Throughout the year, Tom Parker Bowles will be sharing his advice on how to eat seasonlly, month-by-month. We kick things off with his tips on January — which include an outstandingly enticing recipe for blood orange sorbet.
What food is in season in January?
Beetroot; blood orange; cabbage; cauliflower; clams; clementine; cockles; forced rhubarb; goose; horseradish; Jerusalem artichoke; kale; leeks; mallard; mussels; mutton; oyster; partridge; parsnip; pheasant; purple-sprouting broccoli; radicchio; salsify; satsuma; Seville orange; swede; truffles (black); turnip; venison
I love January for its bleak, but pleasing purity, when Christmas excess is swept out with those last pine needles and common sense rules once more. Oh, and the joys of a virgin diary, the pages still blissfully unsullied. The first month of the year is not so much rebirth as reset, a moment of fresh optimism before those resolutions crumble like a pinch of Demerara sugar.
January is not glum or parsimonious, rather brisk, no nonsense and to the point — with cooking to match. It’s a time for comfort: stews, braises and slow-cooked succour. Although the booze consumption may sink to more sensible levels (or even to nothing at all), now is not the time to embark on some pious detox diet. As for ‘clean eating’… this hateful term should be banished to bad-taste hell forever, never to be spoken of again. Sanctimony is antithetical to the enjoyment of food. Winter is all about warmth.
The brassicas are still out in full force and very lovely they are, too. We should also remember that a Brussels sprout is not just for Christmas.
In fact, I’d happily munch them all year round, sliced into rounds and fried in butter, with a splash of stock, a squeeze of lemon and a scattering of thyme. Throw in some crisp bacon to make the sort of lunch that warms both heart and gut.
Cabbage is packed full of goodness, either steamed and drowned in pepper and butter or thrown into a sizzling hot wok with a few chopped garlic cloves and a lusty glug of fish sauce.
Even kale, once thought fit only for fodder, is wonderful when sautéed with garlic and chilli or deep fried, so it crisps and resembles that addictive ‘seaweed’ from the local Chinese takeaway.
Game is in abundance, even if the season is drawing to a close, and I always find this a good month to go through the freezer. Be brutal! Partridge are usually scarce by now, but pheasant — of which there always seems to be a deep-frozen glut — are either slipped into a Fergus Henderson pie (cleaved in half and cooked with pigs’ trotters, a bottle of red, bacon, chicken stock and all manner of aromatics) or cured in salt and juniper, then thinly sliced to make a rather fine pheasant ham. Anything left over after that goes into the stockpot, but do beware old grouse. They tend to dominate an otherwise subtle broth.
Quite why we don’t eat more venison, I’ll never know. Lean, ethical in all the right ways and with a flavour ranging from the delicate to the bold, it never ceases to satisfy. Slice thinly into carpaccio or into tiny cubes, with salt and juniper berries, for an easy tartare. Or roast a great haunch and feast like Henry VIII.
Then, there’s the Seville orange. Not exactly British, but a seasonal treat to relish all the same. I would love to say that my marmalade is a legendary Dalemain champion, but, after too many years spent turning the kitchen floor into a human fly trap (that sugar solution seems to get everywhere), I now leave it to the experts.
Nothing, however, beats the bitter tang of the best homemade. And, on the subject of citrus, don’t forget the blood orange, which is the star of the recipe here. It may be born under bluer skies than our own, but, for me, it’s as much a part of January as kale, cabbage or swede — a much-needed ray of Mediterranean sun to pierce through those drab winter days.
January’s recipe: Blood-orange sorbet
Makes about 1 litre
For the sorbet syrup (yields 400ml)
- 125g granulated or caster sugar
- Stabiliser: 1 level tspn locust-bean gum powder or 2tbspn starch (arrowroot or cornflour)
- 225ml water
- 50g glucose (also known as dextrose) syrup or powder, or light runny honey
For the blood-orange ‘gelato’
- 600ml blood-orange juice (about 1½kg oranges, depending on juiciness)
To make the sorbet syrup start by stirring together the sugar and stabiliser thoroughly in a small bowl.
Put the water and glucose or runny honey in a saucepan. Heat gently and bring to the boil.
Pour the contents of the bowl into the saucepan in a steady stream, stirring all the time with a whisk. Bring back to just boiling, then remove from the heat.
Leave the syrup to cool until tepid before using. (It will keep for up to a week in the fridge.)
To make the blood-orange ‘gelato’, blend together the blood-orange juice and sorbet syrup. Transfer the mixture to your ice-cream machine and churn until fully firm.
Before serving, put the blood-orange gelato in the freezer for half an hour or so, to firm up. If it has been stored in the freezer longer and is too firm, allow it to soften in the fridge until scoopable.
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