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A Winter’s Feast

The food of the dark months is not a picnic, it’s a feast! writes Martin Hesp, on behalf of Food Drink Devon

The most wonderful thing about enjoying a love of cooking and eating is that it gives you the ability to become excited about even the gloomiest, coldest and wettest of seasons. The idea of deepest, darkest winter might make a non-food lover shudder, but for those of us who like to cook and eat, the season groans with promise.

All those thick, sustaining stews and savoury casseroles are capable of warming the coldest corners of the inner man, woman or child. Not to mention the lure of hot, silky soups and the sizzling orchestration of savouriness… otherwise known as the classic roast. And the satisfaction of a good sweet suet pudding, or steaming fruit crumble nestling in a flood of thick custard made from Devon cream.

You could argue winter is the most welcoming of all seasons when it comes to the act of cooking. Why? Simply because to cook is to heat – and that is exactly what we want on cold days. Warmth and something capable of imbuing us with energy and inner cosiness.

Many consumers find meat a great comforter during the colder months. “Keep it on the bone” – that is what I was once told by a leading West Country butcher. When talking of winter food, he insisted meat cooked on the bone was always more succulent and flavoursome than something filleted or deboned. “Heat travels through the bone to the muscle and cooks it from there,” he told me. “That changes the texture and flavour of the meat. For example, a rib of beef on the bone is fantastic,” he said. “Ask for the short cut rib-eye. If you are going for pork, ask for a chine end of the loin of pork – it carves superbly. It’s three times as good as a boneless leg.”

I try not to think about Christmas until December has begun – but it is worth considering your turkey now to make sure you get your order in. “Hen birds are best because they carry fat in the breast, which the stag bird won’t,” says my butcher friend. “Stag birds over 24lbs are fine because they’ve had time to develop. Another good thing about hens is that, if you have a 20lb bird, it’s more likely to fit in the oven because there’s not such a high rib cage.”

The seas are still teeming with fish. Red mullet is sometimes landed at West Country ports and it’s absolutely delicious. Haddock is still around and monkfish can be abundant, but pricey. The megrim is one of the best flatfish around and inexpensive. Choose scallops, as well as brown crab with shells full of meat.

Winter vegetables tend to have strong flavours, which complement solid stews and heavy meats. Take the ubiquitous sprout – buy the freshest Brussels you can find and look up some modern recipes. Red cabbage is another favourite and fantastic with all sorts of winter dishes, especially when braised. Savoys are in season and great tossed with bacon or garlic. Then there’s the golden promise of roast parsnips!

As part of its ongoing media partnership with Taste Buds, this is a series of articles written by Food Drink Devon.

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