January 25, 2010 § Leave a comment
Today is 25 January, Robert Burns’ birthday which means that the traditional Burns supper of haggis, neeps, tatties (mashed swede and mashed potatoes)and of course plenty of Scotch whisky will be served up to Scots both at home and abroad tonight. We Sassenachs got in on the act early this year, on Saturday night in fact, when we were invited to a Burns supper at nearby Manchester Grammar School.
You might well ask why would anyone voluntarily go and spend an evening eating school dinners? In fact the school did us proud and produced food of a high standard. Pride of place went to a splendidly proportioned haggis (Macsweens of course – I did check with the catering manager!) which was preceded by a bagpiper and ceremonially stabbed with the Skean dhu/Sgian Dubh (the dagger a Scotsman tucks into his sock). You can clearly see the victim’s entry and exit wounds…
I realise this picture may not look appealing to those of a nervous disposition but, honestly, it was delicious.
Eating my meal on Saturday night, it occurred to me that hosting a Burns supper at home would be a fun evening and the food would be pretty straightforward. To start, the obvious choice would be Scottish smoked salmon. You could serve this as a canapé beforehand on tiny oatcakes and dispense with a starter if that suited. Smoked venison too with redcurrant or, better still, rowanberry jelly would be good if you could source some. A smoked loch trout or kipper pâté with oatcakes would be another option. Don’t turn your nose up at kipper pâté – it may not sound glamorous but I can still remember some that I ate in Tiddy Dol’s (sadly now closed) restaurant in Mayfair some 20 years ago – velvety smooth and absolutely delicious with just a hint of a peaty malt whisky in the background.
The main course would obviously be a haggis (there are vegetarian versions too to cater for all tastes) and the aforementioned neeps and tatties – these can be prepped in advance and heated through when you are ready to serve. A little whisky poured over the haggis is all the sauce you need but you could serve a little gravy (or jus as restaurants insist on calling it) if you liked. I like Francis Bissell’s idea from her book “Entertaining” of serving haggis Parmentier, a Scottish take on the bistro classic hachis Parmentier (a French version of shepherd’s pie). Cooked haggis, carefully spooned out of its casing forms the based of the dish with a smooth mixture of mashed potato and swede forming the top. Some finely shredded curly Scots kale, steamed for just a minute or two to retain its vibrant greenness, would make a good accompaniment.
Pudding is a little bit of a challenge given the quantity of food you will already have consumed. Cranachan (a combination of whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, whisky, heather honey and raspberries) would be traditionally Scottish and you could use very acceptable frozen Scottish raspberries. If you wanted something very light and refreshing then a raspberry water ice or sorbet would fit the bill. An individual baked or steamed pudding made with whisky and Dundee marmalade would be good for traditional pudding lovers. My final pudding thoughts would be a Caledonian ice cream as served at Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip. This is a witty take on a French style praline ice cream with frugal toasted oatmeal taking the place of the usual almonds. You could serve this with a sauce of melted Mars bars – a nod to that other most traditional of Scots puddings, the deep-fried Mars bar….
I also give a recipe for an oatmeal shortbread biscuit as featured in the BBC Great British Menu programme. Chef Jeremy Lee turned them into a neat stack with cream and raspberries but they are a good crisp biscuit either to eat on their own or to provide a contrasting texture to a creamy pudding.
Recipe for Caledonian ice cream
This is a recipe from Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip restaurant brought to the masses by Delia Smith in her Summer Collection book. Serves 8. I’ve tried this recipe at home and it works well with our without an ice cream maker.
For the caramelised oatmeal
3 oz (75g) caster sugar
4 tablespoons water
2 oz (50g) pinhead oatmeal
For the syrup
4 oz (110g) caster sugar
4 tablespoons water
For the ice cream
1 pint whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Start by making the caramelised oatmeal. Put the caster sugar and water into a small saucepan over a low heat and leave it for 5 minutes. Then take a medium sized frying pan, place it on a medium heat and when the pan is hot, add the oatmeal and swirl it round the pan constantly so that it browns evenly – which it will do in about 5 minutes. Remove the oatmeal to a plate to prevent it becoming over-brown. By now the sugar in the saucepan will have dissolved so you can turn the heat up and let it boil. Watch it very closely until it becomes a rich brown caramel colour. Stir in the toasted oatmeal, remove from the heat and quickly pour the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Put to one side to get cold and firm (about 15 minutes). Then take off small pieces at a time and pound them in a pestle and mortar until they are the size of large salt crystals (you could do this carefully in a food processor too but don’t overdo it and reduce it to too fine a powder). Put to one side in an airtight container until you are ready to make the ice cream.
To make the sugar syrup, measure the sugar and water into a small saucepan, place it over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved – about 5 minutes. Then remove from the heat and allow to become completely cold.
To make the ice cream, pour the cold syrup into a mixing bowl along with the whipping cream and vanilla extract. Whisk with an electric whisk or mixer until the mixture just begins to thicken and hold its shape. Then pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions until firm but still pliable. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, freeze the mixture until firm but pliable in a large plastic container, beating vigorously every half hour or so with a wooden spoon. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the oatmeal mixture, fold it in then spoon the ice cream into a loaf tin 7 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches. Cover with a double thickness of foil and freeze until needed.
To serve, remove from the freezer to the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you need it. Dip the base and sides of the loaf tin into hot water for 10 seconds or so, loosen round the edges with a palette knife, then turn onto a plate. Using a sharp knife dipped in hot water, cut into neat slices.
Recipe for almond shortbread thins
The original recipe title is for raspberry shortcake but I think this is confusing as shortcake to me means the American scone type soft cake. It comes from The Great British Menu Cookbook accompanying the BBC TV series of the same name. This recipe was cooked by chef Jeremy Lee. Jeremy is a native Scot who is the longstanding head chef at London’s Blueprint café. I have tried this recipe at home and it does work – the biscuits are delicious. It makes about 20 biscuits from memory (recipe says serves 4).
125g soft unsalted butter
40g caster sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
40g best quality blanched almonds such as Marcona ground in a food processor quite fine but still with some texture
40 g toasted white breadcrumbs (from 70g bread chopped up, crusts on, baked at 150 degrees C/fan 130 degrees C/gas mark 2 for 30 minutes or until lightly toasted then processed to crumbs in a food processor)
250 ml double cream, softly whipped; a great bowl of raspberries, a small bowl of caster sugar, a little icing sugar for sifting
Beat the butter and sugar together well until pale. Pop in the orange zest and beat very well. Add the flour, ground almonds and breadcrumbs, and mix thoroughly into a soft dough.
Cut a large piece of baking parchment. Place the dough at one end of the paper, then roll it in the paper to make a sausage shape roughly 5cm in diameter. Seal the sausage in the paper and chill for a few hours or ideally overnight.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C/fan 150 degrees C/gas mark 3. Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Cut the roll of dough into 3mm thick slices (about the thickness of a UK £1 coin) and lay them on a baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool and become crisp.
You can eat them as they are or sandwich 3 of them together with raspberries and whipped cream to form a neat stack for pudding.
Stockan and Garden oatcakes from Orkney
Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip restaurant