Cullen Skink, Venison loin, Scottish Dinner Party
When I put out a call on Twitter for ideas as to what I should make in Edinburgh for my series The Dish, about the quintessential dishes of the places we visit, Scottish chef Gary Robinson (former personal chef to Prince Charles and former chef of Mezzanine, one of our favourite restaurants in Dubai) suggested that I make haggis.
And no, not just steam a haggis and serve it, Gary wanted me to make it from scratch. If you know haggis, you’re probably giggling at the thought. If you don’t, and you’re not vegetarian, read on.
Haggis is essentially a big, fat, humble sausage. But a big, fat sausage that contains finely chopped sheep’s heart, liver and lungs (hence the ‘humble’ descriptor), along with spices, onions, and some secret ingredients that set each haggis maker apart.
While in Edinburgh, for the sake of research, we tried commercial haggis from the supermarket, haggis that you fry up as part of a breakfast, haggis made by our local butcher, and haggis at a Burns Supper. Between all the haggis and the whisky, we both felt like we were well on the way to developing the mother of all heartburn attacks by the time we left Scotland.
While many visitors to Scotland – even foodies – get squeamish about the thought of haggis, we are dedicated nose-to-tail eaters. We found haggis – in all its forms – to be delicious. It is also very filling, so while haggis with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes) is the traditional way of serving it, I couldn’t help but do something a little different and a little lighter. That something different is the main course of a simple three-course meal — including Cullen Skink, Venison Loin recipes — that I cooked up in our apartment using the local Scottish ingredients we bought.
Starter – Cullen Skink
The first course showcases Edinburgh’s fantastic local seafood. Donald Reid, the eating and drinking editor of The List, who we interviewed about the city’s food scene, called Cullen Skink the dish to make if you’re settling into Edinburgh for a while. Straight after we left him we went and tried it at Sea Dogs. It’s a delicious, aromatic and seductive soup made with smoked haddock fish, potatoes, milk, and stock. Cullen is the name of the town where the dish originated and skink a name for soup.
In The Locals’ Guide to Edinburgh there was a recipe for the dish by chef Martin Wishart, the Michelin-starred chef of Restaurant Martin Wishart in Edinburgh. While I loved the fact that he added leeks to the mix, the addition of cream to the dish in the recipe made me think that it might mute some of the smoky flavour of the fish.
After sourcing some beautiful smoked haddock from local supplier George Armstrong Fishmonger, I made a pretty simple version of the soup.
- 300g smoked haddock
- 50g butter
- 2 leeks, carefully cleaned and sliced
- 1 white onion, diced
- 1 medium-sized potato, peeled and finely sliced
- 1 cup of vegetable stock
- 300ml whole milk
- Chives for serving
- Melt the butter in a saucepan and slowly sweat down the leeks and the onion without browning them.
- Heat the stock and add to the leeks and onions, along with the potato. Cook for ten minutes over medium-high heat. Add water if necessary.
- Add milk to a saucepan over medium heat and slide in the haddock. Poach for five minutes.
- Remove the haddock from the milk and reserve the milk. Break up the haddock into bite-sized chunks with a fork.
- Put the soup and the milk in a blender and blend for a couple of minutes. We’re not after a perfectly smooth finish to the soup, as we’re adding the fish pieces to the soup anyway.
- Reheat the soup in a saucepan and while it's reheating place a good couple of tablespoons of the haddock in the bottom of a glass or cup.
- Pour the soup over the fish tableside for a little old-school dining room drama!
Venison loin with haggis, celeriac purée and roasted vegetables
For the main course I knew haggis had to be involved. I went to the butcher George Bower and found a good sized haggis for two. Because I’d heard so much about the excellent game in Scotland, I also bought some lovely venison loin. At the local supermarket there were some fine local carrots for roasting, beetroots which I cooked in their bag, and celeriac to make a purée. For a sauce I went with a red wine sauce with a dash of whisky – often called a gamekeepers sauce.
- For the sauce
- 50g butter
- 1tsp tomato purée
- 100ml red wine
- 250ml beef stock (warmed)
- A dram of whisky
- For the celeriac purée
- 50g butter, plus more for final mix
- 750g celeriac, peeled and chopped into 2cm pieces
- 1 clove of garlic
- 500ml full-fat milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 600g of venison loin
- 2 beetroots (uncooked)
- 500g of carrots
- To make the purée, melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, and add the celeriac and garlic and mix for a few minutes. Add the milk and good pinch of salt and simmer for 20 minutes. If the celeriac isn’t soft give it a few more minutes; the liquid should have mostly disappeared. Place the mix in a blender and blitz to a purée. Season as necessary (you might need plenty of salt) and place back in a saucepan to keep warm until required.
- To make the sauce, add the tomato purée and butter to a saucepan over low heat. Once the two ingredients have combined, gradually stir in the red wine and then the beef stock. Gently simmer for around 30 minutes at which point the sauce should have thickened considerably. Add a wee dram of whisky and simmer again. If the sauce is too thin, keep reducing. If it’s just right, take it off the heat. Add a small knob of butter, stir in well, and increase the heat just before serving.
- To cook the carrots, pre-heat the oven to 120˚C and place the carrots on an oven tray, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Generally I like the carrots to still have a bit of crunch so I do them for only 30 minutes.
- The beetroots I used came in a vacuum pack which I boiled for 15 minutes. Simple.
- The haggis was steamed in a colander for 1 hour as per the butcher’s instructions.
- When all the above ingredients are almost ready, it’s time to tackle the venison (which should be out of the fridge and almost at room temperature). Venison is easily overcooked, making it dry out. You must only cook venison to medium-rare which can make some people nervous, but with whole cuts of meat bacteria is usually only found on the surface of the meat and the high cooking temperature you’re searing it at will eliminate any bacteria.
- Place a little oil in a pan over high heat and sear the venison all over – usually it takes about 5 minutes. Transfer to the oven and increase the oven temperature to 180˚C. It should take about 10 minutes for the internal temperature to reach 62˚C which is the minimum recommended temperature. When you have the desired temperature, remove the venison from the oven and allow to rest covered for ten minutes before slicing and serving.
- To serve, place a good ribbon of celeriac purée across the plates. Slice open the haggis and give each plate a good couple of tablespoons of haggis on top of the purée. Place a few slices of the venison on top of that and place the beetroot pieces and carrots around the meat. Spoon over some sauce. Enjoy with whisky or a big bottle of red, preferably a spicy shiraz.
Dessert – Local Scottish Cheeses
We were so impressed with the local cheeses that we bought that we skipped making a ‘pudding’. Many locals recommended making cranachan (berries, cream, oats, honey and whisky), but as the berries were frozen or imported, we decided against making something sweet and went straight to the fantastic cheeses. Here’s what we served, all of which we bought from I.J. Mellis.
We tried some delicious Anster, handmade on farm to a traditional recipe by Jane and Robert Stewart, the cows graze all summer long on lush pastures overlooking the May island above Fife fishing village of Anstruther; Isle of Mull, made from raw milk and matured for two years, from cows that feed on grass and surplus grain from the local distillery which gives the cheese a distinctive tangy flavour and some acidity; with age, the cheese gains a great pungency of flavour; and Lanark Blue, made from raw ewe’s milk, which due to twice yearly lambing, changes from season to season; early season it has a long, lingering, sweet flavour, and sharp undertones, while late season it’s punchier and more savoury in flavour. It was all wonderful!
This post continues from the last post about Local Produce here.