Cooking with the Seasons
My preference has always been to source and cook food seasonally, and one of the many joys of this ethic is the anticipation factor. Allowing your cooking to be guided by the seasons is immensely satisfying. At the restaurant, the guys in the kitchen anticipate the various seasons like children waiting for Christmas: the arrival of that British gem the English asparagus in early summer, Jersey Royals in spring, and so on.
The change of the seasons is a matter of some debate, what with the summer now coming later and autumn virtually never ending; you need to be prepared for this to be something of a moveable feast. A great way to keep updated on these seasonal offerings is to frequent your local farmers’ markets, which will enable you multiple advantages when hosting this seasons’ dinner parties.
I recently had the pleasure of spending a Sunday morning foraging through Borough Market, one of my favourite farmers’ markets in London. Borough Market, local to South London, is not only geographically great for me, but stands out as having a varietal spread of meat, fish, and vegetable suppliers; many of which we work with on the wholesale side of it as well, so I’m quite familiar with their products and the incredible quality of their ingredients. Buying good quality ingredients seems obvious, but if you shop for the best of the best in season, your end result will undoubtedly be all the better for it. And don’t be afraid to ask the purveyor about the source of any meat and fish.
When shopping for a dinner party, I always, always begin with the protein. Supermarkets tend to trick you into shopping badly, by making you buy your fruit and vegetables first, to then come back and choose your protein afterwards. When actually, the ideal way to shop is to shop for your protein first and then build your menu around that with starters and puddings that are relevant to the main course. If you were to find an incredible, large rib of beef, you probably want to devise a starter on the lighter side.
I was in luck on Sunday, and happened upon an incredible whole Sea Bass, which I decided would make the perfect protein to design my menu around. If you have never tried Salt-Baking a fish, now is the time. This is one of those techniques that may on first glance feel a bit daunting to replicate. It is actually an incredibly simple technique to master; not to mention quick, delicious, and full of theatre on the plate.
The market was bustling, and the produce seemingly never ending. New spring English peas and verdant bunches of fresh mint immediately caught my attention. I decided to start the meal off with an English pea and mint soup, followed by my Salt-baked Sea Bass (which I matched with some stunning breakfast radishes). For pudding, I went for a classic Knickerbocker Glory, a favourite of mine as you can easily adapt the recipe depending on the fruit in season.
You really can, and should, take your time here when it comes to creating your menu; and the beauty of local farmers’ markets is that it’s an absolute joy to. Browse up and down, ask questions, smell the produce, use your eyes; what looks good? What jumps out at you? Above all, work methodically, get everyone involved, and have a whole lot of fun.
Top Tip: Feel free to purchase your protein and leave it with the butcher or fishmonger to collect on your way out, this is common, and ensures that both your protein remains fresh for as long as possible and your carrier bags don’t get weighed down at the start of the day.