Spring is one of the most exciting times in the culinary calender. Celebrate its arrival by cooking up a storm using fresh, seasonal produce.
Now it’s April, the sun should be shining (hopefully) and we can say a welcome goodbye to the British Winter. We’re halfway through Lent but I suspect very few people have given up fresh fruit and veg. This is a good thing, as April brings with it a bountiful supply of sumptuous seasonal produce.
We all know that eating food at the peak of its season makes sense in terms of taste, value for money and supporting British producers. So if you’ve been swamped by parsnips and swedes the past few months, you can look forward to some splashes of colour on your plate with vibrant spring greens and brilliant pink rhubarb.
Purple sprouting broccoli
The colourful cousin of broccoli, this spring veg adds a welcome crunch to meat and fish dishes. They can also take centre stage in recipes such as Jane Baxter’s broccoli with hollandaise. Purple sprouting broccoli can be steamed, stir-fried or boiled. And the leaves are edible - so don’t throw them away.
Jersey Royal new potatoes
The first of the Jersey Royals are in and the early season potatoes are smaller and more tender than those that come later in the season. Most of the flavour and goodness lies just beneath the surface so don’t peel them, simply give them a wash and you’re ready to go.
As well as tasting fab with just a knob of butter and mint, they are the star in dishes such as Jean Christophe Novelli’s salsa verde potatoes.
Raw watercress adds a lovely peppery kick to dishes and is excellent in salads, pesto and soup. It is full of vitamin C, calcium, iron and folic acid which makes it a perfect addition to a healthy juice such as carrot. Phil Vickery adds some to his turkey bubble and squeak cakes for a burst of flavour.
Watercress has a tendency to wilt easily so, to help keep it fresh, refrigerate it stems-down in a glass of water, covered with a plastic bag.
Morels are a wild mushroom found all over the British Isles. It is a funny-looking thing with a honeycomb-like body and a hollow inside. If you plan on gathering them yourself then be careful as there are many poisonous false morels that look the part but could do you harm. Because they grow in dry, sandy areas, make sure you wash them well to get rid of any grit.
One of the nicest ways to cook morels is to gently sauté them in butter and season with some cracked black pepper and salt.
The field-grown variety of this wonderfully vibrant fruit (or vegetable if you want to stick to the rules) is at its peak in April. It works wonderfully in sweet dishes such as Rachel Green’s rhubarb and stem ginger fool but its sharpness also works extremely well with meat and oily fish. The leaves are poisonous so throw them away. Note that both raw and cooked rhubarb freeze well.
New Zealand lamb may infiltrate the market all year round but seasonal British lamb is in a league of its own. When buying, look for the leanest cuts with firm, creamy-white fat. Avoid cuts with excessive fat or fat which looks crumbly or yellow – this means the meat is old.
Some of the best lamb comes from Wales, so here at lovefood.com, we dug around to locate a few of the best lamb producers. Given the country’s premier reputation, Welshman Bryn Williams seemed the ideal candidate to provide a mouth watering roast loin of lamb recipe.
Rabbit has a subtle, gamey flavour to it and works well with flavours commonly associated with chicken dishes such as mustard, tomato and herbs and chilli.
As rabbit meat is very lean, take care to prevent it from drying out during cooking. Marinating or wrappingit in bacon can help keep the meat moist. Gary Kingshott has a delicious recipe for crispy fried wild rabbit.
Most of the meat on a pigeon comes from the breasts and is best served pink. Your butcher should be happy to take the breasts off for you and ask to keep the carcass as it makes a great stock.
Some people are put off by pigeon but it really is a delicious bird and we think it’s well worth cooking. In fact, we believe it’s such a great piece of meat, we think you should all take a punt on a pigeon.
Simon Goodman’s pigeon pie is a great recipe to get started with.
Crab is one of the most versatile of seafoods. The white meat from the claws is sweet and dense while the flesh from under the hard shell is soft, rich and brown.
If you’re feeling brave then you can buy live crabs and cook them yourself, following this guide. If you don’t wish to cook it yourself, then ask your fishmonger to do it for you.
Crabmeat is good hot or cold and is great in salads, soups and soufflés. It goes well with cream, butter, lemon and dill and can be added to pasta dishes to add a bit of luxury.
Mitch Tonks' South Devon crab recipe is a great way to learn how to cook a crab yourself.
Also known as salmon trout, this fish bears little resemblance to farmed trout. Because of the amount of time spent in the sea, it is closer to wild salmon in colour, flavour and texture.
You might be able to find sea trout at your local supermarket, but you are better off going to a fishmongers or fish market.
Sea trout can be used as a substitute in any trout or salmon recipe meaning you can give a new twist to old favourites. There has been a lot in the news recently about fish sustainability and you can read all about Hugh’s Big Fish Fight here.
Shrimps adds a beautiful depth of flavour to dishes and are often used to make butters and sauces. Simon Goodman uses them in his south coast Dover sole recipe to make a delicious cream to accompany the fish and add a splash of luxury to the plate.
So with everything April brings with it, we bet you can’t wait to get in the kitchen – happy cooking!
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