It was Burns Night during the week – a celebration of all things Scotland to commemorate the birthday of Robbie Burns. Given that Grant was born in Scotland, it’s one of those days that we generally like to mark in some way.
Traditionally on Burns night you’d celebrate with haggis and neeps and tatties. I’m not a fan, but Grant is – and has even been known to order it willingly off a menu.
He says I haven’t given haggis a chance and I usually counter with some rude comments about how the national flower is a noxious weed, the national dish is offal encased in a sheep’s stomach, and the national drink was invented to chase away the taste of the national dish and to promote enjoyment of the national instrument ie bagpipes.
Of course, I jest – I happen to love everything about Scotland…except haggis..and deep-fried Mars bars. But if I have haggis to thank for the invention of whisky (my theory, probably not a true story) well, how can I complain?
I have, however, hunted down and cooked haggis, the crafty wee buggers, before. Once I prepared them the traditional way with mashed tatties (potatoes) and neeps (swedes), and another time I turned it into a shepherd’s pie of sorts with the tatties and neeps as the topping and served it with a whisky sauce. That was, however, in the early days of our relationship…need I say more? The things you do when you’re newly in love, right?
Anyways, we were having friends around for dinner on Saturday night so I decided that something Scottish – cranachan… more on that later – would be on the menu. That was dessert taken care of, but what to have before that? Grant suggested haggis (I hoped he was joking) and I suggested salmon, at which point he reminded me that these friends don’t eat seafood.
‘What about Coq au Vin?’ he asked.
‘It’s not exactly Scottish,’ I said.
‘But it’s nice.’
He had a point.
‘If we bring in the Auld Alliance we can get away with it,’ I decided. I’m nothing if not creative in my justifications.
The Auld Alliance, or An Seann-chaidreachas in Scottish Gaelic, was an alliance forged between Scotland and France against England back in 1295. To this day it’s never formally been revoked.
It wasn’t just a military alliance – although that certainly was the original intention – but the French influence was seen in many parts of Scottish life – architecture, law, language and cuisine. Many Scots studied at French universities and privileges were granted to Scottish winemakers. As for the French, well, they got whisky. (They probably got more out of the deal, but this post isn’t about that.)
So, Coq au Vin it was. Because I’d left it so late to decide and didn’t have time for marinating, the recipe I used was this one. I cooked it earlier in the afternoon, removed the chicken pieces from the sauce so they wouldn’t dry out, and took my time reducing it down, before adding the chicken back to heat through. We served it with steamed green beans and Vichy-style carrots – carrots cooked with butter, sugar, and fresh thyme. Okay, so there’s butter – and sugar – but this was a dinner party, and carrots cooked this way end up tasting more of carrot than any carrot has the right to taste of.
For something to nibble on while we had a drink – and while I reduced the sauce and cooked the veg – I put out a platter with savoury cake, radishes and little bowls of butter and salt. Very French and not at all Scottish, but the recipe for the savoury cake is here.
As for dessert? This is where we got our Scots on with Cranachan. Not only is it historically a Scottish harvest dish (and would therefore probably not have been present on January 25 in Scotland) but it’s ridiculously simple to put together and is my favourite dessert.
Grant describes it as an Eton Mess without the meringue, I think of it more as a Scottish trifle without the jelly or sponge cake – which, come to think of it, means it’s really nothing like a trifle. It is, at its simplest, layers of oats, softly whipped light as a feather cream, raspberries, honey, and whisky.
Usually the raspberries are mixed with a little whisky and honey, but they were fresh so I didn’t bother with that this time, although I did drizzle a little local (from bees in our neighbourhood) honey over them. As for the oats, we’re not talking about instant quick oats, but real traditional oats. The sort of oats you stir for porridge on a winter’s morning. It’s the oats that give texture and crunch to the pudding.
You could just toast them in a frypan, but I take it one extra step and for 50g of oats, add about 30g brown sugar to the pan. You need to stir them about and watch them like a hawk – don’t take your eyes off them for one second – until the sugar has melted into the oats and they’re toasty and golden-brown but not bitter and burnt. As they cool, they take on a toffee crunch. You can leave them in little nuggetty clumps but being not at all fond of visits to the dentist, I prefer to separate them.All you need to do when you’re ready for dessert is layer it all together and serve it with a wee dram of whisky on the side which you can, if you choose to, tip over the top.