Nature’s direction from a chef’s perspective never disappoints . . .
The next few months will see nature turn a corner with its offerings and bring more comforting ingredients across our menus.
Now the wild fruits and game season creep up upon us and we can all forget about summer dieting, and look forward to fattening up for the winter. The hot summer has allowed the fruits to beautifully ripen and now it’s time to get among the hedgerows and trees and ‘get the lot’ as my Great Grandad Harry Musk famously said. Nana always smiles thinking back to her childhood when Grandad would ask her to walk down to ‘Bushell’s’ on Mildenhall Road in Fordham (near Newmarket) to ‘get the lot’ a phrase meaning buy everything in the crates and off the cart…and if it wasn’t out on display you would knock the door for it. His new carrots were high prize in Fordham and are still spoken about to this day. I always laugh listening to the stories but I almost feel I missed out on a generation of ingredients which must have been a chef’s dream to prepare and cook. Real, honest produce grown, sold, shared and eaten by village friends.
The glorious twelfth (August 12th) marks the busiest day in the shooting calendar and kicks off with shoots across Britain for the famous red grouse. The industry goes mad for it and pays inflated prices to ensure they have it ordered and ready to celebrate on their menus. I made the decision this year to wait and celebrate it later, once the hype has calmed down and we can acquire a consistent, ethical level of birds through the door at a price we can then sell for good value to our customers.
If cooking grouse, I recommend taking the breasts off the bone, it is a more friendly way to eat it rather than tackling a small carcass. Break the carcass down with a large knife and slowly caramelize it in butter and fresh thyme till golden brown. Once all the bird is browned, hit it with a good lug of white wine and some brown chicken stock. I prefer white wine in the sauce as it carries a lighter essence to what I find is a rich piece of meat. Leave the red for drinking. To serve, cook the breasts skin side down and finish with lots of butter. Give it a good rest, remember there is minimal fat on the grouse so it can dry out rather quick, serve pink. Rich mash inspired by chef Joel Robuchon, always a winner with this bird (half butter to potato), hedgerow fruits, crispy bacon, some hearty greens and a full bodied, Super, Tuscan Italian red. The perfect plate of comfort ready for the cooler coming months.
Crab apples have benefited from the recent warm weeks and the sharp flavour makes for a great preserve or a syrup for glazing puddings and sweet tarts. Rose hips, damsons and blackberries are all in abundance and great for smashing up in a jam. An easy jam recipe, if trying it out, is equal sugar to fruit and one lemon while boiling to add pectin to the mix.
There’s nothing like making your own.
Autumn… I am ready.
-- Lee Bye is head chef at Tuddenham Mill. Follow him on Twitter: @leebyechef