Recipe: Poetic licence

As these mouthwatering ingredients illustrate, a deviation from the traditional Burns Supper needn't mean a break from all things Scottish.

A TRADITIONAL Burns Supper consists of cock-a-leekie soup, followed by haggis, neeps and tatties, finished off with a hefty helping of clootie dumpling. But after many years of being invited to serve a good supper, I've found myself using it as an opportunity to celebrate Scottish ingredients, while maintaining a nod to tradition. I served this menu at a Burns Supper in New York a few years ago and it was appreciated by guests from both sides of the Atlantic.


Serves four

Starter 1

Hot-smoked salmon with avocado salsa

THIS simple, elegant starter was a bit of a signature dish. As with all straightforward dishes, it relies on the finest quality ingredients to make it sing. I use farmed organic Orkney salmon, ripe Haas avocados and a generous amount of fresh coriander. The salsa benefits from being made in advance to allow its flavours to mellow, and the lobster oil may seem extravagant, but it does add a wonderful flavour to many fish and shellfish dishes.

1 large ripe avocado

1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

1/4 red onion, finely chopped

3 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

1 tbsp Japanese pickled ginger (optional)

2 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1cm dice

2 tsp Thai fish sauce

juice and zest of a lime

250g hot-smoked salmon, flaked into pieces

For the lobster oil

175g lobster or langoustine shells

350ml sunflower oil

1 small piece star anise

3 white peppercorns

5cm piece carrot, peeled and diced

2 shallots, diced

5cm piece celery, diced

2 cloves garlic

15g mixed herbs (eg parsley, thyme, tarragon)

1/2 tsp tomato pure

50ml dry white wine

Prepare the lobster oil at least a day ahead. Crush the shells and drain away any liquid. Heat 4 tbsp of the oil in a pan, add the shells, star anise and white peppercorns and fry over a medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the oil, and cook until the wine has evaporated. Add the rest of the oil and leave to simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 24 hours. Strain through a muslin-lined sieve, transfer to a bottle and seal. This will keep in the fridge for about a month.

To make the salsa, halve the avocado and remove the stone. Halve again and remove the skin, then chop the flesh into 1cm chunks. Place in a mixing bowl and add the chilli, onion, coriander, finely chopped pickled ginger (if using), tomato, Thai fish sauce, a pinch of salt and pepper, and the lime zest and juice. Mix well and leave at room temperature for about ten minutes for the flavours to develop.

To serve, set a 7.5cm biscuit cutter or food ring in the centre of a plate. Spoon the salsa into the base of the ring, banking it up the sides slightly so it will hold. Flake the salmon and, using about 70g per ring, spoon on top of the salsa, pressing down lightly. Carefully remove the ring. If you wish, garnish with a small handful of lightly dressed salad leaves, piled on top. Drizzle round the lobster oil.

Starter 2

Haggis, bashit neeps an' chappit tatties

THESE are the classic accompaniments to haggis. Chappit tatties are just mash (see below) and the bashit neeps are roughly mashed turnip (neep), seasoned highly with salt and pepper and enriched with a knob of butter. The haggis should be cooked as per the producer's instructions, which will depend upon the size and recipe. This one will feed eight as a starter, so there may be some left over.

450g Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized pieces

3 tbsp warm milk

40g unsalted butter

500g haggis, cooked

400g turnip, cooked, seasoned and mashed with a knob of butter

For the gravy

300ml beef stock

splash red wine

knob butter

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes into a pan of salted, cold water and bring to the boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer (it's important not to cook the potatoes too quickly), and cook for approximately 20 minutes. Check the tenderness – the point of a sharp knife should feel little resistance when pushed into the potato. Drain in a colander and return to the pan to dry out over a low heat for a few minutes. Mash them or pass them through a mouli or ricer into a bowl. Using a wooden spoon, beat in the milk, then, more vigorously, the butter, making the mash light and fluffy. (If you are going to reheat them, don't add the butter yet.) Season with salt and pepper.

To make the gravy, reduce the beef stock and red wine over a high heat to thicken. Stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for a few more minutes to thicken further.

To serve, place a ring mould in the centre of a plate. Spoon in a layer of mashed potatoes and press down firmly. Top with a layer of mashed turnip and, again, compress. Finally, top with a layer of haggis, taking care to get an even layer. Gently remove the ring mould and spoon around the gravy.

Main course

Roast loin of venison with skirlie potatoes, braised red cabbage, and game and blaeberry sauce

THIS is a star of a dish, and the sauce, potatoes and cabbage can be made a day or so in advance, leaving the venison to be prepared on the day. It's not worth making a smaller quantity of the red cabbage or the game gravy, as both freeze well and are delicious with most game animals or birds.

Your butcher should prepare the saddle for you, giving you two loins and the meaty trimmings. Get them to chop the rib bones into 2.5cm pieces for the stock.

1 small roe saddle (1.5kg)

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp sunflower oil

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the braised cabbage

1 red cabbage, finely shredded

50g butter

50g redcurrant jelly

50ml sherry vinegar

zest and juice 1 orange

120ml port

half bottle red wine

85g raisins

For the skirlie potatoes

50g bacon fat, or beef or duck dripping

1 medium onion, finely chopped

125g medium or coarse oatmeal

700g mash (see recipe on page 26)

For the game and blaeberry sauce

600g venison rib bones

2–3 tbsp sunflower oil

200g venison trimmings, roughly chopped

4 shallots, finely sliced

8 button mushrooms, sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 bay leaf and a sprig thyme

6 white peppercorns, crushed

150ml port

150ml red wine

700ml brown chicken or game stock

1 tsp redcurrant jelly

100g blaeberries (or blueberries)

1 tsp arrowroot, if required

To finish the game and blaeberry sauce

handful blaeberries (or blueberries) to serve

2 tsp cabernet sauvignon vinegar, warmed through

First, make the game gravy. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Roast the venison bones for approximately 30 minutes in the oven. Meanwhile, heat a medium-sized saucepan, add the sunflower oil and venison trimmings, and caramelise for 20 minutes. Add the shallots, mushrooms, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and crushed peppercorns. Gently fry for five to ten minutes or until dark brown and caramelised.

Pour in the port and red wine. Boil until a thick, syrupy glaze is achieved. Add the stock, redcurrant jelly, blaeberries and roasted bones, and simmer for 45 minutes, skimming frequently.

Pass through a fine sieve into a small, clean pan, simmer again and reduce until the required flavour is achieved. Thicken with arrowroot if required, then check the seasoning and set aside. See the instructions for finishing the sauce, below.

Next make the skirlie potatoes. Melt the dripping or fat in a frying pan and add the onion. Cook over a gentle heat for about ten minutes until just beginning to turn golden. Stir in the oatmeal and 'skirl' around the pan for a couple of minutes until the fat is absorbed and the oatmeal smells 'toastie'. Remove from the heat. Place the mash in a large mixing bowl and mix through the skirlie mix. Form this into cakes and place on a baking sheet. Place in the oven for 15 minutes, until warmed through. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Turn the oven heat up to 230C/gas 8. To make the red cabbage, remove the coarse outer leaves. Quarter it and cut out and discard the root. Finely slice the cabbage using a sharp knife. Heat a large pan and add the butter. When it sizzles, add the cabbage and stir in to coat. Add the redcurrant jelly and allow it to melt. Add the vinegar, orange, port and red wine, and season.

Bring it to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid and cook for 90 minutes, then remove the lid, add the raisins, increase the heat and reduce the liquid to a syrup. When it's ready, check and adjust the seasoning.

For the meat, when you are nearly ready to serve, heat a frying pan until it's hot. Season the roe loins with salt and pepper (you may have to cut them in half to fit the pan). Add the sunflower oil and butter to the pan. Then add the loins and lightly fry each side for three to four minutes respectively until well browned. Remove the pan to a warm place to relax the meat for at least ten minutes (but no more than 30). Warm through four large spoonfuls of the cabbage in a small saucepan and warm through the sauce. Pour any juices from the relaxing meat into the cabbage, then reheat the meat in the oven for 90 seconds. Have the potatoes ready. Finish the game gravy by taking 400ml of the prepared game sauce, add the vinegar and blaeberries, and warm through for two minutes.

Place a potato cake on each of four warmed serving plates and top with a generous dollop of the red cabbage. Carve the meat into approximately 24 slices and lay six slices on each pile of cabbage. Check and adjust the seasoning before spooning it over and around the meat.


Hot whisky and marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard

Lighter than a traditional clootie dumpling, this steamed pud is my favourite winter dessert, and the light whisky kick and smooth Drambuie custard warm the cockles.

Serves six to eight

150g fine brown breadcrumbs

25g self-raising wholemeal flour

120g soft, light brown sugar

120g unsalted butter, plus extra to grease bowl

175g well-flavoured, course-cut marmalade

30ml whisky

3 large eggs

1 rounded tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the custard

150ml full-fat milk

150 double cream

1 vanilla pod, split, seeds scraped out and reserved

3 egg yolks

30g caster sugar

30ml Drambuie

Butter a three-pint pudding basin really well and choose a saucepan large enough to hold the pudding basin comfortably. (We use three-pint plastic basins that have a matching lid – perfect for this recipe.)

Place the breadcrumbs, flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter and marmalade in a saucepan over a gentle heat, but do not boil. Add the whisky and stir through. Pour the melted ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Lightly whisk the eggs until frothy, and beat gently into the mixture until well blended. Last of all, dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 1 tbsp of cold water. Beat this into the pudding mixture, which will increase in volume as it absorbs the bicarbonate of soda – leave to stand for five minutes for it to work.

Cover with a lid if your basin has one, or a double sheet of buttered foil, making sure there is a pleat in it for expansion. Place the pudding basin in a saucepan of boiling water. The water should reach halfway up the side. Simmer the pudding steadily for two hours. The water will need topping up throughout the cooking period.

Meanwhile, make the custard. Place the milk, cream and vanilla pod and seeds into a thick-bottomed pan and place on a high heat until boiling. In a stainless-steel bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a balloon whisk until the mixture becomes thick, fluffy and pale.

Add the hot mix to the eggs. Mix through then return to the pan. Stir thoroughly, making sure that you cover the whole pan by stirring in a figure of eight rather than round and round.

The mixture should begin to thicken within about two minutes. You're looking for a temperature of 82C. If you don't have a thermo probe, watch for little puffs of steam escaping from the side of the pan.

When the mix has thickened enough to coat the back of the spatula, take off the heat and strain immediately through a fine sieve to remove any small lumps. Stir through the Drambuie and serve immediately, or pour into a clean bowl, cover with cling film (touching the surface to avoid a skin forming) and chill in an ice bath.

Uncover the pudding and turn it out on to a warm serving dish. Serve hot with the warm custard.

A Burns supper – the traditional way

Piping in

Guests stand and clap while those sitting at the top table walk into the room in single file to take their seats.


The chairman welcomes the guests, speakers and entertainers.

Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!

Aboon them a' ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy o' a grace

As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,

Your hurdies like a distant hill,

Your pin wad help to mend a mill

In time o' need,

While thro' your pores the dews distil

Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,

An cut you up wi ready sleight,

Trenching your gushing entrails bright,

Like ony ditch;

And then, O what a glorious sight,

Warm-reekin', rich!

At the words "cut you up", the speaker takes his knife and slices open the haggis.

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:

Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,

Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve

Are bent like drums;

The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,

'Bethankit!' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,

Or olio that wad staw a sow,

Or fricassee wad mak her spew

Wi' perfect sconner,

Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view

On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,

As feckless as a wither'd rash,

His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,

His nieve a nit:

Thro' blody flood or field to dash,

O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,

The trembling earth resounds his tread,

Clap in his walie nieve a blade,

He'll make it whissle;

An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,

Like taps o' trissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,

And dish them out their bill o' fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware

That jaups in luggies;

But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,

Gie her a Haggis!

Toast to the haggis

The speaker invites the audience to toast the haggis, then the piper leads the chieftain back out of the room to be prepared for the main course.

The meal

A Burns Supper traditionally begins with cock-a-leekie soup, followed by haggis "wi bashit neeps an' champit tatties", ending with clootie dumpling and oatcakes and cheese. It is all washed down with whisky.

The Immortal Memory

The keynote speaker will give a speech to the Bard, ending with an invitation to the audience to raise their glasses and drink to "the immortal memory of Robert Burns".

Toast to the Lassies

A witty speech about the role of women in the lives of men, with reference to Burns's notorious love life. The content may be more or less chauvinistic, depending on whether the company is male-only or not.

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies

The girls get their own back with a toast to the men, with (hopefully) witty words – again with reference to the Bard.

Vote of thanks

A speech usually given by the chairman, in which he thanks all those involved.

'Auld Lang Syne'