Culinary Calendar: April

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As soon as April wheels round the heartier fare of the months before no longer feels at all right. Warmer days and lighter evenings – whether we’re enjoying them or merely hoping for them – mean that what we want to eat now are lighter dishes packed with flavour. Bang on cue, some of the best of Britain’s fish are showing impeccable timing by coming into season this month.  Show them off in these simple, quick recipes for sea trout, whitebait and brown shrimps.

Leek-baked sea trout (serves 2)

Sea trout is brown trout which spends half of its year in the sea before returning to the river. All that extra exercise and nutrition the trout gets whilst at sea does something extraordinary to the fish.  It becomes almost like wild salmon with a subtle and delicate flavour.  The best – and most – sea trout comes from Wales so keep a look out there for sewin on restaurant menus.  In this recipe the fillets are wrapped up in tenderised leek leaves before being baked with shallots, bacon and vermouth.

2 sea trout fillets approx 150g each
1 large leek, with just the very rough ends trimmed off
lemon
1 tbsp chopped tarragon
2tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
70g diced pancetta
100ml dry white vermouth

Cut off the green section of the leek, separate out the leaves and give those a good wash as you bring a large pan of water to the boil. Immerse the green leek leaves in the water for 3 minutes to tenderise. Drain and rinse in cold water. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Choose your four best leaves. Dry them and lay them out in two pairs. Sit a fillet on top of each set. Squeeze over some lemon, season, and sprinkle over the tarragon. Now wrap the leek leaves over. Use a cocktail stick to hold them in place if you need to. Transfer to a baking dish.

Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan and cook the shallots and pancetta until just browning. Scatter those over the sea trout parcels and then pour over the vermouth. Bake for 20 minutes. Buttered new potatoes and watercress work well alongside.

April Whitebait

Deep-fried whitebait with garlic mayonnaise

Young herrings used to be all the rage as whitebait. Particularly so in the second half of the 1800s when groups or courting couples would take a jaunt along the Thames to Greenwich where, from the right (pub) spot, they could watch the herring nets come in and enjoy their whitebait cooked fresh from the catch.

With our modern focus on sustainability young herrings are off the menu. Sprats are the stand-in which allow whitebait to still be enjoyed. They’re small and tasty and a pleasure to both cook and eat. Simply dip them in milk, dust with flour, deep fry until golden brown, and then serve with a squeeze of lemon. The only other thing you will need is this garlic mayonnaise. And a glass of very well chilled, very dry white wine.

2 cloves garlic
2 egg yolks
1tsp dijon mustard
1tsp cider vinegar
175ml sunflower oil
75ml extra-virgin olive oil

Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature before you start. Peel the garlic cloves and crush them to a paste with a hefty pinch of salt. Add into a bowl with the egg yolks, mustard, vinegar and some pepper. Mix together thoroughly.

Mix together the oils and then slowly pour them into the other ingredients. Go slowly, keep whisking, and make sure what you have added is properly mixed in before adding more. Carry on adding and whisking until your mayonnaise is heavy and lustrous. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Brown shrimps on hot buttered toast (serves 2)

Lancashire’s brown shrimps are most famously potted with cayenne, nutmeg and clarified butter. That tradition is hard to beat but I feel it can certainly be at least matched in this recipe where hot brown shrimps are heated through with garlic, sherry and cayenne before being piled high onto buttered toast.

April Brown shrimps

30g butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
100g cooked brown shrimps
150ml fino sherry
pinch cayenne pepper
lemon
handful chopped flat leaf parsley

Melt the butter in a small frying pan. Lightly fry the garlic in the butter for a minute but do not let it colour. Stir in the brown shrimps.

Add the fino and cayenne, and then let it bubble for a few minutes to reduce a little. Give it a squeeze of lemon, a grinding of pepper and finish with the parsley. Take the pan to the table and serve with plenty of bread or hot buttered toast. Be sure to mop up all the delicious juices too.

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