Haddock, dogfish, cardoons, grey squirrel

23 March 2006
Haddock, dogfish, cardoons, grey squirrel

Weather conditions have improved this week, and landings for a lot of native fish have increased. There are particularly good supplies of flatfish, so prices on Dovers, lemons and wytch soles should be decent. There will also be better supplies of dogfish, brill, hake, pollack and skate.

The cost of farmed salmon is going through the roof, because the bird flu scare has increased demand for the most popular fish. Scottish production is also down, adding to the upward pressure on price.

There are good supplies of haddock and there should be bargains to be had on larger fish. There should also be plenty of plaice, but be careful because the Icelandic fish are now starting to roe up.

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

Meat Beef and lamb prices are still creeping up. It is too cold for new-season lamb to start coming through yet, although there is some lovely milk-fed lamb coming on to the market from Pauillac in Bordeaux. The Pyrenean variety will also be arriving in a few weeks' time.

Craig James (below) alerts us to squirrel meat. It won't be suitable for every restaurant - or customer. Probably best to cook it with hazelnuts.

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

Fresh produce Chanterelles and pieds de mouton are in short supply, and there are only a few cèpes on the market, from South Africa. Morels, from Turkey, are still very expensive.

Cardoons are now very good from Italy and there are new-crop marrows coming through from Spain. They aren't huge but they are good-quality. Spanish peppers are also excellent.

Cornish spring greens are also in good condition, as are home-grown Hisby cabbages.

There are very good prickly pears arriving from South Africa, but although these are plentiful there is still very little interest in them in the UK.

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

Seasonal recipe Braised "acorn-fed" grey squirrel with roasted loin and squirrel pie, garlic mash

We get squirrel from a supplier in the West Country, where they are trapped primarily at this time of year to protect songbird eggs. The furs are made into hats and gloves, while the tails are made into flies for fly fishing. Public reaction has been mainly positive, although there will always be some who don't fully understand the reasoning behind dishes like this. But I am keen on reviving forgotten traditional English dishes, and everyone who has eaten the squirrel has enjoyed it.

Ingredients (Serves four)

4 squirrels
1 carrot
1 onion
1/2 bunch thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 litre brown chicken stock
4 bacon rashers
250g puff pastry
1 egg
250g redcurrant jelly
600g potatoes, mashed
150g wild garlic leaves
50g breadcrumbs

Method Remove the legs from the squirrel and place in a baking dish. Roughly chop the carrot, onion and garlic and place in the dish with the legs. Add the thyme and bay leaves, pour over the chicken stock, season and cook at 135°C for about 31/2 hours or until tender.

Meanwhile, separate the belly from the loin and the kidneys and liver. Discard the rest of the innards. Cut the ribcage away with a pair of scissors to leave a neat loin. Wrap the loin in bacon. I prefer to use sweet-cure streaky bacon.

When the legs are cooked, separate the hind legs from the smaller fore legs. Flake the meat off the front legs and reserve it for the pie.

Mince the livers, kidneys and bellies and season with salt and pepper. Add the flaked meat and breadcrumbs and make into four small pies using the puff pastry. Glaze the pie with the egg, and bake for 12 minutes at 175°C. Seal the loin in a hot pan and roast in the oven for eight minutes.

Strain off the cooking liquor and reduce with the redcurrant jelly until a thick sauce is obtained. Heat up the mash and add the wild garlic. Place a small spoonful of the mash on the plate and lay the two hind legs over it. Cut the loin in two and place on the mash. Generously spoon over the rich sauce and finish with the golden pie placed just in front of the mash.

Craig James, head chef, Butlers Wharf Chop House

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