Savour columnist Richard Allen – and executive chef at Rockliffe Hall’s Orangery – talks spring flavours.
At last, the spring solstice is upon us, a time for new beginnings, new life and the green shoots of nature to start popping up everywhere.
This wonderful time of year is almost always heralded by the sweet yet pungent scent of wild garlic. Ramsons holds a very special place in my heart as it was the first wild ingredient I ever pointed out to my wife, Leanne, a long time ago on a woodland walk. Now every time she smells it she’ll shout out ‘wild garlic’.
We always use wild garlic in the kitchens of the Orangery as we are surrounded by huge sweeping carpets of the lovely stuff here on the estate. We use the first shoots for salads and risottos, the larger leaves for purées, infused oils and soups and finally the flowers to garnish a dish or to turn into vinegar.
We currently have four different vintages of vinegar and over time the older ones have taken on a smoother taste and mellowed in intensity, which is why this year we have paired the vinegar with some beautiful hand-dived scallops and an intense mussel velouté.
Over the years, my food has become a lot simpler and I find myself removing things rather than adding them. For me, it’s all about the main ingredient and keeping it simple, whilst still having that flavour that literally smacks you in the face.
With this in mind, all focus has to go towards finding the very best suppliers and during my time at Rockliffe that’s been one of the most exciting journeys – watching my relationships grow with the people who make it all possible in the first place. There is something magical about watching a delivery of uber-fresh fish arrive at the back door knowing your guests will be eating it in a few hours. It’s one of the greatest gifts as a chef, making people happy.
One ingredient you can’t overlook at this time of year is the Rolls Royce of vegetables: asparagus. It’s so versatile you can literally do anything with it. It pairs wonderfully with grilled meats, is great for the BBQ and can even be eaten raw with some funky little dips. For me though, one of the best ways to enjoy these little spears of joy is in a soup, and yes you’ve guessed it, thrown together with its old friend wild garlic.
We use the peelings and the woodier bits of stalk for the base of the soup, thinly slice and dress the tender part of the stalk and sauté the tips in some nut brown butter with lemon and sea salt for garnish. This seasonal soup has been the backdrop for many dishes over the years and goes nicely with a flaky crab mayonnaise, some pan-fried sea bass or even a gently cooked loin of rabbit.
Whichever one you decide to try with the soup make sure it’s the best stuff you can possibly lay your hands on, because that’s where the magic starts. If you have the time, get out there and pick some wild garlic. It’s a great day out for the family and you’ll all love tasting the fruits of your labour.
Until the next time, happy cooking.