Whenever possible, buy fresh food from a local supplier or food producer. The relationship you build could be beneficial to both businesses. The following are guidelines for ensuring a fresh, quality purchase.
Whole fish should feel heavy for their size and should be purchased daily, if possible directly from the market or supplier. They should be well iced and the flesh undamaged. Some fish are available fresh only at certain times of the year. Note that you can often substitute one similar type of fish for another in a recipe. Your fishmonger will be able to advise you.
What to look for when buying whole fish:
Eyes – should be bright, full and not sunken
Gills – bright, pinkish red in colour
Flesh – firm and resilient to touch, springy, not limp
Skin – moist , shiny and with plenty of scales
Smell – must be pleasantly sea salty
When buying white fish fillets, look out for neat trimmed fillets and a white translucent appearance.
Smoked fish should look glossy and have a fresh smoky aroma. Undyed smoked fish is preferable.
These should all be purchased alive. Mussels must be tightly closed and have barnacles on them.
Lobsters, prawns, crabs, crayfish, mussels and scallops are all caught in Scottish waters. They should smell fresh and feel heavy for their size. Lobsters and crabs must have all claws intact.
Remove fresh fish from its wrapper, rinse in cold water, pat dry, cover and place at the bottom of the fridge. Always store raw fish separately from ready-to-eat fish such as prawns or smoked mackerel, and store fresh and smoked fish separately to avoid mixing flavours.
Fresh fish is best eaten within 2 days.
Lamb is readily available in Scotland and where possible should be purchased from a local supplier, a Farmers’ Market or even from a local farmer. Lamb is one year old and after that age it is called mutton.
What to look for when buying fresh lamb:
Flesh – should be compact and evenly fleshed, firm and lean with fine texture and grain
Colour- a pleasant dull red, with even distribution of creamy-white fat
Bones – bones should be pink and porous (old bones are hard, white and splinter easily)
Some of the finest beef in the world comes from Scotland. Aberdeen Angus is world-famous, but other breeds such as Highland and Shorthorn also offer superb quality.
Where possible, as for lamb, the meat should be purchased from a local supplier, a Farmers’ Market or directly from the farmer. Beef should be hung for at least 14days at 1degreeC after slaughter.
What to look for when buying fresh beef:
Flesh – should be red with small flecks of white (marbled)
Fat – should be firm, but feel brittle in texture and be creamy white in colour
Smell – the meat should be odourless
Purchase from a local supplier or try the Supplier section in this Foodkit to source one of the rare heritage breeds now available.
What to look for when buying fresh pork:
Flesh – pale pink and firm, fine texture
Fat – white, firm but not too much
Bones – small, fine and pink
Skin – smooth
Fresh bacon should have no signs of stickiness
Smell – pleasant
Rind – thin and smooth
Fat – white, smooth and not too much
Flesh – deep pink colour and firm
CHICKEN , TURKEY , DUCK AND GOOSE
Try to purchase free range poultry as conditions are better and the birds have less risk of disease. If free range is not available, barn raised birds are better than battery reared. These rules also apply to the eggs of these birds. Purchase if possible from a reputable local supplier.
What to look for when buying fresh poultry:
Plump breast and pliable breastbone
Skin that is white, unbroken with a slight bluish tinge
GAME – FURRED AND FEATHERED
The term “game” used to refer only to wild animals and birds which had been hunted or caught, but now refers to both wild and those raised domestically for food. Game falls into two categories – furred and feathered.
FURRED includes animals such as venison, wild boar, hare and rabbit while FEATHERED includes grouse, pheasant, woodcock, partridge, wild duck, wood pigeon and other birds.
Oven-ready game is available fresh or frozen in supermarkets but for more information, you should use a farm shop, Farmers’ Market or specialist game dealer who will know the provenance of the animal or birds. Knowing more about the animal can be important for the cooking process – for example, young game requires a different cooking technique to older game.
Most game is hung before being sold, to break down tough fibres and help tenderise the meat. The longer the hanging time, the more gamey will be the flavour.
Venison haunch, saddle and fillet may be roasted, braised or cut into steaks and pan fried. The meat is very lean and care should be taken with cooking. The tougher cuts of shoulder, neck and shin should be braised or stewed
Hare may be roasted or “jugged”, while rabbit is good in casseroles, pies and stews.
Wild boar can be substituted for pork in most recipes and should always be served well done. Popular cuts are saddle and loin.
Pheasant is readily available. Roast young birds and casserole older ones.
Grouse is usually roasted but can be cut into portions and grilled, braised or fried.
Partridge is very lean, and therefore better braised
Selection and cooking information, plus a good selection of recipes for different types of game, can be found on www.bbc.co.uk/food
Obviously, the best source of eggs is a local supplier whose farming methods are transparent. If that is not possible, you should have confidence that eggs marked “free range and organic” have been produced by laying hens which have space to roam outside. All organic producers are licensed by The Soil Association and must meet their high standards of rearing.
Descriptions such as “Free range” and “Barn Fresh” do not mean that the animals have space or access to the outdoors. However, regulation of egg production in Scotland does ensure that every egg can be traced back to the farm where it was laid. The Lion mark means that eggs are farm-assured and the letters “SCO” mean that they have been produced in Scotland.
What to look for when buying eggs:
Shells should be clean, well shaped, slightly rough and strong. When cracked, there should be more thick white than thin and the yolk should be firm, round and even-coloured.
Store in a cool dry place
Keep eggs apart from other foods
Do not use eggs after the “best before” date
Don’t use eggs with damaged shells, as dirt or bacteria may have got inside
Use dishes containing eggs as soon as possible after preparation, otherwise cool quickly and refrigerate
There are now many cheese makers in Scotland. The main creameries are situated in Lockerbie, Stranraer, Campbeltown and the isles of Bute, Arran, Mull, and Orkney but many artisan producers can be found throughout the country. (See Wendy Barrie’s Cheese Trail for some excellent examples – www.scottishfoodguide.com)
Scottish cheeses are produced from the milk of cows, goats and ewes and are available as hard, semi hard, soft or cream and blue vein cheeses.
Scotland excels in the production of soft fruit, such as strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, tayberries, loganberries, blackberries, and red, white and blackcurrants.
They are traditionally in season from early to late summer, although the use of poly-tunnels has extended the growing period. They should not be damaged when purchased but should be fresh with no signs of mildew or mould. They deteriorate quickly and so should be used if possible within hours of purchase. For more information, see www.berryscotland.com
Rhubarb is available in spring, and stone fruits such as apples and pears mainly from August through the winter to April.
Hard fruits should not be bruised or damaged and will keep longer than soft fruit if stored correctly.
Bananas and most other fruits, which are imported, are widely available all year but again, should be as fresh as possible and purchased from a reputable supplier.
All vegetables lose quality and nutrients very quickly after picking and so it is best to purchase seasonally from a reliable local grower/supplier. Vegetables should be stored in cool airy conditions and used as soon after purchase as possible. If fresh vegetables are not possible, quality frozen vegetables are a good substitute.