The arrival of English iceberg lettuces signals the English salad season getting into full stride. Lollo rosso, frisée and oakleaf are all in stock, while lollo biondo is only a week away and English watercress is a great buy. Other just-ins include smallish, but more flavour-filled ridge cucumbers.
Cornish new potatoes have made their debut early, but French Mids have started to scar badly and been replaced by Israeli. English strawberries are bruised, battered, lumpy and small, and sank to their knees last week. Refuse anything but Dutch or Belgian.
Morels from Turkey are still coming through and are dovetailing with the US season, but the latter is more expensive. St George's mushrooms, mousserons and girolles are around in Britain and also in good supply from Bulgaria. Wood sorrel is starting to appear on these shores as well. Wild garlic has all but finished. Wild asparagus and courgette flowers are available from France.
Finally, a choice in asparagus: Alister Barten's Kent-grown and cowdung-fed field asparagus is quite stumpy (you lose only a half-inch in trimming) and comes in 3kg boxes, mixed thick and thin. It's how it used to be grown and what a taste.
The situation is far from great. There's a shortage of good beef cattle, with prices up 30% since the start of the year. All cuts are at a premium, including forequarter meat, which includes mince beef and braising steak. This is most unusual for May, but the rising cost of beef means people are looking for less costly alternative cuts. As summer approaches, expect even higher prices for steak meat cuts as retailers start their barbecue promotions.
Pork prices are still high, as availability of livestock is short and will continue to be so, but our supplier is seeing more and more requests for different cuts as pork still represents the best value for money. Expect the price of spring lamb to fall slightly towards the end of the month, as the warmer weather will mean there's a lot more availability. We're also seeing a lot more demand on lamb cuts again because of the high cost of beef. This is also having a big impact on price.
Source: Birtwistle Butchers - 0161-728 3340 - www.birtwistlebutchers.co.uk
Turbot prices are as low as they'll be all year at between £15 and £23 per kg depending on size. But squid is through the roof as Italians are buying most of it. On the whole, settled weather has meant good landings. There's good line-caught bass, good Cornish line-caught mackerel (£6.75 per kg), and good grey mullet (excellently priced at about £4 per kg).
Lobster prices are steadily dropping, and mussels and razor clams are in good condition. Wild salmon prices are picking up but still expect to pay £25 per kg. Gulls' eggs are still around and there's good spider crab claw meat on the market - very popular in France and Spain but often overlooked here.
Source: Chef Direct - 01275 474707
Mackerel escabèche jelly
For the escabèche jelly
20g of carrots and shallots, diced
100ml of white balsamic vinegar
100ml of white wine
5g of honey
1 sheet of gelatine
Slices of grapefruit
1 mackerel fillet
1 small bulb of fennel~
40ml olive oil
For the citrus foam
100ml of orange juice
45ml of lemon juice
20ml of pastis
50g of sugar
20ml of white wine
To make the escabèche jelly, lightly sweat the carrots, shallots, coriander and thyme in a covered pan. Pour in the vinegar and 100ml of white wine. Add the honey, Sichuan pepper and bay leaf.
Take half of the strained liquid, add the gelatine and set aside for the jelly. Reserve the other half to poach the mackerel in. Take a circular jelly mould and line with clingfilm. Place some slices of grapefruit on top of the cling film and pour in the escabèche liquid containing gelatine. Leave it in the fridge to set.
Take the mackerel fillet, debone and season it. Cover with the reserved half of the escabèche liquid and marinate overnight.
Cut the fennel into quarters, sweat in olive oil until it starts to soften and leave to marinate in the escabèche liquid.
For the citrus foam, mix together the ingredients, leave to infuse for 24 hours, then place into an espuma gun.
To assemble, tip out the jelly on to a square, transparent plate. On top of it, layer alternate pieces of fennel and mackerel, finishing with a piece of fennel. Top with the citrus foam at the last moment.
Thierry Beyris, head chef, Le Cercle, London