Recent frosts may have caused a tightening in the supply of some English vegetables, but there's still plenty of produce available and the cold weather has improved its taste. Parsnips are sweeter and more full-flavoured than ever since the cold weather and Brussels sprouts have a better taste and texture than they've had for many years.
English pak choi is tender and juicy enough to shred into salad. The first of this year's new crop broad beans have arrived from Spain. The pods are not particularly full, but the few beans inside are sweet, nutty and tender enough not to need peeling. Egyptian fresh peas are here, too. The pods are small but full of full-flavoured, but rather firm and not-too-sweet peas. Worth a try, but not as good as Italian, which should arrive in a month or so. Spanish marrows are small, firm and nutty-tasting. Red King Edward potatoes have excellent, yellowish floury flesh and a savoury-sweet, earthy, nutty taste. They are fantastic baked or steamed in their skins, roasted or made into chips or crisps. They also make fabulous mash.
New English glasshouse rocket is slightly pale and mild-tasting, but quality problems with Italian means it may be the best bet. British glasshouse-grown round lettuce has been a winter salad staple since the 1960s. It fell out off favour when lollo rosso became popular in the 1980s, but it's firmly back in fashion.
Worth an extra special mention, Sicilian late blood oranges are bursting with a mix of rich tropical fruit and berry scents.
Source: 4°C - 020 8558 9708 - www.4degreesc.com
The first new season spring lamb is arriving in the UK from New Zealand with strong demand from the retail sector with Easter arriving early. Prices are at a 30% premium over the frozen lamb, with legs at a premium.
Poultry has risen by 10% over the last two weeks with strong demand from some EU countries outstripping supply. Pork has also risen in price as farmers have cut back on numbers of pigs because of their poor price - they've been losing, on average, £18 per pig. Beef cuts are still rising as the market looks to fill the void left by the closure of the Brazilian market. Expect fillet steaks to be priced off menus. There are, however, still very good rabbits and wood pigeons available.
Source: Birtwistle Butchers - 0161-728 3340 - www.birtwistlebutchers.co.uk
High winds in Scotland and a poor forecast mean scallops and razor clams are scarce. But there is good line-caught bass from Dorset (£10.50 per kg) and good skate wing from the MSC-certified fishery in Appledore (£8.70 per kg). Also around is plenty of pollack, ling, hake, megrim sole and monkfish.
Squid is going up in price so it's worth considering English octopus instead. Mussels are in peak condition at the moment as they size up to spawn. However, large spring tides mean that crabs and lobsters might be hard to get hold of over the next week.
Source: Chef Direct - 01275 474707
Warm salad of Norfolk wood pigeon with pickled wild mushrooms, beetroot and apple compote and walnut dressing
For the candied walnuts
20 walnut halves
For the compote
2 large beetroot
Half an onion, chopped
1 English apple, peeled and grated
1 large glass fruity red wine
2tbs redcurrant jelly
For the sauce
1 glass red wine
500ml dark chicken stock
8 pigeon legs, roasted
4 wood pigeon crowns
Pickled girolles, liquor reserved to dress the salad
For candied walnuts, dissolve sugar in an equal amount of water and pour over the nuts. Bring mixture to the boil and cook until it reaches 140°C, drain quickly and then deep-fry the nuts at 180°C until golden and crispy. Drain and allow to cool.
For the compote, bake beetroot sealed in a foil parcel until just tender. When cool, peel and coarsely grate. In a small pan, sweat onion in half the butter then add the beetroot and the apple, followed by the capers. Once most of the liquid has evaporated, add the wine and jelly and cook until thick and glossy.
For the sauce, sweat mirepoix in remaining butter for five minutes, add honey and allow to caramelise before adding wine and reducing by half. Add stock and legs and simmer for an hour. Pass and reserve. Brown crowns in a hot pan and place in a 250°C oven for six minutes. Allow to rest and carve the breasts off.
Scattter walnuts and girolles around the plate and place blobs of beetroot relish in and around. Lay the breasts over the garnish and top with dressed mustard leaves and a few spoons of the sauce.
Matthew Tomkinson, head chef, the Goose, Britwell Salome, Oxon