Starting to appear now are some very early spring greens, and, after a spell on the missing list, purple-green but golden-hearted January King cabbages returned to the market last week. A bit of late English Savoy cabbage has appeared and is surprisingly good. Romanesco heads are fairly dear but looking extremely handsome right now, and Portuguese Hispi cabbage is dearish but glossy, sweet, mild and gorgeous.
If you fancy going a little left field, arriving now from Berwick-upon-Tweed are super-rare red, white and blue-skinned Mr Little's Yetholm Gypsy potatoes. Summer veg seems to be growing well in Spain at the moment with peppers, courgettes and aubergines all sinking back towards average winter prices after the holiday highs. Mild weather in the south of the country is forecast to continue for the next week, so there should be no imminent shortages.
Long, sweet red Romero peppers are good raw or cooked. Imported salad leaves are faring better now. Lollo and oakleaf are more plentiful and have eased a little pricewise. There are plenty of loose cherry and loose baby plum tomatoes around. Buying by the box saves money compared with the punnetted version. Rocket supplies from both Italy and Israel have been erratic due to bad weather and quality is occasionally a touch lower than usual.
On a more general front, reports have indicated that global weather patterns and the expansion of new markets are combining to create an unprecedented situation of tight supplies and rising prices across several major lines in the UK fresh produce market. In short, some things are very pricey. Bananas, grapes, lemons, black grapes, watermelons and plums are all much dearer than they usually are in February, and apples and pears are on the rise. In veg, staples such as potatoes, roots and brassicas are all more expensive than usual.
Source: 4°C - 020 8558 9708 - www.4degreesc.com
We're still in a prolonged period of bad weather, which is having an effect on supplies. Razor clams have been practically non-existent for two weeks. Live prawns have been hard to source, and Orkney Isles scallops have dried up, although there are some good alternatives from the South Coast.
The South in general is much more promising: monkfish and sea bass are falling in price, John Dory, red mullet and black bream from the Channel Isles are all good buys, and turbot will start to drop as the fish come inshore to spawn. There are good large mackerel arriving from Scotland - between 660g and 800g each - and although they aren't as firm as the line-caught equivalents from the South Coast, they are still very good fish.
Finally, if you can't wait until July for the wild salmon season and you have the time to dig around the markets, a few rod and line-caught wild salmon are starting to appear. But it had better be a real hankering, as you can expect to pay about £40 per kg for them.
Source: Chef Direct - 01275 474707
The meat situation has changed little from last week. A complete ban on imports from Brazil has meant beef prices are still sky-high and demand on fore-quarter cuts - the cheaper meat - has risen. Pork is still the best-value meat around. Lamb prices are also steady, and it's worth noting that an early Easter (23 March this year) means that spring lamb prices will still be high come the holiday period, as the real glut does not kick in until late April.
Source: Birtwistle Butchers - 0161-728 3340 - www.birtwistlebutchers.co.uk
Five spice pork choplets
Ingredients (Serves two)
500g boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2.5cm cubes
1/4tsp curry powder
1/2 cup corn flour
600ml vegetable oil
2tbs chopped coriander
2 spring onions, cut into 2.5cm pieces
1/2 clove garlic
1 red chilli, chopped
1/4tsp five spice powder
1/4tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
A few drops sesame oil
Mix the salt, curry powder, eggs, corn flour and water together and coat the pork choplets. Heat the oil in a pan until smoking and add the pork piece by piece and fry for four minutes until golden brown. Remove from heat.
Pour 2tbs of the oil into a wok and add the coriander, spring onions, garlic and chilli and cook for a minute before returning the pork to the pan. Toss everything together and sprinkle with the five spice powder, ground peppercorns and oil. Toss again and serve.
Kam Po But, executive chef, Memories of China, London