If you are still reeling from the excess eating over Christmas and New Year holidays and need some respite, January is not the month to be thinking about snacking out on salads. As Britain plunges into the depths of winter, we need to dig really deep in to the ground for any seasonal veg. If you do, you will find, beetroot swede, carrots, carrots, celeriac and the like.
Anything soft, green and British means looking towards cabbages, kale and you may find a little chard and perpetual spinach as long as temperatures remain above zero. Presented with these goodies, I would be cooking up thick, tasty soups – Cock-a-Leekie springs to mind - oven-roasted veggies and a gratin or two. Provided you take it easy with the crusty bread and butter or lashings of cream in the soup, you will be eating just as well as with any spring salad and fill up a lot quicker.
Storms and bad weather in January can often play havoc with our native fish and seafood so grab it when you can. You should easily be able to get mussels, whelks, clams and native oysters, all of which are particularly good right now thanks to the cold waters. If you can’t get hold of fresh fish, then think about smoked. Look out for smoked haddock ( Cullen Skink anyone?) and thick steaks of hot smoked salmon make a great alternative to meat plus you score many health points for eating this oily fish.
All is not gloomy and heavy in January food, there are two shiny jewels in the winter crown, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb and not so British in origin but in use, Seville Oranges.
If, like me, you are of a certain age, perhaps your memories of rhubarb are most likely of soggy bottomed tarts and custard-soaked crumbles in the school dining room, it was no wonder it disappeared into a culinary wilderness along with Spam fritters and faggots. The recent revival of the winter forced Yorkshire Rhubarb making its appearance in January, is thanks to the clever hands of leading chefs now who are using it in far more exciting ways than in school meals. The astringency of fresh rhubarb makes it a great partner to all fatty meats especially ones like pork, lamb and duck. This astringency also works really well alongside oily fish and is a dream of healthy ingredients. Rhubarb is as happy wrapped in pastry as it is served on a plump scallop, with a chunk of black pudding. Where once its only friend was sugar, you will now find it quite chummy with fennel, sweet herbs, spiced up in a curry or padding out a sorbet or an ice cream.
The season is short, so enjoy it while you can.
The bitter, juicy, Seville oranges are a once a year hit, and that time is right now as it is Marmalade time. The name Marmalade comes from the Portuguese word Marmelos, a quince paste similar in texture to an orange spread popular long before the commercialisation of marmalade in the late 18th century.
Despite the belief that marmalade was 'invented' in Scotland by James Keiller and his wife it was not - though due thanks must go to the Keiller who are generally credited with making the delicious breakfast preserve commercially available. The romantic notion of James Keiller discovering a cargo of bitter oranges being sold cheaply which his wife then turned into jam has long been outed considering the existence of recipes for similar 'jams' dating back to the 1500s.
According to food historian Ivan Day, one of the earliest known recipe for for a Marmelet of Oranges (close to what we know as marmalade today) comes from the recipe book of Eliza Cholmondeley around 1677. A Comprehensive History of Marmalade from the World Marmalade Awards.
Making marmalade cheers up any dreary winter’s day and fills the house with the refreshing scent of oranges. Though a lengthy- and some say tedious – process, the end result is so worth the effort when you place a jar on the breakfast table. If you have a sufficiently large freezer, whole Seville oranges freeze really well if you can’t be bothered to make marmalade right now. Seville’s are also good juiced and used in sauces for fatty meats, especially duck. Add a little of the juice to a gravy or sauce and see how it cuts through any greasiness, or try reducing with a little sugar to a thick glaze and paint it onto duck breasts before grilling or oven baking, easy and delicious.
Marmalades do not need to be made only with Sevile oranges. Think about swapping some of the orange citrus with lime or lemon to ring the changes. Add in a little whisky to add an extra bite, there are so many variations, though for me the traditional marmalade will always be the best.
January may be the darkest month in Britain, but there is still some wonderful foods to enjoy, and, more importantly, the days only get lighter here on in, so there is lots to look forward to, very soon.