Sunday, 20 October 2019

We can't wait to tuck into winter warmers

We can't wait to tuck into winter warmers

AS soon as we’ve passed bonfire night there’s something in our DNA hankering for winter food, writes Paul Clerehugh.

A switch in our soul clicks. Out come the casseroles, stewpots and the slow cookers. No more chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables, roquette with shaved pecorino and Ottolenghi salads. Instead, let’s bring out the fruit pies and crumbles, pork roasts, soups, game stews, hotpots, puddings, dumplings and casseroles.

We’re ready to escape those low-cal, low-fat fragrant summer flavours and our desire to be fresh and energised. It’s time to light the fire, stack the log pile and stoke the Aga. Let’s bake and braise those filling dishes to bolster our bodies against the inclement weather.

In and around Henley we’re blessed with some great chefs, restaurants and pubs, crackling log fires and scrumptious winter warmers.

Recently I pigged out on Chef Jamie Herridge’s braised lamb shank and parsley cheddar mash with red wine gravy at the Baskerville in Shiplake.

You’ve got to try Laurentino’s pumpkin and pearl barley risotto with toasted pumpkin seeds and parmesan at the Five Horseshoes in Maidensgrove.

Wayne at the Cherry Tree in Stoke Row serves truffled Welsh rarebit with his leek and potato soup. Delicious!

How about a vanilla brioche bread and butter pudding at the Bull and Butcher in Turville, or pork and leek bangers, mash and onion rings at the Chequers in Fingest?

Steve Luscombe makes a delicious pheasant and venison pie with straw potatoes and greens and gravy at the Golden Ball in Lower Assendon.

You can enthuse over a delicious bowl of spicy warming goulash at the brilliant Bicycle Barn in Turville.

Better still, why not cook something at home? Britain excels at wintery cookery. Think of shepherd’s pie, a Lancashire hotpot, Sunday roasts, Irish stews and a steak and kidney pie followed by spotted dick and sticky toffee pudding.

Go see Carl at Wood’s Butchers in Sonning Common, or Barry at Gabriel Machin in Henley, or Keith at Shiplake Butchers. See what they have for slow-cook winter warmers.

Despite our seasons melting into one another, we still have an appetite for distinctly seasonal eating.

All that’s left of the four seasons is that delicious piece of music playing in the Cotswold tea rooms.

Whilst supermarkets still stock asparagus, cherries and baby courgettes, my soul is in the mood for hispi greens and brussels.

Even better, a crispy skinned jacket potato with a steaming fluffy centre, topped with a greedy heart-stopping slab of butter. Jacket potatoes always in the oven or Aga — forget the microwave!

We make a lot of fuss about whether something is in season or not. Chefs are daft for making you feel guilty for eating raspberries in November. I love winter imported raspberries and thick Jersey cream.

Listen to your body — your body will tell you what it wants when it comes to seasonal food. It is imprinted in our ancestors’ DNA. We want winter food made of a carbohydrate feast to fuel us through chilly days. Food to give us energy to furrow the field with a hand plough, and strength for an eight-hour shift down the coal shaft, energy to graft.

Winter food is a part of our heritage — the only difference now being we sit behind computers rather than ploughing fields.

I continue my celebration of winter food with local chefs Ryan Simpson and Liam Trotman, who have a gorgeous lighter winter dish of Shiplake tromboncino squash with chard, celeriac and hazelnut on their menu at Orwells in Shiplake.

I must mention my gastronomic gush for a couple of Antony Worrall Thompson’s winter warmers… melting goat’s cheese on a sweet onion tart with beetroot pickled shallots. Another AWT special — OMG, what a menu — is pheasant with prunes, apple, grilled chorizo and creamed pappardelle. Orgasmic!

Check out chef Naranda’s sikendori badi lamb shank marinated with Indian herbs cooked with chickpeas. Some scrumptiousness at Henley’s Spice Merchant.

Throughout November at the Crooked Billet in Stoke Row, we have daily steamings of steak and kidney pudding. We steam four dozen every day, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. Offered from Monday to Friday as part of our two-course, £17.50, daily changing set luncheon menu. Delicious, old-fashioned and English. Moreish soft suet pastry, tender local beef and kidney oozing with heavenly rich cooking gravy.

Follow with the daily specials of traditional steamed desserts including Sussex pond, treacle sponge, dead man’s leg and spotted dick. Let the suet bring a smile to your face, bolster you against the elements and leave you feeling like a well-lagged boiler. To book a table, call the pub on (01491) 681048.

Paul Clerehugh is chef patron of the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and the London Street Brasserie, Reading. Catch his Food on Friday show on BBC Radio Berkshire — 95.4FM and 104.1FM — from 2pm to 3pm weekly.

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