Did you celebrate Burns night this year? Whether you are an avid reader of poetry or not, it’s a perfect night for us to celebrate our food culture and appreciate our friends’ company (just how the ‘Burns night’ originally started off as his friends gathered to commemorate his legacy). British culture has been undeniably enriched by the great mix of cultures and ethnicities and that’s what makes the food scene of the country so interesting and appetising. But this week we are going back to the Basics, good humble foods of the isles. In the name of Mr. Burns, we are going to put a spotlight on the Scottish dinner. “S mairg a ni tarcuis air biadh – (translates into) He who has contempt for food is a fool.” As we can see in this famous Scottish saying, Scotsmen are food lovers and they appreciate their harvest from their resource-rich land. Underneath their stern robust harsh nature, lies the blossom of harvest and colourful cheer.
Wholesome hearty soups and broths
Even if we are illiterate of the Scottish language, Cock-a-leekie is one name every one of us has heard of and has a fond memory of. Do you agree? Though there are variations, cock a-leekie-soup in general is made of chicken stock, chunks of chicken, leeks, carrot and rice/barley. A soup bowl full of Chunkey veggies and scrumptious pearled barley with moist chicken. Mmmmmhhhhh, yum yum. Chicken soup for your soul, period. And the lamb/beef version of this is Scotch broth. It’s made of stewed lamb/beef, carrots, turnip, barley and sometimes lentils. These soups are so balanced, nourishing, and delicious that they have caught the heart of everyone in the world.
It’s all about smoky flaky fishy pleasure: haddock
Taking full advantage of its natural surroundings, Scotsmen enjoy the jewels of the sea; mussels, crams, salmon and all types of fish and seafood. But the fishy honour of the region should go to the ‘Smokies’- smoked haddock. They have their original technique to smoke haddock by firstly smothering it with a thick layer of salt and then smoking it in a wood fire, leaving the flesh so flaky and juicy, and packed with juice. Famous dishes making use of the smoked haddock include Scottish Cullen skink and Kedgeree. Cullen skink — described as smokier and assertive than chowder but healthier than French bisque in the guardian* blog — it’s one of the most perfect fish soups there is. The soup consists of potatoes, onions and haddock with milk/cream. Its creamy and hearty flavour won’t disappoint your taste bud. It can be served with a bread or oatcake (as the tradition), perfect. Though one of the theories for the origin of kedgeree points us to Indian dish Khichri, there is an alternative theory that this rather ravishing breakfast favourite could originate from Scotland and was exported to India. It’s a dish made with smoked haddock, rice, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, parsley and butter. Beautiful and satisfying morning guaranteed.
(Cullen skink- Beautiful soup- Photo: greatbritishchefs.com)
The beauty of leftovers
As just our moms are like a superhero when it comes to transform the act of clearing a fridge and using up yesterday’s leftovers into something amazing, Scotsmen have made their famous dishes out of it. They are called Stovies and Rumpledethumps. Stovies is a slow-cooked stew with potatoes, carrots and any types of vegetables you like with chunks of beef. It’s a way to turn everything you have no idea what to make of into something comforting and amazing! Rumpledethumps is the Scottish version of bubble and squeak. It’s an oven-baked treat, consisting of sautéed vegetables such as onions and cabbages, topped with mashed potatoes and cheese. This could be served with meat and it could hold a place as a side or main dish of your dinner. Hearty vegetables with creamy and cheesy toppings are something that you can’t stop daydreaming about!
(Rumpledethumps- Creamy cheesy treat. Photo: food.com)
It’s all in the game (and other types of meat)!
Haggis is undeniably the most known flavour of Scotland. They have a very rich distinctive flavour and texture that can be enjoyed on its own or as a stuffing in chicken (as in Flying Scotsmen’s kind). Though it’s definitely an experience, frankly it’s not everyone’s taste. On more widely appealing side of meat dishes, there is famous game meat such as roast venison, grouse, and pheasant. And there is, of course, famous Angus beef. Angus beef steak is known for its tenderness and juiciness but it’s a little pricey. But there is more accessible yet seriously delicious meat ‘dish’- it’s found in a pie kind. Scotch pie is made of a golden crispy pie casing packed with juicy and spicy burger packed with spice and meaty juice. It’s also known as football pie because of its convenient size. But when it’s done right it’s certainly not only for football fans!
Oats, oats and oats
No other country appreciates and knows what to do with oats like Scotsmen. There is creamy porridge, oatcakes and oatmeal scones (bannock). Oats are in every corner of the Scottish kitchen. Not only because of its simple but yummy grainy aroma and texture, but also because of its wholesomeness and its nutrition, porridge still stands as one of the nation’s staple breakfast.
The origin of scone
Scones are the stars of the 3-story luxurious pleasure of cream tea. It’s not a yeasty bread, neither pastry. It’s a category in itself. Bready, cakey champion of afternoon tea. It’s rather heavy but chewy and moist and with clotted cream and jams, we are in heaven. Have you ever thought of the origin of scone? It’s from Scotland and the original form is called Bannock. Bannock was originally made of oatmeal as the main ingredient and made into a big flat round bread. And a cut slice of it was called scone. They also have tattie scones, obviously includes potatoes as an ingredient. Potatoes make the scones really chewy and make it peeeerfect for the hearty breakfast. In modern days wheat is easily available, so scones look a lot different from what they were. But nonetheless, can you imagine our life without scones? I certainly can’t!
Is a deep-fried Mars bar the thing that makes Scottish “dessert” stand out? Well, maybe. But there is a lot more to the indulging nature of Scottish dessert. Of course there is rich buttery shortbread and Edinburgh rock (which comes in different flavours and is so addictive!). What’s more? There is Clootie dumpling and Cranachan. Clootie dumpling is a steamed pudding (steamed wrapped up in a clootie- a piece of cloth) made with flour, breadcrumbs/oatmeal, dried fruits and spices. It’s a softer and lighter version of the Christmas pudding that we know. It can be topped up with whisky-infused custard or ice-cream. When you bite into it, the perfect flavour combination of fruits and spices burst in your mouth. Delicious! Cranachan is a heartier version of Eton mess. It is made of whipped cream, honey, whisky drenched toasted oatmeal (of course!) and raspberries. It just goes to show that whisky goes so well with dessert. And as if that wasn’t enough, Scottish dessert can be jewelled with their renowned raspberries and strawberries. Gorgeous!
(Cranachan- Scottish dessert at its best- readersdigest.com.au/raspberry-cranachan)
Whisky, what else?
The Gaelic word ‘Whisky’ means ‘Water of life’ because of its healing effect and it proves how this drink is worthy of recognition. And whisky has been such an important part of Scotsmen’s lives. Whisky and ports are for elderly? Well, it might not be such an easy drink like Pimm’s. But its dry clean flavour is perfect to refresh your taste buds. The world of whisky is so profound and you can see that by the range of adjectives used to describe the aroma and flavours, from smoky, to sweet, fruity, delicate, light, intense…..Whisky can also be used in desserts and it seems like such a versatile thing. Do you want to have a nice hot drink that calms you and relaxes you on a chilly wintry night? Why don’t you try a hot toddy? A hot toddy is prepared with boiling water, whisky and honey. It can be adapted to your version by adding a slice of lemon or even some spices. The perfect bedtime drink.
So, that was a list of just a few Scottish dishes and flavours we should most definitely try. Their foods are very simple and clean representation of the region- the nature, nature and nature. Their amazing natural resources, fish, meat, vegetables, grains and berries are just proof that when the quality of ingredients are top notch, dishes involving around it inevitably comes out great. Just simple cooking brings out the best of it.