glory. The arrival of the warmer, sunnier days has been a sheer delight. It is always a great feeling to see the fruit trees covered with the most beautiful blossoms.

This year has also seen a slow start for the English asparagus season, but the product has finally graced our local markets. From the East Coast we have seen herrings, cod, skate and cockles, while the South Coast has provided plenty of John Dory and Dover Sole so far this season.

Mackerel from the South Coast is being caught in abundance. They are fat and plump, though those caught on the East Coast are still on the small side. As the season progresses they will no doubt grow larger.

The arrival of the wild foods in the English countryside is a pleasant sight, with the elderflower trees in full bloom, fresh young nettles in the woodlands and wild garlic growing in the hedgerows. So there is plenty for the enthusiastic foraging chef to pick and choose from. Our coastal shores are also bearing superb fruits, with samphire from Norfolk and Suffolk at its best and sea purslane that tastes like salt and vinegar crisps. We are spoilt for choice.

The flowers of the borage and nasturtium plants are plentiful and the perfect touch for interesting starters and desserts.

The month of May also brings other seasonal delights, including young nettles, radishes, rocket, watercress, crab, sea bass, Jersey royals, and spring lamb, to name but a few favourites.

British asparagus is classed as the best in the world, and that is corroborated by our national consumption figures, which show that we have a healthy appetite for these delicate stems. Most people still class asparagus as a delicacy and when the British season starts it features with pride on most restaurant menus. The classical combination of asparagus, egg and mayonnaise is a hard one to beat but the recipe of British asparagus, smoked egg and bacon (page 31) is a twist on the classic all-time favourite.

This exceptionally good-looking fish with its shiny blue and silver skin is classed as a humble creature from the sea. The oily flesh is packed with nutrients and iron and is a perfect ingredient. It's also at its best right now.

Mackerel is delicious and versatile and can be served hot or cold, smoked, raw or cooked. Because of its rich, oily flesh mackerel works best with strong flavours such as saffron, orange, fennel, chilli, ginger and wasabi. The skin of mackerel is thin and therefore crisps up easily and taste delicious.

The saffron orange soused mackerel salad dish can be served either warm or chilled.

Mint is a fascinating herb and by no means should one think of mint only as the bog standard green leaf that has a refreshing taste. There are hundreds of varieties of mint and it's from a genus of about 25 species. Mint also produces the most interesting edible flowers and the colour changes with the variety.

Chocolate mint is the perfect choice for the delicious chocolate mint parfait recipe (right). Other varieties include apple mint, pineapple mint and spearmint. Peppermint contains muscle-relaxing properties, so fresh peppermint tea is the perfect choice after a heavy meal.

Mint is a perennial plant, easy to grow and if given the space it will take over a small garden in no time.

Common mustard cress must bring back plenty of childhood memories. Growing it is easy and it's perhaps most synonymous with egg and cress sandwiches.

There are plenty of funky and fashionable cresses available on the market and this purple mustard cress is a variety of the good common mustard cress. Interestingly enough, it comes from the watercress family and both have the distinctive peppery flavour.

Scatter a few purple mustard cress leaves over the British asparagus smoked egg and bacon dish: the pungent peppery leaves are the perfect compliment to this sophisticated dish.



INGREDIENTS(Serves four)

For the chocolate mint parfait

6 large free-range egg yolks

200g caster sugar

250ml whipping cream

15 large fresh chocolate mint leaves

3 large free range egg white

For the chocolate cinnamon biscuits

80g unsalted butter, at room temperature

250g dark brown sugar

125g cocoa powder

5g bicarbonate of soda

5g ground cinnamon

2 large free-range egg whites

300g plain flour

1tsp vanilla extract

100g natural full fat yogurt

For the mint oil

20g fresh mint leaves

25ml peanut oil

For the chocolate sauce

40ml water

55g caster sugar

40ml double cream

20g cocoa powder

1 leaf of gelatine, soaked

For the crystallised mint leaves

1 free range egg white

Fresh mint leaves

Caster sugar


Chocolate mint parfait In a metal bowl, over a bain-marie, whisk the egg yolk and 100g of the sugar to a thick sabayon. Set aside to cool slightly. Whip the egg whites until foaming, add the remaining sugar and whip to a meringue with soft peaks.

In a Thermomix, blend the fresh mint leaves and cream till smooth, insert the butterfly whisk and whip the cream to ribbon stage. Fold the meringue, sabayon and whipped cream together until all are well incorporated.

Pour the mixture into a flat tray and freeze until completely set, which will take about six to eight hours. Cut the parfait out into the same size as the biscuits.

Chocolate cinnamon biscuits Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon and mix well. Add the egg whites and yogurt and mix. Mix in the flour to make soft dough. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for four hours.

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Roll out the biscuit dough to 3mm thick. This should be done between two sheets of parchment paper. Cut the 4cm square shapes and place the biscuits on the baking tray. Bake for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven. Once the biscuits are cooked, let them cool for one minute on the baking tray, and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Chocolate sauce Soak the gelatine in cold water until soft. Weigh the caster sugar, water and cream into a small saucepan and bring to the boil and boil for two minutes over high heat. Add the cocoa powder and return the mixture to the heat and continue boiling for a further one minute over high heat.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and squeeze the gelatine to remove any excess water, stir the soaked gelatine into the warm cocoa mixture. Mix well and transfer to a squeeze bottle and set aside to cool. If the sauce sets too much, shake vigorously. If necessary dip the bottle in warm water to loosen the gelatine.

Mint oil Blend the mint and oil until smooth, pass the oil through a fine sieve and set aside until needed.

Crystallised mint leaves Preheat the oven to 100°C and line a baking tray with a silpat and heavily dust with caster sugar. Lightly whip the egg white until it starts to foam. Pick the mint leaves from the stalk and dip each leaf into the foaming egg and place with presentation side up on to the caster sugar tray, dust each leaf with more caster sugar and dry the leaves out in the preheated oven. Watch carefully so that the leaves do not burn or the sugar caramelises too much.Leave to cool and crisp.

To serve Serve the dessert on a chilled plate. Garnish the plate with the chocolate sauce and sprinkle cocoa nibs over the sauce; dust any excess nibs off the plate. Drizzle on a few drops of the mint oil. Sandwich the parfait and biscuits together and place them on the plate and serve with a few of the crystallized mint leaves. Serve immediately.


(Serves four)

For the saffron orange soused mackerel

4 large mackerel fillets, pin-bones and scales removed

1tbs olive oil

For the vinaigrette (use half for the fish and the rest for the salad)

50ml freshly squeezed orange juice

3tsp Dijon mustard

1tbs soy sauce

3tsp white wine vinegar

3tsp runny honey

50ml olive oil

Pinch of saffron

1/2tsp crushed coriander seeds

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the raw fennel, kohlrabi and chicory salad

1 bulb of fennel

1 bulb of Kohlrabi

1tbs chopped fresh dill

Zest and segments of two oranges

1 small head of white chicory

Tahoon or Mustard Cress (optional)

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper


Saffron orange vinaigrette Place all the ingredients apart from the oil in a jug of a blender and season the vinaigrette lightly, as the soy sauce is salty. Blend and slowly add the oil to form an emulsion, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Leave the vinaigrette to infuse while preparing the mackerel and salad.

Mackerel Wash the mackerel fillets under cold running water and pat the fillets dry with kitchen paper. Cut each fillet of mackerel on an angle to create three even-sized diamond shapes. Score the skin of each diamond several times; do not cut all the way through to the flesh just the skin. This prevents the fish from curling up and allows the fish to cook evenly.

Season the mackerel lightly. Heat a non-stick frying pan with the olive oil and place the mackerel diamonds skin-side down in the hot but not smoking pan, press down, with two fingers, on top of each piece for a few seconds to prevent it from curling up. Sauté for two minutes until crisp and the skin is golden brown. Flip the fish over and turn the heat off and pour over half the marinade into the warm pan.

Immediately remove the fish and reduced sauce from the pan, leave to rest while plating up the salad.

Raw fennel, kohlrabi and chicory salad Wash the fennel bulb, remove the outer layer and use a sharp mandolin to finely shave the fennel into a large mixing bowl.

Peel the kohlrabi and finely slice using the mandolin, then finely julienne by using a sharp knife, add the julienned kohlrabi to the fennel.

Wash the chicory, remove the root end and separate the leaves, add the chicory to the fennel mixture, add the orange zest, orange segments and chopped dill and season to taste.

Add the other half of the saffron orange vinaigrette to taste when you are ready to serve.

To serve Place three neat piles of the salad on the plate, top each with a diamond of mackerel and garnish the salad with the tahoon or mustard cress and drizzle round the reduced marinade from the pan.


(Serves four)

For the asparagus bavoir

50g chopped banana shallots

40g unsalted butter

250g chopped asparagus, both stalks and tips

300ml white chicken stock

10g pousse

100ml double cream

3g agar agar powder

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Juice of half a lemon

For the smoked quails' eggs

4 quails' eggs

40g unsalted butter

30g Panko Honey breadcrumbs

100g hay for smoking, soaked overnight in cold water

For the smoked bacon foam

100g smoked bacon

300ml water

10 coriander seeds

1 bay leaf

5 black peppercorns

25ml double cream

60ml full-fat milk

2.75g lecithin

For the asparagus salad

20 fine spears of British asparagus

2 fresh radishes

1 punnet of purple mustard cress

Zest of one lemon

50ml olive oil

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

50ml fresh home-made mayonnaise

Wild sumac for garnish


Asparagus bavoir Before starting, prepare the tray for the bavoir. Do not line with clingfilm as the agar will not set.

In a medium saucepan sauté the shallots in the butter until transparent but not coloured. Add the asparagus and season to taste. Cook for two minutes, remove from the heat and add the pousse.

In a separate saucepan, bring the stock to the boil and add the cream and agar, boil for two minutes.

Transfer both mixes to a Thermomix jug and blend, on speed 10, until smooth. Adjust seasoning and add lemon juice to taste.

Pour the bavoir mixture into the prepared tray and leave to cool at room temperature, once set transfer to the fridge until chilled.

Hay-smoked quails' eggs First make the crispy coating. In a small frying pan, melt the butter until light golden brown, mix in the panko and remove from the heat. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a baking tray lined with paper and dry under heat lamps. Grind the crumbs till fine.

Bring a water bath to 63°C. Place the quails' eggs inside and cook for 25 minutes, cool in ice cold water.

When ready to serve, smoke the quails' eggs to order.

Crack the shells of the quails' eggs and remove one side, drain the soaked hay and place in a deep oven tray. Place the tray over a flame and, once smoking, nestle the eggs in the hay, cover with foil and leave for four minutes.

Remove the eggs from the shells and roll in the golden crumbs.

Smoked bacon foam Bring the water and smoked bacon to the boil in a small saucepan, remove impurities and add the aromatics. Simmer for 10 minutes and remove from the heat. Leave to infuse.

Pass the stock and discard the solids. Measure 125ml of smoked bacon stock into a small saucepan and add the cream, milk and lecithin, use a stick blender to foam.

Asparagus salad Prepare the asparagus by removing the woody end, cut the spears on an angle and finely slice the remainder of the stalks into 2mm lozenges. Blanch the spears in salted boiling water and refresh in iced water.

Mix the asparagus lozenges with the oil, lemon zest and season to taste five minutes prior to serving,

Wash and finely slice the radishes and prepare the cress.

To serve Cut the bavoir into small squares and place on the plate, arrange the blanched asparagus spears and the lozenges and position the egg on to of a heap of crumbs. Dot the home-made mayonnaise and garnish lightly with the red mustard cress and wild sumac. Arrange the sliced radishes and drop dollops of smoked bacon foam on the plate and serve immediately.

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