Thursday, January 21, 2010

Burns night dilemma (or what goes with Haggis?)

My partner has been asking for a pseudonym for blog mentions - I think he’s asking for trouble in the long run, but for today’s purposes I’m going to refer to him as ‘The Scottish One’ (he is after all from Scotland so it’s a reasonably appropriate title). Burns night is approaching and the Scottish one has a passion for Haggis. Not a passion I entirely share and not one that’s confined to only one day of the year either, but for Burns night itself I’ll make an exception and enter wholeheartedly into the spirit of the thing – helped by a large dram, the Scottish one’s appearance in a kilt, and his poetry reciting skills.

The Haggis part of the occasion has without deviation, embellishment or invention to include a MacSween’s Haggis (the best available south of the Border) neaps and tatties, I would favour bashed neaps and tatties (mashed together no less) but he says no the potato and turnip should not mingle. The suggestion of anything green on the plate met with such a terrible reaction that I never dared mention it again. Either way that part of the meal is easy, but the appearance of the Scottish one’s knees is an occasion worth celebrating with friends and a proper dinner so yet again I am wondering what else to cook for the big night.

I tried this year to think a bit further ahead than normal and so pulled out a huge pile of cook books looking for inspiration – it was a sadly disappointing experiment; I found a few recipe’s for making my own Haggis (I plan to stick with the bought ones – even more so after reading the instructions) but no elegant menu suggestions. I did think that Nigella Lawson’s ‘Feast’, Claire MacDonald (of Macdonald) or even Agnes Jekyll’s ‘Kitchen Essays’ might have had something to say about it, but no.

Given that Burns night suppers were a traditionally male only occasion I suppose it’s not surprising that Jekyll didn’t include it - even in her ‘For Men Only’ section, but I’m slightly surprised to find nothing in more contemporary cookbooks. Now I’m in a position to know I can tell you all that Haggis sales are healthy, even in my part of middle England, it’s a food that seems so in tune with current ideas of thrift, seasonal, and nose to tail eating. Puddings are easy enough to come up with (Rhubarb Cranachan has proved popular in the past and will probably appear again) but what of a starter? The Scottish one is prepared to allow a certain amount of originality, even of novelty, into this stage of proceedings – I want something involving greens, a possible hint of Scotland, and which won’t seem out of place next to such a determinedly peasant vernacular dish. Any and all suggestions gratefully received.

A quick scan of the book shelf has also revealed that I did not in fact buy a book of Burns Poetry last year as I thought, and as the Scottish one has become (and will hopefully remain) a fixture I think the time has come for me to invest rather than relying on the library – if I go now I hope I might get a full rendition of 'Tam O Shanter' before Monday!

1 comment:

  1. Can I suggest spinach with goats cheese & nutmeg, I've not tried it with Haggis but it works very well with black pudding.

    Put washed fresh spinach in a large frying pan or wok, season and add a large pinch of ground nutmeg, fry in butter until it's shrunk but not over cooked. Add cubes of goats cheese, cook a little more until the cheese starts to melt.
    I normally serve this as an accompaniment but given the Scottish ones preference then I can't see why it would work as a started served with toasted french bread.

    Being Welsh born & having spent all of my life south of the border I have no idea when Burns night is, so hopefully you get it in enough time. Hope you have a good one