Featured Country of the month: Scotland
Updated: Dec 20, 2021
I have been excited to cover Scotland ever since I started this newsletter and this month the stars aligned to make it the perfect occasion. There is a deep chill in the air which creates the ideal climate for Scottish fare. On the 30th November, we have St Andrews Day, making it a topical choice for the month and to make things even more topical, Glasgow has the spotlight shining brightly on it this month due to COP26. If I needed more reason than that to make this month the month - my Mum came down to visit and proved herself very useful as sous chef for the day. Afterall, two sets of Scottish hands are better than the one!
Scottish cuisine has a few different points of interest. Firstly let's go with the most obvious - is everything deep-fried and unhealthy? No.
However, having said that, I did accidentally choose 2 / 3 recipes which called on me to use lard for the first time ever.. Of course this is down to the choice that I made to represent my country, but hey, at least I didn’t deep-fry a Mars bar!
However, there are some more positive connotations with Scottish Cuisine - one of which is the quality of the local produce. Scotland is renowned for its seafood and game, as well as the famous Aberdeen Angus beef.
Cooking methods in Scotland are fairly traditional with lots of soups and stews but like most countries, the traditions have also been shaped by immigration. When the Vikings invaded, they brought with them Scandinavian methods such as smoking, which has become an integral part of one of Scotland’s best known dishes; the Arbroath Smokie. Another culture that Scotland has famously welcomed into its culinary practices, is of course Indian. There is a wealth of incredible curry houses throughout Scotland and in fact, it is believed that Chicken Tikka Masala was invented here by members of the South Asian Community in Glasgow. I can say with confidence that the best curries I have had outside of India have all been in Scotland.
If you are wondering about the lack of haggis in this deep dive, I have made plenty of dishes before using it such as Haggis Nachos, Haggis Gyozas and of course Haggis Bon Bons feature in my Christmas Cooking Course. Another classic, tablet - is featured in my Instagram highlights here - if you are interested. I wanted to make dishes I had not contemplated making before but that I was familiar with. I have to say, it made life a lot easier knowing what the end result should be! Unfortunately the flipside of this is great disappointment if it didn't turn out quite right.. Speaking of - let’s have a look at how I got on with Butteries (not well)!
Buttery, Rowie or Aberdeen Roll - where to start with this North East delicacy? For those who have not had the pleasure of experiencing a Buttery, the most common comparison is to that of a squashed, salty croissant.. Sounds appetising, right?! In fact, when Sir Terry Wogan tried one, he described it as tasting like a "mouth full of seaweed". Despite all of this, I can assure you, they are delicious. So how did these pastry oddities come into being?
Allegedly, the origin of the Buttery was as a replacement for bread to be eaten by fisherman on long trips away. Butteries last longer than bread and the ungodly amount of fat in them made them perfect for an energy boost at sea. Butteries are nowadays typically eaten at breakfast time or as part of your ‘fly cup’. The most common thing to spread on a buttery is of course MORE BUTTER.
Much like the appearance and texture, the process of making these were a little bit similar to making croissants, although thankfully these were not as painstaking to make and could be whipped up in a single afternoon. Also unlike croissants, Butteries contain either just lard or a combination of lard and butter. I opted for the combination of both for my attempt.
The initial dough was easy enough to make and required some resting before the integrating of the fat. The lard and butter mix needed to be very soft in order to rub it into the dough before folding the dough up again, like you would puff pastry. Anyone who has made puff pastry before will know how strange this felt as usually the butter needs to be ice cold for this to work. This process was repeated a number of times before we were ready to shape the Butteries. I cut the dough into (not at all) equal sized pieces which resulted in more square looking butteries than I would usually be familiar with and they were then baked for just 15 minutes.
Did you like it?
As mentioned above - the difficulty in making something you are very familiar with is that it is easy to spot the mistakes. The first of which was spotted by Mum: ‘these are not salty enough’. I really don’t know why it didn't occur to me to use salted butter in something that has famously been compared to seaweed.. Doh.
The second issue was with the texture - straight out of the oven it was clear that they were lacking the soft squidgy texture that is characteristic of a Buttery. They were crispy on the outside and nice and pillowy soft on the inside - not unpleasant but not what we were after.. I have since learned that in order to produce a soft end result, the butter needs to be worked into the dough more thoroughly.
The foundations were there and knowing where it all came apart makes me intrigued to give it another go..
Marks out of 10: 5/10 (proper butteries get 10/10 but mine sadly were not..)
Unlike Butteries, I grew up detesting this stinky soup. Pungent though it may be, I now love this creamy, fishy treat. Unsurprisingly, Cullen Skink also hails from the North East and more specifically - Cullen, a small fishing village on the coast. The term ‘skink’ actually refers to beef shin or knuckle. Traditionally, this would be a beef soup, however, it was adapted to its surroundings within Cullen where beef was scarce but smoked haddock was plentiful. It is a simple dish, which largely comprises fish, milk, potatoes, onion and leek!
For this recipe, I followed instructions that my Granda had written for my Dad years ago - these instructions included lovely bits of our native Doric dialect such as ‘dependin’ on size and foo thick yi like yir soup’ and ‘Gie it a steer up and a wee simmer’!
The fish is first simmered in milk which both cooks the fish and imparts a lovely fishy flavour to the milk. Simultaneously, the tatties are cooked and when they are done, half are mashed and half are left whole for texture. Leeks are sweated down in a pan with butter and then the whole lot is combined to leave you with a hearty, soul-warming plate of soup!
Did you like it?
We nailed this one. It was up there with some of the best Cullen Skink I’ve had so I was ‘fair chuffed’ (delighted).
Marks out of 10: 9/10
This is a ‘does what it says on the tin’ dish - it is simply Macaroni Cheese encased within a pie. I’ll be honest - I didn’t question the concept of a Macaroni Pie until I was at University. One of my English flatmates came home with the devastating news that their newly discovered Greggs favourite - the Macaroni pie - had been discontinued. It turned out she had no idea that this wasn’t a Greggs specific dish and until that moment I had no idea that the Macaroni Pie was native to Scotland!
It turned out that the discontinuation of the Macaroni Pie by Greggs had upset more than just my flatmate as the controversy made its way into the First Minister’s Questions following a petition with over 1000 signatures. Nicola stated: ‘I got a stern talking to on the telephone last night from my father that he expected me to join the campaign to save the macaroni pie. I've always been an obedient and loyal daughter and this occasion is no different.’ Alas, the pie was not saved.
With some reflection I can see now that the concept is truly ridiculous - carbs with carbs taken to new limits. The ludicrousness of the Macaroni Pie is what drew me into making it over the perhaps more well established Scotch Pie.
I’ve made Macaroni Cheese many times before so this was nothing new. In fact, this task was relegated to my Mum who did an excellent job.
The pie casing however, was completely new to me and after seeing how wrong it could go on the Bake Off just a couple of weeks before I was curious to see how this would turn out. Hot water crust pastry is made by combining lard and hot water with the rest of the mix and is shaped while the dough is still warm. We didn’t have pie tins so the pastry was shaped over tins of chickpeas which worked surprisingly well! They are cooled in the fridge before being filled with the Macaroni Cheese. The lack of pie tins meant that we had to tie a piece of baking paper around the pies to stop them from collapsing as they cooked - this step easily proved to be the most complex thing about making these pies. A final flourish of cheese is added to each before being baked in the oven. I had some leftover haggis from making bon buns earlier in the week so half of this pies had some haggis mixed through as well!
Did you like it?
I loved making these! I was so impressed with how the hot water crust pastry turned out and the fact that it kept its shape so well. I’m not convinced I’d make them with a Macaroni Cheese filling again because it was a lot of stodge, but Chicken Curry Pies are definitely next on the list!
Marks out of 10: 8/10
You can view all previous 'Country of the Month' articles HERE.
I’ll be asking for more suggestions through instagram again this month - if you don’t have instagram and want to suggest a country, just drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.