This week, Culture introduces a new columnist in Pascal Canevet, owner chef of the award-winning French restaurant Maison Bleue
December conjures up so many memories of good times and delicious food. It’s a time for sharing and a time to celebrate the abundance of rich flavours and local produce our county has to offer.
The festive season is the perfect excuse for food lovers to try out new textures and tastes, delving into cookbooks to find the perfect new dish to delight their family and friends or to dine out, enjoying the diverse eateries on our doorstep.
As the winter takes hold we turn to rich robust flavours and simple warming dishes. If I could capture the essence of the season it would be the beautiful mellow light we enjoy in Suffolk, a hearty meal and the earthy, fresh fragrance that winter brings.
For me, this season is all about layers of flavours; building intense notes and delicious combinations to create warming dishes that evoke the season and create lasting memories. We enjoy a wealth of excellent food producers in East Anglia with our renowned coastline, marshland, fertile farmland and woodlands. Creating our festive menu is one of the highlights of the year, using exceptional locally-sourced produce from suppliers that, over the years, have become our good friends.
For all your festive gatherings you’ll find plenty of inspiration walking around a farmers’ market. It’s a simple pleasure, but a real joy to experience. A visual treat, a show-stopping palette of seasonal colour that I absolutely love – from the deep inky purple of red cabbage, the bright orange of squash to the rich earthy green of broccoli. Colour is such an important element of a successful dish. You can really play with presentation, creating vibrant dishes with the simplest of ingredients. There’s also butchers, cheesemakers, fishmongers, bakers, gin, cider and winemakers. Local producers offering us exceptional choice, artisan food and friendly service. What’s not to like!
For me, game is very much a signature of the season, from the sweet taste of pheasant and nutty flavour of wood pigeon to the delicious richness of venison. You can’t go wrong serving game with an all-time favourite comfort food – mashed potato. We use local potatoes from Hall Farm in Bury St Edmunds. They have the perfect waxy texture for the ultimate creamy mash. I feature local Breckland venison on our festive menu at Maison Bleue, complementing the flavour with roasted chestnut and local broccoli. It’s a delicious taste combination with depth and intensity that, for me, sums up the winter months with every delicious mouthful. Sustainably sourced from the wild, Breckland venison is a lean meat grazed on local meadows, moorlands and our beautiful woodlands.
And to drink? Warmly-spiced mulled wines and ciders make the perfect welcome and fill your home with the festive aromas of Christmas. I like to use a good full-bodied red wine, adding a twist with a dash of homemade sloe gin. Suffolk foragers have enjoyed a good season this year with the Brecks boasting an abundance of plump sloes.
If you’re looking for a memorable finalé to your celebration dinner, why not try homemade petit-four? I enjoy making caramel as a festive treat for my godsons and family. Indulgently sweet with a subtle saltiness, it’s irresistible! Served with good coffee, it’s certain to add a touch of Christmas sparkle!
Festive Salted Butter Caramel
Makes 40 to 50 caramels
550g salted butter
330g crème fraiche
750g caster sugar
8g fleur de sel
Line a 2cm high and 20cm long pan with non-stick baking paper.
In a medium-size saucepan, set over low heat, cook the sugar, glucose, butter and fleur de sel together, stirring gently to make sure the sugar melts smoothly. Once the mixture is melted together and the sugar is evenly moistened, continue cooking the syrup until it reaches 120oC and a nice uniform medium caramel colour.
Gently pour in the cold crème fraiche, carefully stirring with a long-handled spoon.
Cook the salted butter caramel until it reaches 115oC for 5 minutes.
Pour the hot salted butter caramel into a prepared pan lined with baking paper and allow it to cool at room temperature.
Once cooled, remove the caramel and peel away the baking paper. Slice the bar of caramel with a long sharp knife into regular pieces.
To serve, finish the salted butter caramels with a sprinkling of roasted sesame seeds. A delicious combination of flavours that your friends will love.
Pascal Canevet is owner chef of Maison Bleue, an intimate fine dining restaurant serving a modern French menu with an emphasis on fish.
Churchgate Street, Bury St Edmunds. maisonbleue.co.uk/01284 760623.