Spring delivers an exciting larder of fresh British produce for pub caterers to embrace on menus and specials.
Wild garlic leaves start appearing this month, which add a wonderful flavour to soups and sauces, while its flowers, available from April to June, can pack a flavour punch in dishes such as salads and sandwiches. Lancashire heritage tomatoes are also now available to add a colour and flavour burst to a wealth of Spring dishes including starters and salads.
Use both wild garlic leaves and heritage tomatoes in this delicious starter with mozzarella and baby leeks.
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April sees the arrival of British asparagus, dubbed the Usain Bolt of the vegetable world as it can grow up to 10cm in a day. Its availability, on the other hand, is short! It’s available until June, and the season officially gets under way on National Asparagus Day and St George’s Day on 23 April, which is an ideal time to introduce new season English asparagus, such as that from the Wye Valley, to your menu.
As well as classic dishes such as asparagus with poached eggs and hollandaise, it is also a fantastic seasonal accompaniment to steaks, or serve it pickled with white flaky fish like stone bass. Cold pickle it, to help retain its colour and crunchiness, at least a week in advance of serving.
Asparagus is also an ideal ingredient for fresh pasta dishes, tarts and frittatas. Don’t just use the tips, as the stalks are also full of flavour and can be used thinly sliced in soups, to create an asparagus stalk pesto, or in omelettes or salads.
Try this tasty asparagus strips salad with Yorkshire rhubarb and pea shoots.
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Customers love seeing seasonal star Jersey Royals on menus. I enjoy cooking these nutty flavoured potatoes with morel mushrooms, serving with fish dishes or as the hero in a warm potato salad with goat’s cheese and beetroot. Jersey Royal potato cakes also make a great accompaniment to main courses such as Spring lamb dishes.
With the Easter weekend coming up from 10 to 13 April, make sure you have cracking Easter dishes on offer to help your menu stand out from the crowd. Celebrate lamb in specials such as lamb cutlets with artichoke puree. Chocolate is of course a menu must for desserts, so why not offer a chocolate ganache with poached rhubarb jelly on top.
For more information on what’s in season see the Oliver Kay Spring 2020 Crop Report.
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As well as looking to plant-based proteins for meat alternative dishes, vegetables with a meatier texture such as mushrooms are also ideal for creating flavour-packed menu options.
Mushrooms have the ‘umami’ or savoury taste characteristic of many meats, which is why they are such an effective meat alternative.
Among meaty mushrooms I recommend are the King Oyster, also known as Eryngi mushrooms, which have lots of texture and which makes them ideal for replacing ingredients such as squid and scallops in dishes. We source our extensive range of exotic mushrooms, including shitake, oyster and king oysters from British grower Smithy Mushrooms in Lancashire.
Create a pulled ‘pork’ using King oysters and BBQ sauce, which can be served in burger bun or as a filling for tacos. The ‘pork’ can also be given a jerk flavour and served with rice and peas.
Use oyster mushrooms to create a pressed vegan ‘steak’ by pan-frying the mushrooms as a cluster, press another pan on top while frying and keep flipping over and pressing until it looks like a steak, which you can season as you wish. It’s delicious served with scrambled tofu as a vegan ‘steak and eggs’ served with potato and kale hash.
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Oyster mushrooms also work well in this mushrooms on toast dish, which is ideal as a starter or bar snack.
For a stunning specials board main course, offer this king oyster mushroom dish which takes advantage of the perfect partnership between mushrooms and Asian flavours.
Event idea: National Steak Day 2020 -
Steak has a special place on many pub menus and this national promotion on 25 April will see pubs and restaurants around the country offering a discount on their steaks, or featuring steak meal deals. It is the ideal time to spotlight the great steaks you offer and shout about how well sourced, skilfully cooked and beautifully presented they are.
Look beyond just traditional cuts for your steak offer, such as the five best-selling cuts highlighted by Oliver Kay’s sister company Countrywide Butchers in the Bidfresh 2020 Vision report into eating-out trends (get the full report here), which are rib-eye, flat iron, fillet, rump and feather blade.
For something special feature sharing steaks such as bone-in prime beef cut côte de boeuf or chateaubriand, which I recommend removing the sinew from, and cooking as one big solid piece of steak.
Start cooking your steaks from room temperature and season a few minutes before you cook, which also helps to dry out the outer surface of the steak so you get a nice crust when cooking it.
Pan-fried asparagus is a lovely accompaniment too. After cooking your steak and while it is resting, cook the asparagus in the same pan as all the meat juices, butter and garlic so it infuses with all the great flavours and nothing goes to waste.
Serve tomatoes still on the vine with your steaks, which not only look great but also retain all the aroma and flavour of the tomatoes.
For a great non-meat option offer cauliflower steaks. Poach or blanch the steak before roasting so they don’t burn. After poaching add a glaze or topping and give the steak a quick flash in the oven. Harissa works well with cauliflower, so blend into chickpeas for a harissa hummus to bake on top. Or use a shawarma or tandoori seasoning or a cauliflower cheese thermidor as tempting toppings too.
Be resourceful and avoid waste: herb stalks
When it comes to soft stalk herbs, look beyond the leaves for usage to add flavour and cut waste. When making curry pastes separate the leaves and stalks, using the stalks to make the paste and the leaves for finishing the dish for service. The flavours of the leaves are very delicate and don’t stand up to being cooked in a curry over a long period of time, but the stalks keep flavour for lot longer.
The stalks of parsley and coriander can also be used to make herb oils to add an extra finishing element for dishes. Also use to make pesto or to blend in dips, such as hummus, to add to the flavour.
The stalks can also be dried out, blitzed up and used as a seasoning like a dry herb product.
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