Spring hasn't quite set in yet, so on the British front root vegetables and brassicas are still in the ascendant. Red cale, red and Savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts, celeriac, parsnips, swedes, carrots, purple broccoli and baby leeks are all available. Fennel bulbs and Scottish potatoes are particularly good. Our first supplies of wild garlic are beginning to come through from Essex (good for salads or soups and to use as a garnish with spring lamb), while baby salad leaves are coming in from Hertfordshire. On the fruit front, there are still English Bramley apples around - more aromatic and mild than last autumn because of winter storage - though English rhubarb is still scarce. There are good Dutch rhubarb supplies, however. Also from Europe, Portuguese Hispi cabbage is in mid-season, while Moroccan peas are sweeter than the Egyptian ones. Lemons are still expensive because of scarcity due to bad crop yields in Europe and South America last year. Banana prices are still volatile.
Source: 4°C - 020 8558 9708 - www.4degreesc.com
It's a similar story as last week with regard to meat prices. Beef is still relatively expensive because of shortage of supply - although considering prices have hardly changed for 20 years, this shouldn't be a surprise.
British new spring lamb for the Easter week is very slow coming through. It's mainly from the West Country when you can find it and, again, relatively expensive because of scarcity. On the other hand, new-season lamb from Australia and New Zealand is available at only a little more than last year: organic Australian lamb is about £5.70-£7 per kg.
Best buy this week looks to be British pork. On the poultry front, French duck is in good supply, although expensive because of the weakness of the pound against the euro.
Source: Birtwistle Butchers - 0161-728 3340 - www.birtwistlebutchers.co.uk
Steadier weather this week means there's been a fair amount of fish coming through. In the South-west, there have been landings of skate, octopus, squid, line-caught pollack and some nice Dover soles. There are also good supplies of quality line-caught Icelandic and Norwegian cod (£9.50-£11.50 per kg depending on size) and haddock, as well as some nice farmed Norwegian halibut.
As far as shellfish is concerned, there have been plentiful landings of crabs, lobsters, razor clams and some top-notch hand-dived scallops from the Orkneys.
Best buys for this week include dabs (£4.70 per kg), mackerel, ling and sand soles. And there's some lovely wild Irish trout coming in, too. Worst buy of the week is gurnard. Demand is high, so this has pushed up prices to about £6 per kg at auction.
Source: Chef Direct - 01275 474707
Roast salt cod ballottine, braised oxtail, pea mousse, champ mash, mustard foam
Ingredients (Serves four)
1kg side of cod fillet, trimmed and pinned
1 whole oxtail, chopped
1 carrot, diced to 2cm cubes
1/2 onion, diced (as above)
Red wine, to taste
Veal stock, as needed
Chicken stock, as needed
1/2 bag frozen peas
Salt and pepper
Champ (made with Desirée red potatoes, butter, cream, sliced spring onions - quantities to taste)
Shallots, finely sliced and caramelised
White wine, as needed
Fish stock, as needed
For the salt cod, sprinkle cod with rock salt. Leave for one hour to firm up, then wash off salt under cold water, pat dry, then roll in clingfilm to a round ballottine. Tie ends. Refrigerate.
For the oxtail, heat olive oil till smoking in a pan. Add oxtail. When lightly coloured, remove. Place in a deep tray. Add carrot, onion and garlic to oxtail, colour slightly then add red wine and reduce by half. Add thyme and enough veal and chicken stock to cover oxtail. Cover tray with foil and place in oven at 120°C. Braise for about four hours. Remove oxtail from liquor and pick meat off bone, discarding fat. Pass liquor through fine sieve. Reduce again by three-quarters, then mix the oxtail through it.
For the pea mousse, boil peas until soft. Purée in a blender, pass through a fine sieve, and cool. Whisk eggs together and blend into the purée. Season. Spoon into buttered timbale moulds to three-quarters full. Place foil over moulds. Prick hole in top of foil and cook in bain-marie in oven at 120°C until set (about 25 minutes).
For the mustard foam base, put shallots and white wine in pan. Reduce till almost all wine is gone, then add fish stock. Reduce by two-thirds. Add the cream. Reduce for five minutes. Pass through fine sieve and add mustard.
To plate, cut fish into 5cm sections with clingfilm still on. Roast in a pan, flesh side down until golden brown. Turn fish over, place pan in oven for five minutes to finish, then remove, add knob of butter and baste. Heat oxtail and champ, and warm pea mousse in bain-marie. Place the oxtail in a bowl, remove clingfilm from cod, place fish on top of oxtail. Add quenelle of champ and pea mousse. Reheat mustard sauce gently, foam with a hand blender and spoon over fish. Serve.
Ashley Paynton, Fisherman's Lodge, Jesmond Dene, Newcastle upon Tyne