You may be reeling around from excess eating over Christmas and New Year, but January is not the month to be snacking out on salads. As we plunge into the depths of winter, we need to dig deep in the ground for such seasonal veg as swede, carrots, celeriac and the like. Anything green and British means cabbage and kale, though you may find a little chard and perpetual spinach as long as temperatures remain above zero.
If I were presented with that lot for a Ready-Steady-Cook challenge, I would brew up thick, tasty soups – Scotch Broth springs to mind – as well as 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.
Moving offshore, you should easily be able to get mussels, whelks, clams and native oysters, all of which are particularly good right now. But January storms and inclement weather can play havoc with native fish, so get it when you can.
And if you can’t get hold of fresh fish, think about smoked. Look out for smoked haddock (see my haddock chowder recipe) and thick pink steaks of hot smoked salmon. They make a great alternative to meat, and you score mega health points for eating this oily fish.
There are other flashes of colour in January, too. Two shiny jewels in the winter crown are new-season British forced rhubarb and Seville oranges (which may not be British in origin but are very much so in use). I wrote about forced rhubarb here just a few weeks ago, but the bitter, juicy oranges are a once-a-year hit, and that time is right now.
We owe our thanks James Keiller, who in the late 18th century bought a cheap cargo of Seville oranges but discovered they were bitter and therefore unsellable in his Dundee shop. His enterprising wife took them home and made a jam, from which sprang our beloved marmalade.
Making marmalade cheers up any dreary winter’s day and fills the house with a refreshing, tangy scent. Though a lengthy – and some say tedious – process, the end result is so worth the effort when you plonk a jar on the breakfast table. If you have a sufficiently large freezer and can’t be bothered to make marmalade right now, whole Seville oranges freeze really well.
They also taste 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 it with a little sugar to a thick glaze and paint it on to duck breasts, then grill or oven bake them. Easy and delicious.