ON FRIDAY, Scotland marks its national day – St Andrew’s Day.
It’s a chance to really celebrate all that is great about our heritage and culture – our people, our food, our innovations and our great many skills, many of which have been passed on through generation after generation.
There are a huge number of events taking place across the country but there’s a little more uncertainty about what to cook when it comes to the perfect feast for our national day or what a traditional St Andrew’s Day supper should include, unlike for other national celebrations such as Burns Night.
My whole year of home-cooked dinners could be St Andrew’s Day celebrations as I am so incredibly passionate about taking advantage of the very best, fresh, first-class, seasonal produce Scotland has to offer. I think that’s what a St Andrew’s Day feast should be – sharing in the pleasure of your favourite fresh Scottish ingredients, created by our wonderful artisan producers, and enjoying that seasonal produce in any way you wish.
If you’re hosting a St Andrew’s Day dinner, bear in mind that a wide variety of delicious native ingredients are in season and could form the basis of your celebratory menu. You could try some great game such as hare, rabbit, woodcock and venison, or choose from wonderful seasonal seafood such as clams, mussels and oysters, and even create dishes around tasty home-grown vegetables such as parsnips, celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes.
For many, a traditional meal will include a hearty Scotch broth. It’s a cheap and cheerful dish that can cook slowly over a long period of time, until the barley and meat gradually soften and develop real flavour. I can think of nothing better or more satisfying than a warming plate of broth on a cold winter’s evening. I like to give the traditional recipe a little twist by adding mutton. Usually it’s made with lamb, but I think mutton gives it a more juicy flavour and depth. Mutton has quite a bad reputation, but I think it’s absolutely delicious, a hugely underrated ingredient.
Mutton is generally a reference for a mature sheep – usually aged two years or more – and it is hung for at least two weeks. Because it is a little more mature, and our Scottish sheep have been nurtured on a diet of heather and moorland plants, it has a great, distinctive flavour that is quite different to lamb. The result is a beautifully firm meat, but if you cook it just perfectly it won’t be too tough – just a real pleasure to eat.
Mutton is best used for dishes that are cooked slowly such as soups, pies, stews and even curries. That is the beauty of this meat – and, indeed, what makes it perfect for entertaining. You can leave it to cook and tenderise for a few hours and the flavour will mellow and sweeten.
Haggis is another of those ingredients that is always associated with a great Scottish feast. Most people would shy away from making their own haggis at home but nowadays there is no need – we’re lucky in that you can find quality haggis from your local butcher, usually part-cooked, which means it simply needs to be simmered in boiling water for a couple of hours.
Haggis is traditionally served with neeps and tatties – mashed turnip and potatoes – and often whisky, but it’s always nice to give dishes your own little personal touch or twist. So if you’re sticking to the more traditional foods, try to add your own personality and a bit of extra passion.
I like to think I’ve almost reinvented our national dish. My take on it is much more delicate and less heavy than the traditional recipe. I lightly pickle the neeps, create very fine, crispy potatoes, full of crunch and texture, and fry the haggis in breadcrumbs – it’s a huge amount of fun on a plate – and, to finish, I add a small quail’s egg on top to create a fantastically elegant dish just bursting with tastes and textures. It’s a slightly more time-consuming and complicated dish than some home dinners, but it’s worth it. What better way to celebrate being a Scot than with a little Scottish fun and humour?
2 litres water
1 tsp salt
1kg mutton (shoulder, flank or neck)
1 large onion, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
75g split peas
100g pearl barley
3 carrots, peeled and diced
¼ small cabbage, shredded
1 medium turnip (rutabaga), peeled and diced
2 sticks celery
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper
Soak the barley and peas for a minimum of three hours – preferably overnight (rinse before adding to the pot).
Trim the fat from the mutton, then place the mutton and the barley in a pot of cold water and slowly bring to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes with the lid on, skimming any fat or residue that floats to the surface. Add the remaining vegetables and simmer until lamb is thoroughly cooked.
Remove the mutton from the pot and separate the meat from the bone. Return the meat to the pot and season to taste.
Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
2 free-range egg yolks
100g plain flour
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
4 quail’s eggs
1 litre water
150g caster sugar
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
6 black peppercorns
1-2 garlic cloves
1 tsp salt
150ml white wine vinegar
1 large potato
20ml clarified butter
First, prepare the pickled neeps by peeling and thinly slicing the turnip. Meanwhile, bring the rest of the ingredients to the boil in a pan. Remove from the heat, add the turnip slices and leave for two to three hours.
To cook the haggis, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Wrap the haggis in foil and lower into the pan. When the water comes back to a simmer, turn the heat right down and leave to cook slowly for two or three hours.
Once cooked, remove the haggis from the pan, unwrap and slice open. Take it out of the bladder and put into a large bowl. Let it cool slightly, then mix in the egg yolks. Turn the haggis out on to a sheet of clingfilm and shape into a roll, about 5cm in diameter. Wrap in the clingfilm and refrigerate to let it firm up.
When ready, remove the neeps from the liquid and cut into thin strips. Set aside.
Once chilled, unwrap the haggis and cut into 2.5cm slices. Put the flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs into three separate containers. Dip the haggis slices first in the flour to coat, then into the beaten egg and finally into the breadcrumbs to coat all over. Set aside.
For the tatties, peel the potato and cut into wafer-thin strips using a Japanese mandoline. Mix with a little clarified butter and salt.
Heat a non-stick frying pan, add a quarter of the potato and shape gently into a 5cm circle. Fry the potato gently until crispy, then carefully remove and keep warm while you cook the rest of the potato in the same way – making four crispy potato cakes.
To fry the haggis cakes, heat the oil in a deep-fryer or other suitable deep, heavy pan to 180°C. Lower the haggis cakes into the hot oil and fry for three to four minutes, until golden.
Meanwhile, pile the turnip on to warm plates. Remove the haggis from the pan, drain on kitchen paper and salt lightly.
Add a little more oil to the frying pan and fry the quail’s eggs for a minute, or until the whites have set but the yolks are still soft.
Place the haggis cakes alongside the neeps and top with the eggs. Place the potato cakes on the side and serve.