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Mussels, Melon, Lamb

01 May 2008 by

Fresh

The first reasonably priced English asparagus is now arriving at about £3.50 a bunch. Wild leeks are ending this week but there's still wild garlic - which will be flowering soon - and sea beet around.

Mousseron and St George's mushrooms are arriving from eastern Europe. They will be sprouting up on these shores as well but it's best to look to local suppliers. Courgette flowers are coming from France and should be starting in the UK soon.

Potatoes are up in price. You'd expect a rise at this time of year because the stocks harvested last autumn are beginning to run out. However, high wheat and rice prices have increased demand for the humble spud, and the weak pound has applied more upward pressure.

Tomato prices are rising as Spanish export crops dwindle, and cool weather has slowed northern European production. Courgettes are dearer for similar reasons. Iceberg lettuces and cucumbers are up, too. Curly kale is beginning to flower, and so has disappeared from the market. Savoy cabbages are scarcer and dearer and white cabbage is up again.

South African clementines are tastier and slightly less pricy this week. Egyptian peaches are better this week and Moroccan nectarines are worth a look. The Spanish melon season has started with some surprisingly ripe Galias. There have also been a few early offers of Spanish watermelons.

New-crop Spanish helda beans (aka silk beans) have just arrived. They look like pale, silvery-green, flat, runner beans and are sweet, nutty and stringless. A few expensive Italian borlotti beans are trickling in, too.

If you prefer something cheaper, Spanish broad beans are becoming plentiful. Their pods are now full and they're reasonably priced. Embassy cabbage shoots look like beautiful little bunches of spring greens and are deliciously tender. Trim at the base of the stem, wash and then steam whole for a nutty and sweet alternative to pricy English asparagus.

Sources: 4°C - 020 8558 9708 - www.4degreesc.com / Wild Harvest - 020 7498 5397 - www.wildharvestuk.com

Fish

The first large plaice are being landed now - they're left alone from December to May as they are in bad condition - and are available at about £6.50 per kg. There's good Cornish mackerel, pollack, megrim sole and plenty of gurnard.

Squid is scarce and expensive still but shellfish is in excellent condition - even mussels are back on now after a few weeks of spawning. Turbot prices have come down to about £14.50 per kg for 2-3kg fish. Sardines have virtually disappeared, so substitute for sprats, which are around unseasonably late.

Several rivers including the Severn and the Towey will be opening for wild salmon fishing on 1 May, so expect more numbers on the market. Sea trout are still available from the South Coast, gulls' eggs are priced at £2.50 per egg and, in two weeks' time, the first sand eels will be landed on the South Coast.

Source: Chef Direct - 01275 474707

Meat

Beef prices have edged up slightly again because of high demand for steak cuts.

Spring lambs are becoming more available. There's a slight upturn in price because the supermarkets have switched from hogget to spring lamb, but the situation should steady out. Whole carcasses are costing about £3.86 per kg dead weight.

Pork is the same as before - the euro is still making imports pricy - and chicken is up slightly in price.

Source: Birtwistle Butchers - 0161-728 3340 - www.birtwistlebutchers.co.uk

Seasonal recipe

Sea trout with seasonal sorrel sauce, crushed new potatoes and asparagus

Ingredients (Serves four)

6 shallots
40g butter
500ml white wine
1 litre fish stock
1 litre double cream
Salt and pepper
200g sorrel leaves
12 asparagus spears, trimmed
4 x 160g sea trout steak
200ml fish velouté

Method

To make the velouté, finely slice the shallots and sweat with 15g of butter. Add the wine and reduce to about 150ml, then add fish stock and reduce by half. Add the double cream and boil for five minutes, season, then add sorrel leaves to infuse and keep warm.

Cook the asparagus in a hot oven (200°C) for five minutes with olive oil and flaked sea salt.

Season the sea trout steaks and pan-fry in the rest of the butter for two minutes on each side. Place the sea trout in the centre of a warm plate, pour over 50ml of sauce and garnish with the asparagus.

Serve with crushed potatoes.

Laurent Courtois, head chef, Riverview restaurant, Glencot House, Wookey Hole, Wells, Somerset

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