WELL SEASONED

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Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Mar 7 2017 09:00AM

The cool, clear waters of the UK provide the perfect growing environment for one of nature's tastiest aquatic treats - the mussel.


This beautiful, blue bivalve can be found growing on most parts of our rocky coastline and harvesting some yourself is one of the most rewarding foraging experiences you can have.


Traditionally, you should only collect mussels in months with the letter ‘r’ in. The rule of thumb (which applies to most shellfish) is actually a shorthand way of saying that it's best to avoid shellfish during the summer months and there is some good science behind the principle. All shellfish tend to accumulate certain toxins that are found in (perfectly natural) algal blooms which tend to be at their peak during the warm weather. If you buy your shellfish from the shops there's no need to worry since all stocks are regularly checked for toxins but it does mean that March, before the warm weather arrives, is a good time to go on the hunt.


Pick the larger mussels – not only will they make for a better meal but they will have had chance to breed, keeping the population healthy. The plumpest specimens will be found below the high water mark on rocky beaches so check a tide table before you visit then get down there with your wellies and a good sized bucket. On the journey home, keep your catch cool with a damp tea towel.


When it comes to cooking, mussels need just a few minutes to steam open so they're the perfect convenience food and a rich reward for all your hard work.


If you look out the window and think it's too cold for a trip to the beach (and let's face it, March often is) then get down to the shops. Either wild or rope grown mussels are fine (three quarters of rope-grown mussels in the UK are now classified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.) They are excellent value and you'll find them in any good fishmonger during the season.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 27 2015 02:00AM

Although it might not feel like it right now, we're coming towards the end of Winter.


The end of January is a bitter-sweet time (or perhaps, to use a food-related expression, a curate's egg). There's no doubt that we're looking towards some warmer weather and the green shoots of Spring, but it also means the end of the game season. We won't see any feathered game on our tables until August (when grouse make a return) and it will be early Autumn before we see pheasant and partridge back on the menu.


The dates of the British game seasons are curiously complicated and, for reasons that we've never been able to fathom, the duck and woodcock seasons end on 31st January whilst pheasant and partridge come to an end the next day on 1st February...except this year 1st February is a Sunday and it's illegal to shoot game on Sundays, so the seasons actually all end on the same day...


Unnecessary complexities and arcane shooting laws aside, the fact is that, after this Saturday, no game birds will be shot for several months. Even allowing time for those last birds to be hung for a few days (for the meat to tenderise and improve in flavour) and to make it to market, supplies will quickly dwindle and you'll do well to find any fresh meat in the shops past the middle of the month.


As a legally-enforced season, game shooting comes to an end rather more abruptly than most. Most natural seasons see a slow reduction in the availability of produce - mackerel numbers will gradually decrease during September until there are only a few stragglers by the end of October. Gooseberries will start to fade in August and will usually be all gone by September. But, regardless of how quickly they leave us, there's always a slight sadness as we know we're saying goodbye to those fabulous ingredients for another year.


As seasonal foodies, our sadness is, of course, tempered by two important factors - first, by the knowledge that they'll be back next year and secondly, by the absolute certainty that there's something just as good to follow. Our mackerel will be replaced by juicy mussels and our late gooseberries will overlap with the first blackberries. As we mourn the loss of all that feathered game this week, remember that there is some great venison available in March and pigeons will be at their best around April, once they've had a chance to feed on the first green shoots of Spring.


So, as one season goes out, another equally delicious once comes in. And so the seasonal cycle continues. It's this anticipation of what's next on the menu that makes seasonal living so fantastically enjoyable and exciting.


In short, let's not be too upset about the game season coming to an end. It'll be back in the Autumn and there's plenty of interesting ingredients to keep our tummies full before then. Just keep calm, carry on and eat seasonally. (Someone really should put that on a mug...)

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Dec 3 2014 10:46AM

In December it’s very easy to get caught up in the meat-fest that is Christmas. Turkey, pigs-in-blankets and gammon are, of course, the mainstays of our festive menu. Pheasant, partridge, duck and venison are all in season and plentiful at this time of year too, so even the more adventurous will tend to look to the game larder for an alternative. It’s perfectly understandable and reflects our cultural reliance on meat at a time of year when vegetables become a little more scarce. But it’s a long (and cold and dark!) month so don’t forget the fish when you're planning your festive menu.


A quick glance at the fishmonger’s slab will see a seriously satisfying selection on offer in December - Cockles, Cod, Coley, Brown Crab, Crayfish, Gurnard, Lemon Sole, Lobster, Mussels, Oysters, Prawns, Razor Clams, Salmon, Scallops, Trout, Whiting, Winkles, Witch all feature on our seasonality chart this month and if you really can’t find something there to please you then you must be a pretty fussy eater (or possibly just allergic to fish…).


This week we cooked up a batch of wild Scottish mussels. Most mussels sold in this country are now rope-grown in sea lochs and, in truth, there’s very little difference between them and the wild variety. But as our fishmonger put it, the wild ones are “just a little bit sexier”.


Mussels are sweet and rich and pair well with some pretty punchy flavours. Most recipes use cider or white wine to create the cooking liquor but we went with a dry perry (pear cider) which really hit the spot. Mussels are tasty, sustainable and very good value. They’re also in season right through the winter so when you’ve gone cold turkey on cold meats, try knocking this up for a comforting fishy feast:


Mussels with Perry and Leeks

To serve 2:


1kg mussels

half a large leek, finely sliced

250ml dry perry

1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

2 rashers of bacon, diced

1 clove of garlic

100ml milk


Start by de-bearding the mussels (using a knife edge to help you grip, pull sharply at the fibrous strands sticking out of the mussel shell). Scrape off any barnacles and discard any mussels that don’t stay firmly shut when given a gentle tap. In a large pan, fry the bacon for 2-3 minutes. Add in the leeks and garlic and sweat for another 4-5 minutes. Turn up the heat, pour in the perry and stir in the mustard. Add the mussels and put a lid on the pan. Steam for 4-5 minutes, giving a good shake half way, until the mussels are open. Remove the lid, stir in the milk and heat for another minute. Serve in large bowls with plenty of the liquor and a chunk of crusty sourdough to mop up. Be sure to discard any mussels that don’t open up when cooked.




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