Sunday, 3 February 2013

A Burns Supper

25th January is Burns Night, the birthday of Rabbie Burns and celebrated not just in Scotland but by Scots or poetry lovers worldwide. A Burns Supper can vary from a formal dinner with all the trimmings such as poetry, piping, toasts and tartan, to a relaxed meal with friends and family. Haggis must be served, a Scottish dish of offal, oatmeal and spices traditionally encased and boiled in a sheep's stomach. At grand occasions the cooked haggis is piped in on a platter and Burns' poem 'Address to a Haggis' is recited. As part of the ceremony the haggis is sliced open with great drama during the poem to show the 'gushing entrails'. It's honestly tastier than it sounds. As well as the haggis there is plenty of whisky, toasts give to Burns, the laddies, the ladies and just about everyone else and sometimes ceilidh dancing.

In this Edinburgh household there are no Scots but we still enjoy the tradition of serving haggis for Burns' night, even if we eat it all year round. It's January and the days are dark and dreich. You really don't need much of an excuse to cook up a big celebratory meal, drink whisky and cosy in against the chill north winds that howl round the walls of the tenements.

Traditionally a Burns Supper starts with soup, however these days there's often a smoked salmon or seafood starter such as a tartlet or terrine. This was no different, I made a simple vol-au-vont of smoked salmon, eggs, capers and red onion. Starter sized vol-au-vonts are easy to make and are sturdier than you might think for holding the raw filling when you pour it in. It's important though that you can fit all the filling into the pastry; making this dish from memory instead of a proper recipe left me with extra. Instead of wasting it I cooked it up on the hob as scrambled egg when the vol-au-vents were nearly ready and put it on top.

Smoked Salmo Vol-Au-Vont

For the main course I bought the haggis from my local butcher, they sell them in all sizes from a small sausage to a chieftian-sized pudding. The haggi are made by a local producer, AJ Hornig in West Calder, that are also famous for their black pudding. The butchers here sells at least three types of black pudding as well as white pudding and haggis all year round. In Scotland it's commonly served in a fried breakfast.

Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Back to the dinner (or supper). My haggis was only small so I boiled it in it's casing for 30 minutes. I don't have a microwave at the moment but in the past they've been really good for cooking haggis in minutes with the same results. I recommend it especially if you've got a lot of people and/or cooking to do as it means one less pan on the stove. This haggis was hearty and spiced with lots of flavour but not too rich or gristly.

I served the haggis with the traditional accompaniments, mashed neeps (swede) and tatties (potatoes). The spicy haggis suits fairly simple vegetables to go with it. Neeps are called neeps or turnips in Scotland, swedes in England, and swede turnips in Ireland...I think. It's complicated. They're also called rutabaga in America. A bulbous root vegetable that needs a bit of effort when peeling, chopping and cooking, it's often grown for cattle feed. I mashed the neeps with carrots to make a coarse puree, then served them with a simple mashed potato and the haggis.A whisky sauce is often served here, I made a cream and peppercorn sauce enriched with a bit of butter at the end. It was probably a bit too thick, but very tasty.

Dessert is often cranachan, a dessert of raspberries, oats, whisky and crowdie, a scottish cheese. I made my blueberry cranachan, which contains none of the above so calling it cranachan is stretching it a bit. It is however a delicious mixture of stewed blueberries, crushed amaretti biscuits, yoghurt and honey. The blueberries bring a great colour to the dish. It's also reasonably light after a rich dinner of entrails, root veg, butter and cream!

Blueberry 'Cranachan'