Our Chefs Cook Up Spring Inspired Menus
As caterers for weddings and events we’re not only delivering exciting, bespoke menus for clients this season, but we’re also planning menus for next season and the season after…even the season after that! So we sat down with our Head Chefs, Andy & Mike, this week to see what kind of menus they’re working on for Spring 2020 and to chat about some of their favourite dishes and ingredients they like to work with.
Are you planning a wedding or special event in March, April and into May 2020 or 2021? Then these ideas and suggestions from our chefs are a great starting point for your menu. Hopefully there’s a little food inspiration in there and one or two recipe ideas that are new and you may want to try.
Head Chef, Andy’s, favourite Spring dishes
Our Head Chef, Andy, is known affectionately to us as “The Fusion Chef”. He’s modest about it, but Andy has a great talent for spices, herbs and aromatic flavours and talks passionately about creating menus that are a taste experience. Andy has been working on spring menus for 2020 and we’ve got a little insight into how he crafted some of these amazingly delicious dishes.
Spring suits itself well to starter course dishes….
Spring is a great time of year for plants, vegetables and leaves and so great for starters. It’s a short season for food produce (only lasts about eight weeks), so when ingredients like wild garlic and asparagus are at their best, I want to use them as much as possible before they’re gone!
Fruits in spring are just starting to come through and because spring in the UK is still a little colder, we still want some substantial meals that are comforting and warming. We don’t get the explosion of flavours from fruits like we do in summer.
I always start crafting menus by using ingredients that are in season now. A great example of this is that you don’t eat shellfish unless there’s an “R” in the month. Fish is another great example of being mindful of seasonality and using ingredients when they’re at their best. When fish are breeding in the summer months, they’re full of roe and have less meat on them, so in spring time, fish can be a great dish to enjoy as they’re more meaty and less “tired”.
For the starters courses, my first dish is a Chicken, Leek & Preserved Lemon Terrine.
I love brightening dishes with things such as caper berries, a classic version of a sharp pickle flavour, to a dish. They’ve got a little more bite, but not as harsh and so they sit nicely with the chicken without being overpowering. This also cuts through the oil of aioli.
As a vegetarian starter Asparagus Velouté provides the best of spring. As I’ve said, Asparagus is synonymous with spring and by adding pickled, crispy shallots and a drizzle of truffle oil gives a great balanced dish of fresh green colour, crisp texture and earthy flavour of the truffle.
My fish starter is Pan-Fried Scallops.
Top Tip: Adding white chocolate and caviar instead of butter in a sauce makes it rich and silky, removing the grease you get from butter. Heston Blumenthal pioneered this and it works really well with scallops!
Spring inspired main course dishes
For my main course, I’ve started with a Chicken Supreme. It gets its name as a classic cut of chicken. Served chicken breast, also known as the French trim that is trimmed at the knuckle, with a little bit of wing bone adds to the presentation and the bone helps the chicken maintain it’s moisture, adding more flavour to the meat. This dish is delicately served over a bed of tarragon-infused gnocchi with tender stem broccoli and pesto with a lemon butter. Delicious!
If you’re choosing a fish dish, then Mackerel is my absolute favourite fish. A fish that I believe is under-used as smoked mackerel can often be perceived as a little oily and “fishy”, but when you pan-fry it, it’s taste profile is immense. It’s a cheaper fish to use and a nice alternative to cod. Wasabi, horseradish and beetroot are three ingredients that go exceptionally well with Mackerel and so I’ve chosen to use two different types of beetroot with a golden puree for colour and texture against the classic pickled beetroot. The confit lemon and orange bring in seasonal citrus flavours and balance this dish perfectly.
For a vegetarian option I’ve gone for a classic Cannelloni. A little on the cusp of summer. This dish includes another ingredient I love working with – pasta, and again a dish with flavours that go really well together – basil, tomato and mozzarella with pasta – you can’t get a more classic combination of flavours.
Desserts are all about Rhubarb in Spring
For desserts, I’ve started with a Steamed Lemon Sponge, a classic, especially if it’s a cold spring day! This dish is warming and comforting and provides those seasonal citrus notes.
In spring, we have to include rhubarb as this along with citrus are the flavours that we need to take advantage of when they’re at their best. Going into summer, rhubarb can taste a little woody, but in spring it’s delicious – eat as much as you can! The leaves can be toxic, so clearly we don’t cook with them! Rhubarb not only goes well with desserts, but you can use it as a savoury ingredient and goes really well with pork with a rhubarb and ginger compote – it’s a great pairing with ginger.
Rhubarb and custard cheesecake is an old take on the rhubarb and custard boiled sweets from back in the day. So for me this is a taste of nostalgia and childhood as I loved these sweets as a kid.
Banoffee Pie is an utter favourite of mine. I can’t say much else other than; banana, toffee, chocolate and cream…why not?!
Head Chef, Mike’s, favourite Spring dishes
Our Head Chef, Mike, is an alchemist in the kitchen and particularly when it comes to desserts and working with chocolates. Mike is an academic with food and researches ingredients, flavours and provenience intently. When we’re creating new dishes in the kitchen lab, Mike is often found crafting menus that our clients have literally dreamt up!
What does Spring mean to a Chef?
When I think of spring I think of a quote I heard – spring is “summer in the light and winter in the shade”, originally quoted from Charles Dickens himself! I love it when the seasons change as we get new ingredients coming through and working with fresh, seasonal ingredients is my favourite thing. The food starts getting lighter and more playful in spring. Canapés are a great place to start for me when crafting my spring menu as I see canapés as the entry to the meal. I wanted to create a very British spring menu – it’s quite a modern menu.
Modern British Canapés
Here’s three easy, but delicious canapés that I’ve really enjoyed putting together. First up is a Mini Buttered Crumpet, Pickled Kohlrabi & Brown Shrimp. Pickled Kohlrabi is a cabbage – a firm cabbage, grated with a light pickle and it needs to find it’s place between the “buttery-ness” of the crumpet and the spice of the brown shrimp.
Next, I bring you a vegan canapé, a Broad Bean & Mint Bruschetta, taking full advantage of the plants and vegetables coming into their own in spring. Broad bean, mint and pea with a lemon dressing are all classic spring ingredients coming out on a bruschetta base. This is a clean, fresh and light canapé on a crisp bed.
Finally, I created a Smoked Bacon & Parmesan Custard Tart. The smoked bacon and parmesan custard is a savoury custard. This canapé provides a really nice balance with the creamy richness and saltiness of the bacon, against the peas and chive for a fresh finish.
Canapés for me are one-bite, definitely no more than two! Just sometimes you need a second bite when you’ve had something delicious and amazing. For me, canapés are light, fun and provide great social eating roles on the menu. They shouldn’t distract you from what you’re doing, whether you’re mingling outside, or enjoying a drinks reception in a beautiful building. They’re a background food, but I want to eliminate the association with buffet food and get people excited about what they’re main meal will be…
Starter courses – Asparagus, beans and peas
For the fish dish I was deliberating between cod and hake, but the more I thought about it I kept leaning to cod. It’s a really diverse fish. It’s flaky, soft and crispy skin goes well with lots of ingredients. Crispy golden skin, basted in butter with a creamy, mellow avocado mousse contrasts with chorizo crisps giving texture and a lighter flavour. The tomato and herb sauce is fresh and fragrant and acts as a go between for the fish, avocado and chorizo. Rather than being a garnish for the sake of a garnish, this acts as a bridge to the flavours that brings the dish together.
Asparagus is at it’s absolute best in spring and I like to cook it in a frying pan with a shallow boil of butter and water. It should still have some crispness to it – a nice crunch. Truffle shavings adds some earthiness and poached egg brings a little joy as the yolk runs out when you cut-through. All of these flavours compliment one another and provide plenty textures and flavours.
For the meat starter course I’ve gone for Crispy Pork Cheeks. Slow-cooked and breaded for some added texture, these will melt in your mouth. It’s a slight nod back to winter as it’s meaty and hearty, but a great early spring dish. A light garnish with apple puree is enough. Apple and pork are best of friends with the balance of fresh crunch and the richness of pork. The shallots help with the savoury note and gribiche is like a tartar sauce with egg and normally bound with mayo. Lots a great herbs, combined with capers and the grated hard boiled egg adds flavour and again balances the flavours of the whole dish.
Lamb is such a Spring classic…but it should be from Cornwall!
The classic main course dish for spring had to be a Lamb dish and so to showcase this at it’s best I chose a Duo of Lamb. A Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb & Shoulder Croquette. The loin is a premium cut which isn’t too fatty, sealed, roasted and brushed with dijon mustard. It is then rolled in a crumb of breadcrumbs, thyme, rosemary, parsley, a little parmesan and mint, combined with oil and seasoning. The crumb will be bright green in colour and look just wonderful on the plate.
My favourite place for Lamb is Cornwall and it’s really interesting as to why. The soil content in Cornwall only allows the grass to a certain length and so the Lamb don’t get too fatty. The landscape also makes the Lamb exercise more so they’re lean and strong. Some fat makes the meat flavoursome, but I don’t want too much.
Then add a Shoulder croquette – a slow cut shoulder – four or five hour roasted, studded with rosemary, pulled down and shaped and rolled in breadcrumbs to add some great texture.
The potato galette is essentially laid discs, layered up into a mini-disc tower, seasoned and then baked until crisp – absolutely delicious. Topped with some gem lettuce, buttery stock, broad beans and peas.
For the fish I’ve gone for a salmon fillet which I like to cook medium rare. Pink in the middle with a little softness tastes incredible. I don’t like salmon too dry and think this is the best way to enjoy a salmon. A touch of rosemary with capers and sliced potatoes is then infused together with a wild garlic sauce. Wild garlic was a big on-trend addition to dishes last year and I love cooking with this ingredient. Salmon has a light flavour and the crab salad gives another dimension of fish. Mayonnaise binds the crab meat and a hint of lemon is just wonderful.
For the vegetarian main course, I’ve gone for Herb Gnocchi with some chervil that gives a nice light aniseed flavour. A Morel is a creamy, rich flavoursome mushroom, I’d say they looked like “frilly bullets”!. There’s so many amazing mushrooms available with different textures and flavours and in this dish they bring great depth. Without them, the gnocchi would be too light. Peas and broad beans are brilliant spring vegetables and again bring great freshness to the plate.
Get playful with pre-desserts
I love playful food and bringing in surprises to the menu that people don’t expect or wouldn’t get to try at home. So here I’m introducing a pre-dessert.
Up first, a Passion Fruit Jelly. Passion fruit is one of my favourite fruits and this pre-dessert is a small portion to just cleanse the pallet before desserts. This one is just a bit of fun, particularly as a jelly.
One of my favourite pre-desserts is a Pousse Café, I was inspired to create this after a visit to Midsomer House. This is like a layered shot with maple syrup, whipped egg yolk flavoured with Jack Daniels and topped with lemon infused cream and chopped chive on top. The first thing that hits you is the savoury of the chive and then you’re ready for the yolk and then the darker notes of the Jack Daniels takes you into the sweetness of the maple syrup and then you’re ready for dessert – absolutely incredible!
Another classic palate cleanser is sorbet. My final option for a pre-dessert would have to be a Caipirinha Sorbet. This uses all of the fresh, zingy flavours of the Brazilian cocktail to add the wow factor to your menu.
A passion for desserts and Rhubarb!
Desserts – this is my passion. I love the playfulness and creativity of desserts. For spring as we’ve said the best seasonal ingredient is rhubarb, so I’m bringing together rhubarb, custard and ginger which all work perfectly together in this Panna Cotta. The crushed meringue lightens everything up and it breaks into a sweet powder as you’re eating it.
Citrus comes into its own in Spring and a Dark Chocolate Delice is one of my favourites. I like to bring in the citrus of the orange compote that cuts through the richness of the chocolate. Then ruby chocolate is a wonderful chocolate – newly discovered that I like to use in my desserts. There’s essentially four different kinds of chocolate – dark, milk, white and ruby. Ruby chocolate is a fairly new chocolate and great to work with – it’s creamy and has coconut and slight berry flavours. It’s bright pink colour pairs really well.
Finally, a Raspberry and Pistachio Bakewell Tart. It’s such an incredible dish with bright red and green colours. I’d have this over a regular Bakewell Tart at any time. The raspberry and pistachio work really well together and adding a little Chambord raspberry liquor adds a booziness to it. This dessert is something I could eat all day long!
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