With more hours of daylight than night, April marks the transition from winter to spring. Traditionally a lean month, with the last of the winter vegetables going out, some claim that there is a gap before the new season fares kick in – this is not strictly true. The new spring menu at The Gallery Restaurant is testament to the sheer volume of divine British produce available in April.
From the land…
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
From the sea…
Spotlight On: April’s Most Divine
Rhubarb is a vegetable with an identity crisis. Outlandishly coloured, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a fruit. Rhubarb is wonderful in a classic rhubarb fool, but is utterly irresistible in a comforting crumble accompanied by a sweet salted caramel ice cream. For an unexpected match made in heaven, try it with grilled mackerel or as a zesty substitute for apple sauce when serving roast pork.
Rhubarb is available earlier in the year, but this is what is commonly known as ‘forced rhubarb’ as it is grown in the dark. The second crop, called maincrop rhubarb, is grown outdoors, coming into its best in April. Its stalks are a deeper red, tinged with green, and its leaves a brighter green. It has a more intense flavour and a more robust texture than forced. When selecting rhubarb look for firm, crisp, plump stalks with good-looking, perky leaves.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli (PSB)
Purple Sprouting Broccoli (PSB) is in the height of its season right now. It is full of goodness, including vitamins A and C, iron, calcium and fibre. Broccoli’s colourful cousin, it’s nuttier, sweeter and crunchier. Steaming is the best way to lock the scrumptious flavour in - it encourages the spears to cook to tenderness without trapping water in their leafy, buddy nooks and crannies. A squeeze of lemon juice can give PSB a delectable depth.
When buying PSB you should hold out for young and tender. Darkly coloured with crisp stalks, no bigger than 1cm in diameter are best. It should snap cleanly when broken.
It may appear to be just an ugly, uninteresting, knobbly root but celeriac has inner beauty. The flesh - crispy when raw, silky smooth when cooked - has a delicate taste which suggests the flavours of celery and parsley with a slight nuttiness. Try it as mash, in big-flavoured, slow-cook dishes, or in its classic form, and as they do in France, as a remoulade. Celeriac stars in our new spring menu, alongside delicately pan-fried scallops, Oakwell black pudding and a rich port jus.
When shopping for celeriac you should look for a frim, medium-sized bulb that is free from soft spots or damage. Buy larger than you think you need – approximately a quarter of the weight to be discarded during preparation.
Watercress is a more peppery rival to rocket, but it is far more flavourful and packs a complex, nutritious punch. Generally, it’s used raw in salads or whizzed up in soups. However, at this time of year it's irresistible when served with pink grapefruit or blood oranges and smoked fish; it is gorgeous cooked too.
English watercress really does knock spots off the Dutch and French competition. Watercress tends to get sold in salad mixes, but there is some great watercress on sale in its own right – particularly the organic sort, which looks particularly green and packed with vitality.
Oysters are perhaps the most famous of aphrodisiacs; even well known lover Casanova was said to devour them by the dozen. They were first called aphrodisiacs by the ancient Romans who wrote about the immoral behavior of women who ate them.
Potent love-launchers or not: eating raw oysters is a pretty unique and invigorating experience. Bracing, salty, and tangy, they capture the essence of the sea in an edible form. Oyster experts will insist that they’re best eaten raw, perhaps with pinch of freshly ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice or drop of Tabasco sauce. However, they also make exquisite canapés.
To extract maximum flavour, deftly squash them between the roof of your mouth and tongue. April is your last chance to sample them at their best. Whilst they can be bought all year round, they are usually better outside of their spawning period (when the waters are colder). There’s a famous saying to 'only eat oysters when there’s an R in the month’ (between September and April).