This past weekend, my sister and I did our 2nd Burns dinner. The last one was 2 years ago, held on the 25th of January. This year its on the 19th – close enough, and means that my sister can do it in the course of the weekend – she is travelling from away.
For those of you who do not know, Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland. His ability to discern the true nature of both man and beast in a few powerful words is unsurpassed. A few years after his death his friends got together and held a commemorative dinner for him. Apparently little has changed in over 200 years. We still have a long way to go before we get anywhere close to making it truly traditional – this was the second time we have done this, and it will only get better. I’d say we have the food part down pretty well — next are the various toasts, poems and words of great and small wisdom to be shared.
My greatest pleasure in this is cooking with my sister. We’ve both developed into pretty decent cooks, and we rarely get a chance to play together in the kitchen sandbox. There’s so much shared and deep memory there, and we get along wonderfully well in the kitchen. Doing it over the day also means we aren’t scrambling around like we are in some kind of hell’s kitchen – its very relaxed with lots of time for catching up and looking ahead.
First of all, the whole menu
- Homemade oatcakes
- Cheddar cheese
- Red pepper jelly
- Cut vegs
- Cock a Leekie soup
- Homemade sourdough
- Salmon on a bed of warmed grain barley salad
- Maple baked brussel sprouts
- Braised carrot and cabbage
- Neeps (turnips – what North Americans call rutabaga)
- Tatties (mashed potatoes)
ALL the recipes
For this I used my sourdough cracker recipe. I let the dough rise for a few hours, cut them thick, and got a little rise out of them. For the flour, I used 50g oats, 100g oat flour and 100g red fife flour. If following the recipe, I used 15% oil and 4% salt. They were baked at convection 375F//190C for 25 minutes. Its important that the oatcakes are crisp, otherwise mold will eventually set in.
For this I sought out sharp cheeses from Britain – no Scottish ones available as well as an Ontario cheese, Bush Garden (near the cottage area my sister and I grew up with in our formative and not so formative years)
Red pepper jelly
Clearly I did not make this today. It was one of my preserving activities from the past year.
500 ml apple cider vinegar 500g
500 ml white vinegar 500g
1kg brown sugar this can be adjusted upwards according to your taste and daring
1 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp coriander (do SEEDS< not powder)
4 tsp chillies/hot pickled peppers/cayenne to taste for hotness
1kg BBQ’d red peppers (coated in oil with salt pepper, oregano. Thyme, basil, cumin when they are bbq’d) (need to verify what the dry weight of these would be. )
Your preferred thickening. I used 8 tbs agar agar (9g/litre) but pectin works well.
- Cut peppers into large chunks for bbq
- Coat peppers in olive oil, coat in herb mixture (Basil/thyme/oregano/salt/pepper) and bbq
- Once cooked, jullienne the bbq’d peppers to the desired size for the jelly
boil 6 250 ml jars; put lids in colander to boil also.
- Combine cider, vinegar, sugar, spices (add hot ingredients to taste
bring liquid mix to a boil. Adjust seasonings to taste
- remove jars from hot water (or oven if you use this method)
distribute peppers into jars
- Add pectin and proceed as you normally do for a waterbathed preserve
- Boil jars for 10 minutes
Soup: Cock a Leekie
Observing my sis prepare this, I am considering that my approach to chicken may be too narrow. After all my usual MO is to strip the meat from the bone, and then soup what is left. K ‘s usual approach is to take a whole small chicken and boil it,peeling away the meat and skin after.
Chicken parts – bone in – or a small chicken
2 large leeks
1 large carrot
2 c barley
2 L or more chicken stock (Water will work if you do not have stock).
2-3 bay leaf
1/4 tsp peppercorns
salt to taste
- Boil the chicken with peppercorns and bay leaf at a bare simmer for about 2 hours, covered
- Prepare leeks: prepare, wash and cut them. Keep in mind that cutting across the grain will give a different ultimate texture than cutting long slices.
- Cut carrots – either diced, rounds or julienned. Again keep in mind the impact of on the final texture
- Strain the soup, and pull away all the meat, leaving bone and skin behind.
- Pour the broth in a large pot, add the chicken, leeks, carrots and barley
- Simmer for a further hour or until the barley is cooked.
- Taste for salt and pepper.
This time I made an 800g batard of my usual sourdough, but in a nod to the occasion, used barley, rye, and oat flakes on the outside. It took approximately 40 minutes at 440F/226C. It used 50% all purpose flour and 50% red fife at 66% hydration. The starter and dough were begun the day before, and refrigerated. The final proofing was begun early in the morning it was baked, in the fridge.
Fish course: Salmon on a bed of warmed barley salad
For our dinner, I bought a ginormous salmon fillet. In retrospect, half of it would have been fine. (I have a feeling I’m going to be making some mayo and a salmon pate in the near future.) This way to do a baked fish is quite amazing in its simplicity, and works fabulously for a delicious fish that wants its true nature to shine through.
1 salmon (or trout, whitefish, what have you… ) filet
Salt & pepper to taste
Optional – lemon slices
- heat oven to 400F/200C and put in a cookie tray sufficient to hold the salmon.
- liberally brush olive oil on both sides of salmon
- sprinkle salt and pepper over salmon – to your own judgement!
- When the oven has reached temperature, remove the cookie tray, and slide the salmon onto it. The immediate contact with the hot tray helps to cook and caramelize the skin. Optionally you may want to place lemon slices on top. You may also wish to insert a meat thermometer in it.
- Place the salmon in the oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 325F/165C.
- How long it takes will depend on the size of the salmon. For our huge one, it as 20 minutes. After that it was not quite done. I inserted a meat thermometer in the thickest part and took it out at 140F/60C – about 5 minutes more.
Next time, I would grease the tray before putting the salmon on.
Warmed barley salad
This became the bed for the salmon to lie on. I love making these warmed grain dishes. There’s so much variety: different kinds and combinations of grains, different additions, and of course the wide variety of oils and vinegars to finish them off with. Since this was about Robbie Burns and Scotland, we went with barley. There was a slight straying from the Scottish land in the additions – notably the cranberries. I did resist the temptation to use pomegranate seeds.
1 cup whole barley
3 cups water
pinch of salt
1/2 granny smith apple
80g coarsely diced red onion
1/.2 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
- Cook the barley – add a pinch of salt to the water, and cook until done – about 40 minutes
- While it is cooking, assemble the other ingredients. The apple and onions should be diced to about the same size as the cranberries
- When the barley is cooked, add the cranberries, onion apple, and herbs.
- Add a little olive oil to give it a hint of being a salad. Optionally you may want to add a few splashes of a fruit vinegar.
- Taste for salt, pepper, and general tweaks (more of this or that….)
Roasted maple brussel sprouts
This was one of the vegetable accompaniments to our 2019 Robbie Burns dinner, at one end of the salmon dish. This is one of these really easy, yet so wonderful dishes. I should say that the preparation is easy: the tricky part is cooking them just right. They can’t be burned, but a high heat is needed to develop the caremalization. Watch them carefully. The maple syrup is definitely a Canadian addition – perhaps next year I can try honey.
olive or sunflower oil
- Turn oven to 400F/200C
- Weigh the brussel sprouts and add 1.5% of their weight in salt. Add pepper as you judge appropriate
- Drizzle with both olive oil and maple syrup until they are well coated
- Place in a covered dish and cook for about 20 minutes before checking them.
The time will vary with a number of factors including the size of the sprouts, the shape of the container (a cookie tray will cook them faster than if they are in a glass bowl), and the quantity of sprouts. You want to have them cook until they are nicely browned, but not at all burnt. They should be very soft and sweet.
Braised cabbage and carrot
This dish or its variants is something I do a lot. Quantities and variants can easily vary, but not the process. Braising is not something the Scots have typically done back in the day. Boiling was the usual M.O. I find that a long slow braise – with just enough water to help the dish develop its own liquid – carmelizes root vegetables wonderfully, bringing out their own quite intense sweetness.
- various root vegetables, including cabbage too.
- 1 large onion
- 1-2 heads of garlic
- Herbs – your choice.
- Cut onions in thin slices
- Gently sautee onions in oil or butter with a little salt. You an play with the oil selection butter, olive, or coconut oil will all give a pleasing result.
- While the onions are cooking, peel and cut root vegetables into thin, but still chunky slices.
- The onions should be well on their way to being caramelized (but not burnt! – about 20-30 minutes), before adding the root vegetables, and garlic. Do not stir yet, but a little water can help at this point. There should be a few cm’s of liquid around the onions. White wine is also an interesting alternative.
- Taste and consider herbs and spices to use. Some possibilities include thyme, rosemary, nutmeg, sage, oregano, basil
- Gently simmer, covered for 45 – 60 minutes. They should come out well cooked, sweet and soft.
Last year I did a blog about how to make haggis, the centrepiece of a Burns dinner, and when I took a look at it this year, I felt it had worked out really well insofar as it gave clear directions as to what to do. I strongly encourage everyone to try your own DIY haggis. Even if you can only get liver and heart, this will give you something very close.
I’m convinced very few people make it these days, even in butcher shops. This year, I was able to use the pluck I had obtained last year from Dejong Farms. This was a good thing as a few weeks ago, I was informed she did not have any for this year. I said that next time a sheep goes in, could she please reserve the pluck (liver, heart, lungs) for me. Hopefully I’ll be good for next year. After all, all sheep have these organs.
One huge difference this year is my learning about how to cook it. Scott Rea did an excellent haggis tutorial in which he uses beef bung as the sleeve, and cooks it sous vide at 180F/82C for 4 hours or so. This is important because when you boil it, the beef or pig skin breaks apart. At sous vide temperatures, it stays together. Of course back in the day, there was no such thing as sous vide, or meat thermometers. There was however, sheep stomachs available, and people would heat their houses in the middle of the winter on a wood or coal stove, so it didn’t matter much.
It took a lot of patience and time to get the synthetic sausage skins seen here. Following the sous vide method, I’ve been trying to find beef bung – but no one seems to have it. This would be truly good to have, as when one stabs the haggis, it will open perfectly.
Serving the haggis
This is the part where I know I need to improve on. Typically the haggis is piped in – an ostentatious display of Scottishness- and presented on the table. At that point an appointed host must read the Toast to the Haggis, while holding a sharp knife at the ready to give it its first cut.
Our preparations this year
Here is the haggis once the oats, ground meat and fat have been added. Next is stuffing it in the skins, which were big enough to do manually. We only needed about half of it – which is fine. A haggis breakfast of fried haggis, eggs and potatoes is a most excellent start to a cold winter morning.
This is the haggis in the sous vide. The little balls act as a lid to help keep the temperature up. Notice the black wire – leading to the meat thermometer telling us that the water temperature was 20F lower than the Anova readout! After our dinner I made small sausages out of some of what remained above using a 7L pot and a collander. Our range held them perfectly at 180F/82C on its lowest setting – without burst skins. As for the Anova, I want to see what happens at lower sous vide temperatures.
Neeps (turnips – what North Americans call rutabaga – or yellow turnip is what is required here.
The turnips are braised in the same way as the braised root vegetables described above. Onions are optional, but leave out the garlic. The turnip should be cut into thin wedges to maximize the surface area being cooked. A little salt will go well, but otherwise don’t use any other spices. The oil used in the braise can vary – butter, sunflower or olive are all good choices. A little liquid may be needed – there needs to be a couple of cm’s on the bottom.
Tatties (mashed potatoes)
Mashed potatoes are the other compulsory vegetable to serve alongside haggis. I boil my potatoes whole in their jackets, because in this way the water tends to stay out of the flesh. This is important as one wants to hydrate them at the mashing stage with milk, not potato water.
Once you can stick a knife easily ot the middle they are ready. If the skin has begun to separate from the potato they are also definitely ready. Let them cool a little, and remove the skins. Add butter – about 100g depending on the quantity – and milk. Pour in the milk a little at a time, while mashing them until they have reached the desired consistency. Add salt to taste.
Dessert – Cranachan
This recipe comes from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/4298800/Burns-Night-Cranachan-recipe.html (This one is interesting too as it covers some other recipes in this blog)
Ingredients (6 servings)
- 110g/4oz rolled oats or pinhead oatmeal
- 280ml/ 10 oz double cream (whipping cream if you are in Canada)
- 300g/11oz crowdie, or quark. We used creme fraiche. LIke crowdie, it is a fermented milk product. Unlike corwdie which is soured and slightly fermented curdled milk, creme fraiche is cultured cream. In our case it was 50:50 yogurt and whipping cream, left to culture at room temperature for about 8 hours.
- 6 tbs honey
- 5 tbs scotch
- 1 bag (280 g) frozen raspberries, thawed
- ½ pint fresh raspberries
Below is your mise en scene for 2 servings.
- Toast the oats in a large frying pan over a medium heat, stirring constantly until they turn brown and smell toasty. Near the end you may wish to throw on ½ tsp of sugar. Allow to cool.
- Lightly whip the cream and mix it with the creme fraiche.
- Stir in 4tbs honey and 5 tbs whisky
- Layer cream, oats, raspberries, in 6 glasses (we used champagne flutes), finishing with a dribble of honey and a few raspberries.
Eat immediately or refrigerate
A couple of notes:
There are a few other – predictably British versions of Cranachan
The most thorough one is here:
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/13/how-to-make-perfect-cranachan-scottish-dessert-recipe. It compares several of the cranachan recipes and shows the variability.
I’m interested in exploring the idea of toasted candied oats. What’s called for here are pinhead or steel cut oats – what you get when you pass row oats through a steel mill on a very course chop. I’d be interested to experiment with oat, barley or rye flakes. I’m also wondering about using malted beer flavoring grains and toasting them.
I felt the thawed frozen raspberries were too liquidy to work with, as was the champagne flute idea. I’m thinking they will present a lot better if we use raspberry jam (my slightly tart homemade kind, not the sickly sweet commercial stuff) in combination with the frozen raspberries.
To serve, I’m thinking small white wine glasses. Changing the glasses and frozen berries for jam should help the layering should go smoother.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sour cream
whisk cream and sour cream in a bowl. Cover loosely and let stand in a warm spot overnight or until thickened – 12-24 hours
cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. The tartness will continue to develop.
Enjoy your Robbie Burns Day dinner!
I hope you will have a chance to see this before your Robbie Burns dinner. I know I’m a little near the time for anyone who has been long planning this event, especially concerning the haggis cooking. But hopefully you will take away some ideas. I’d love to hear your ideas too!
What did you do for your Burns Supper?