Squid, Dover sole, nettle shoots, wild garlic leaves

Thursday 2nd March 2006 00:00

Meat

The poultry market is still confused. Some cheap poultry has arrived on the UK market from Italy and France as demand on the Continent falls, but the meat hasn't always been very fresh. British meat, however, hasn't dropped in price, and there has been no downturn in demand over here.  There have also been some restrictions on beef imports from Brazil and Argentina because of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth there. It isn't major, but it means the cheapest South American beef has gone up in price slightly (although it is still cheap), tightening the usually wide price difference between imported and premium native beef.

Source: Aubrey Allen 024 7642 2222 www.aubreyallenwholesale.co.uk

Fish

Strong winds and tides affected supplies at the beginning of the week, and this will continue. Landings will be poor for brill (pictured), lemon sole, mullet, plaice, herring and sardines. Dover sole should be better, and there should be some octopus, squid, whiting and red gurnard on the market. Supplies of haddock, plaice and cod from Iceland should be better, but there won't be enough to bring prices down on native fish.

Source: M&J Seafood 01296 333848 www.mjseafoods.com

Fresh produce

New nettle shoots will be appearing in the hedgerows any minute now. Wild garlic leaves (pictured) are also becoming more plentiful.  With warmer weather around the corner, the situation is improving across Europe. French and English watercress is coming through with prices falling and quality improving. UK purple sprouting broccoli is also improving, while French Jerusalem artichokes and smooth-bulbed Italian fennel are also both now fantastic and good value. Green tomatoes are now arriving from Holland and the first of the English hothouse-grown tomatoes will also soon be appearing.  Raspberries from Spain look good, but won't taste good until they've had more sun. South African grapes are very sweet, though, and eating very well.

Source: Chef's Connection 020 7627 4809 www.chefs-connection.com

Seasonal recipe
Stinging nettle soup with smoked eel and sorrel

Ingredients
(Six starter portions)

35g butter
300g potatoes, peeled and cut into 0.5cm cubes
100g onions, chopped
150g green of leeks, chopped
1litre chicken stock
150g stinging nettle leaves, washed and chopped
150ml cream
6 large sorrel leaves
Salt and pepper
6 pieces of smoked eel
150ml crème fraîche

Method
First, send a commis chef out to gather the stinging nettles without rubber gloves! Only joking - make sure you wear rubber gloves and use scissors. Snip only the very youngest nettles, as these have a better flavour and are best in the spring. Nettles are a great source of iron and are meant to be good for purifying the blood.

To make the soup, put the butter in a saucepan, then add the onions, potatoes and leeks. Stir, place a lid on and sweat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are softening with no colour. Pour in the chicken stock and cook until the vegetables are just cooked. Add the nettles and simmer for a few minutes. Do not overcook the nettles or they will lose their flavour and colour. Pour in the cream and two shredded sorrel leaves. Then liquidise, taste and season.

To serve, place a small piece of smoked eel at the bottom of each bowl, pour the hot soup over, and finish with a teaspoon of crème fraîche and some shredded sorrel.

This is a very earthy flavoured dish with the nettle and eel, so I think it's better served as an "amuse" rather than a full starter. You can also replace the eel with hot smoked salmon.

James Mackenzie, chef-proprietor, the Pipe and Glass Inn, South Dalton, East Yorkshire


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