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By Well Seasoned, Feb 28 2019 02:00AM

If you’re brave enough to go to the beach in late Winter, try hunting for razor clams (or, as they’re known in Scotland, ‘spoots’.) These elongated molluscs resemble the shape of a cut-throat razor, hence the name, and they make for excellent eating.

Despite the risk of some pretty inclement weather, February is a good time to collect and eat shellfish because most will spawn during the warmer summer months. For some reason (as with many of our shellfish) we don’t eat many razor clams in the UK, but they are gobbled up by our continental cousins, and for good reason. Their flesh is firm and meaty, and although it has a fairly subtle taste, it partners very well with some big, bold flavours. In Portugal and Spain they are frequently cooked up with chorizo and other spicy meats.

If you want to try catching your own, first you need to locate a likely razor clam bed. There’s nothing like a bit of local knowledge, so do some research and ask around first, but sandy, flat beaches are their preferred habitat. You’ll need to check tide tables and aim to be on the beach at the beginning of the slack, low, spring tide (the very lowest tide) in order to have an hour at the lowest water line. Then look for little keyhole-shaped holes in the sand.

Using a large spouted bottle, pour several tablespoons of fine table salt into the hole and wash it down with water from a squeezy washing-up-liquid bottle or similar. The high salt levels irritate the clam and after a few moments you should see the surface being pushed upwards before the top erupts out of the sand. Grip the shell between two fingers, then firmly but slowly pull the clam out from its burrow. Make sure you grab the shell quickly and hold on; if you let go or wait too long they will bury themselves back in almost as quickly as they came out.

Your razor clam should be at least 10 centimetres (4-inches) in length. If it is, put it in your bucket. If not, put him back for another day.

If you draw blank or don't fancy the bracing weather, your local fishmonger should be able to help you out, with a bit of notice.

Razor clams are a little fiddly to prepare but once the clams are steamed open, the meat will pull easily from the shell and the inedible parts can be cut away.

Lay the clam flat on the board with the rounder end to the left, cut this off close to the dark sac. Lift the frilly wing up and slice off the cylindrical piece of meat with the pointed end. Now trim the wing away from the dark sac. Scrape off any odd bits of sand as you go. Now the meat can be sliced into halfcentimetre pieces ready to use. If you’re unsure at any point, the internet has plenty of useful videos on fish and shellfish preparation.

By Well Seasoned, Feb 20 2019 02:00AM

A medieval beast stalks our countryside, but is so elusive that many people aren’t even aware of its existence. You might be surprised to learn that there are wild boar alive and well in British woodlands.

In the past, large numbers of boar inhabited our woods and fields. The Tudors loved to hunt them, and a spit-roasted wild boar was the centrepiece of many a medieval banquet. Sadly, sometime in the seventeenth century, British boar were hunted to extinction and nothing was seen of them for many years. But then, in the 1980s, boar farms breeding imported animals were established in Britain. In several incidents, most notably the great storm of 1987, some of the animals escaped, and in a few rare cases they were able to establish themselves as free-living populations. A

lthough there is some debate as to exactly how widespread they are, breeding populations have existed since at least 1990 and are now certainly established in Kent, Sussex, Dorset and the Forest of Dean.

Wild boar are extremely wary, generally venturing out only at night. They cause problems for a number of groups, including farmers who have to deal with the damage they do to land (boar feed in the same way as pigs, quickly reducing the ground to a hummocky quagmire) and ramblers who on several occasions have startled boar with their dogs, unexpectedly finding themselves in the middle of a c anine/porcine rumpus.

They are also hardy beasts, with no natural predators in this country, so most land managers agree that they need to be culled in the same way as deer. This ensures a healthy population and limits the damage they do to crops, land and fencing. The upside is that if your butcher can get hold of it, wild boar meat is a seriously tasty treat.

Wild boar breed during the warmer months and so, while there isn’t an official season for them, reputable dealers will only sell truly wild meat from late autumn through to the spring. That shouldn’t, however, stop you from buying farmed meat, which is invariably free range and of high quality all year round.

For me February is the ideal time to tuck in as it makes the perfect warming ragu for a hearty pasta dish.

Pappardelle with wild boar ragout

People often ask me about the merits of fresh versus dried pasta, but I think you have to look at them as two different products. The more robust texture of dried pasta made with just durum wheat semolina is not really comparable with fresh egg pasta. I like both in equal measures and have no qualms about using goodquality dried pasta. I feel it works better for something like a carbonara, as the texture stands up to the pancetta or guanciale and it gives the whole dish body. With a meltingly tender ragout or encasing soft ricotta, however, fresh egg pasta is the way to go.

The most important thing for me with a pasta dish is that the pasta shouldn’t be overshadowed by the sauce or filling. It has an equal role in many dishes but can also be the star, with the sauce just providing moisture and seasoning.

serves 6 as a main


For the wild boar ragout

650g wild boar or good-quality pork, diced

100 ml olive oil

125g coarse pork mince that is fairly fatty

1 carrot, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into ½cm pieces

1 stick celery, halved lengthwise and cut into ½cm pieces

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

1 tsp ground fennel seeds

1 tsp chilli flakes

150ml white wine

6 sage leaves and 1 bay leaf, tied in muslin

1 tsp dried oregano

½ a 400g tin of good-quality chopped tomatoes

100ml semi-skimmed milk

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

420–480g dried pappardelle, or 600–750g fresh egg pappardelle

aged Parmesan (24 months is a good choice)

olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 140˚C.

2. To make the ragout, season the boar, heat the olive oil in a large casserole or heavy pan, and fry

the boar in small batches to colour well. Drain and set to one side.

3. In the same pan, fry the pork mince, breaking it up into small chunks as you go. You are looking to colour the meat so use a fairly high heat and don’t overcrowd the pan. Remove from the pan and set aside with the boar. Tip off excessoil to leave around 2 tbsp.

4. Add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic to the pan and cook until starting to soften – around 10 minutes. Add the fennel seeds and chilli flakes and cook until aromatic. Add the wine and reduce by two-thirds. Add all the remaining ingredients, including the meat, and bring to a simmer. Season well, cover and place in the oven for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally and topping up with water if the meat is getting too dry. The boar should be breaking up into flakes when it is cooked. It may need a little encouragement with a fork. Adjust the seasoning and leave the sauce to rest while you cook the pasta.

5. To serve, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil – around a litre for every 100g of pasta, with 1 tsp of salt per litre. Cook the pa sta according to the packet instructions for al dente if dried, or 1–3 minutes if fresh.

6. Heat the ragout and, using tongs, transfer the pasta to the ragout. Don’t drain the pasta too carefully, as the starchy water that comes with it will emulsify the sauce and allow you to cook the pasta and sauce together for a minute or two.

7. Finish with a good glug of your favourite olive oil and some freshly grated Parmesan.

By Well Seasoned, Feb 13 2019 02:08PM

We're creeping slowly towards the warmer weather of spring. Although we may well still have some snow and sleet before we get there, we're starting to notice some of those early, welcome signs. In the last blog we looked at snowdrops. Today, we listen out for the beginnings of the dawn chorus...

The chorus of garden birdsong signals the start of the mating season as our feathered friends start looking to attract partners and defend their breeding territories. Beginning with blackbirds and robins in late February, other species will gradually join the chorus through to late May, when it reaches a glorious crescendo.

The sunrise singing provides a fascinating insight into the world of our birds. With a little patience, you’ll soon learn to distinguish individual species and the order in which they start to sing each day. They stick to a fairly rigid timetable and you might well prefer simply to soak up the atmosphere as you lie in bed – it begins around 4.30 a.m. this month, and as early as 3 a.m. as we reach the early summer.

The order of the birds song is dictated by the foods they eat and their ability to see in the low morning light. The early birds (blackbirds and robins) literally do catch the worms. These species have comparatively large eyes compared to their bodies and are able to see in the earliest, dim light of dawn. As the sun rises and light levels increase, insect-eaters (wrens) wake from their slumber. Finally, the seed-eaters (finches and sparrows) take their time and wait until just before daybreak.

So, expect to hear, in order:

Blackbird – monotonous chink, chink, chink followed by a distinct, low-pitched melody

Robin – high-pitched tick, tick, tick, followed by a cascade of warbling notes

Wren – chur, chur, churrrrr (at an impressive volume for such a small bird)

Chaffinch – distinct pink, pink, pink, followed by one of several flourishes

House sparrow – chattering and repetitive chirrup, chirrup.

By Well Seasoned, Jan 9 2019 09:47AM

January tends to get a raw deal. It’s the cold, dark, hungover month, often now sacrificed to the god of abstinence (or the new false prophet, detox). But as the new year begins, I think we should resolve to think more positively about it.

Cold, crisp mornings, bright blue skies, the days getting longer, snow... January has plenty of positive attributes. Granted, there’s still a long way to go until the warmer, brighter weather of spring, but it should be an exciting month. The short days mean we have plenty of time indoors to make plans for the year ahead. So, stock up on outdoor kit in the sales, brush up your nature knowledge and put the year’s seasonal adventures in the diary.

On the food front, the game season is still in full swing, with partridge, pheasant and duck all bringing a touch of wild class to our tables. Frost-resistant roots like parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and carrots are all quite content to sit tight during the coldest part of the year, doing nothing much apart from staying fresh.

Our coastline is still teeming with a great selection of fine fish that thrive in Britain’s cool, clear waters. Shellfish such as cockles, mussels and oysters are especially good this month and worth exploring as a tasty, lighter alternative to meat (especially if, like me, your trousers tend to inexplicably shrink over the Christmas period). If you’re feeling a bit cold at any point, you might spare a thought for our ever-reliable fishing fleet who are out in (nearly) all weathers so that the worst we have to endure is a slightly nippy stroll to the fishmonger’s.

After the gluttony and excess of the festive season, January is a bracing, fresh start to the year and the perfect place to begin our seasonal journey.

Our Out and About section this month looks for the emergence of snowdrops, one of the earliest signs that spring is on the way, and in most years you’ll see the very first ones make an appearance in late January. They are also known in some parts as Candlemas because of the time of year they emerge. As the saying goes, ‘The snowdrop, in purest white array, first rears her head on Candlemas Day’ (2nd February).

There are several species of snowdrop. Our native wild flowers have drooping white blooms with a small green patch on the inner petal tip and just one flower per stem. If you see any other kind on your winter walk it’s likely to originate from a cultivated variety (of which there are many). So, towards the end of the month, wrap up warm and take a wintery wander through damp woodland near to streams or ponds, keep a close eye on the ground and you should spot them. The delicate flowers you see were actually formed nearly a year ago, but they wait until the following winter before pushing up through the soil. (They contain a natural anti-freeze which helps them survive the icy weather. It’s so effective that the wild plants were harvested during the First World War to make de-icing chemicals for tanks.)


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