Mark Greenaway: the importance of using seasonal ingredients
Seasonality seems to be a real buzz word at the moment and for good reason. As a chef, the benefits of cooking in season are plentiful. The importance of using seasonal ingredients is always at the forefront of my mind when it comes to the dishes that I create.
First and foremost the flavour and quality of choosing seasonal, local food is second to none. One of the reasons that we have such amazing produce here in Scotland is due to our small size and cooler climate. The colder weather means that ingredients are slower growing and have the chance to develop fuller flavours. I would much rather wait for ingredients to come into season locally than ship an ingredient with less flavour across the world just so that I could have it all year round. There is another reason for this, natural sugars in fruits and vegetables can turn to starch so if something has to travel the sugars begin to turn to starch and the ingredient loses its natural sweetness. The less produce has to travel the better. For a chef the flavour of the ingredients that we use is paramount, the plates of food that we produce can only be as good as the ingredients that go on them.
The value of cooking seasonally goes beyond just flavour and quality. Buying food when it is in peak season means that it is abundant and therefore it is cheaper. If you are buying at the shoulder months of its availability, the price will fluctuate so buying when it is in abundance is best. One way to ensure this is by getting to know your own suppliers such as the traders at your local farmers’ market and your greengrocer - they are so knowledgeable and will look after you well. If you build up a close relationship with them they may even set aside some of their best seasonal produce just for you.
If you need another good reason to convince you, choosing local, seasonal produce means that you are supporting the local economy and local businesses and that has to be a good thing.
To me one of the real advantages of using seasonal food is that it keeps things interesting. Ingredients are constantly being added and taken away from my menu. There is no greater excitement than the arrival of the first Scottish strawberries of the year in my kitchen. This is why I used them to create this fantastic Strawberry Cream Swirl dessert – the perfect oatcake topping. When it comes to cooking at home, the advantages of cooking seasonally are just the same as they are for me in the restaurant. When Nairn’s set me the challenge of coming up with seasonal recipes, I knew that I had to include as many amazing Scottish ingredients as possible from peas to strawberries. Nairn’s oatcakes act as such a versatile base and allow for real creativity.
It is important to know that a seasonal approach towards cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or over thought. You can quickly throw together a delicious, flavoursome soup using whatever fresh, seasonal vegetable you can get your hands on and serve it with a couple of oatcakes on the side. Set yourself some challenges and get a bit more adventurous. Perhaps even get the whole family involved. I guarantee you’ll taste the difference and once you realise how simple a change it is to make, you’ll be hooked!