The best meal in Scotland is undoubtedly breakfast. When I was there last fall we tucked in to home-cured bacon, venison sauages, kippered herrings, cold baked ham, game pie made with the famous moorland grouse, to mention but a few of the temptations. The rolls were outstanding, fresh-baked and warm with a floury crust.
Such a feast sets the perfect example for an enticing brunch. The spread opens with hot little ramekins of finnan haddie, or smoked haddock, baked with hard-cooked egg in a white sauce topped with cheese. The best little smoked haddocks are said to come from the port of Findon on the east coast of Scotland, hence the catchy title. Other possibilities include smoked trout, smoked mackerel or fresh salmon.
Never let it be said the Scots are behind the times. Lamb burgers in whiskey sauce was a new-style number I enjoyed within a few miles of Glamis Castle, craggy summer residence of Queen Elizabeth. The dish is simplicity itself, consisting of patties of ground lamb that are pan fried. Then a sauce is made by deglazing the pan juices with stock, cream and whiskey to your taste.
Kailkenny is made with mashed potatoes and shredded cabbage and is a great improvement on both. Potato smooths the rough-textured greens, which in turn give taste to the bland potato pure'e. I like to top kailkenny generously with melted butter, then bake it so it acquires a crusty brown top, to make a dish also worthy of standing alone at supper.
No Scottish meal could be complete without a quick bread, and these buttermilk scones are in the true tradition. Like muffins, they are best when handled as lightly as possible and are baked at the last moment. The dough should be rough-textured and soft and is patted out with your hand rather than rolled.
Dessert of marmalade mousse is a frothy mix of eggs, sugar and cream, set with gelatin and flavored with bitter orange marmalade, a specialty of Dundee. The recipe is modern but Scottish marmalade dates back at least four centuries. Indeed the name is said to come from Mary Queen of Scots, who tasted bitter orange jam once when she was ill, liking it so much it was given the name "Marie malade."
A schedule to accommodate a lazy morning, with an easy hour in the kitchen before serving.
Up to 2 days ahead: Make finnan haddie ramekins. Prepare kailkenny. Make marmalade mousse.
One to two hours before serving: Bake sour-skons. Lower oven heat to 350 degrees. Unmold mousse and decorate with cream.
Forty five minutes before serving: Bake kailkenny in oven.
Twenty minutes before serving: Bake ramekins in oven.
Ten minutes before serving: Shape and fry lamb burgers. Brew the tea.
Five minutes before serving: Turn oven to low and warm the skons.
FINNAN HADDIE RAMEKINS
If either smoked trout or mackerel substitutes for the finnan haddie, cooking is not needed before flaking. If using fresh salmon, bake it in the oven with fresh haddock.
1 pound finnan haddie (smoked haddock)
2 cups milk, more if needed
1 onion, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
6 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
1 1/2 pounds fresh haddock
FOR THE WHITE SAUCE:
1 quart milk
2 slices onion
1 bay leaf
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated nutmeg to taste
1/2 cup grated dry cheddar cheese
12 slices toast for serving
Put finnan haddie in a saucepan with milk to cover and leave 20 to 30 minutes. Saute' onion in butter until soft and spoon it into 12 ramekins. Lay sliced eggs on top.
Butter 3 to 4 large sheets of foil, lay fresh haddock on top, fold over and pleat edges of foil to seal. Set packages on a baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven until fish flakes easily, 8 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile cover finnan haddie with lid and simmer in the milk until it flakes easily, 15 to 20 minutes. Let both types of haddock cool, then drain and flake them, discarding skin and bones. Note: Milk from poaching is too salty to use for sauce. Divide fish among the ramekins.
For the white sauce: in a saucepan bring milk to a boil with onion, bay leaf and peppercorns. Cover, take from the heat and leave to infuse 10 minutes. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, whisk in flour and cook until foaming. Take pan from the heat and strain in milk, whisking constantly. Return pan to the heat and continue whisking until sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Season it with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste and simmer 2 minutes.
Spoon sauce over the haddock to coat it completely and sprinkle ramekins with cheese. They can be prapared 2 days ahead and kept covered in the refigerator.
To finish: Bake ramekins in a 350-degree oven til bubbling hot and brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve them with toast.
LAMB BURGERS WITH WHISKEY SAUCE
Venison or beef work equally well in this recipe.
3 pounds lean ground lamb
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup veal stock
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons scotch whiskey, more to taste
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Shape lamb into 12 patties about 1 inch thick and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In a large heavy frying pan heat butter and fry lamb burgers over medium heat, allowing 3 to 4 minutes on each side for pink lamb, more if you prefer lamb well done. Transfer burgers to a serving dish and keep them warm.
Discard fat from the pan. Add stock and bring it to a boil, stirring to dissolve pan juices. Boil until reduced by half, then add cream and boil until sauce is thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. Stir in whiskey, pour sauce over burgers and sprinkle with chives.
Any leafy green such as Swiss chard or cabbage can be used instead of kale.
4 pounds potatoes, peeled
2 pounds kale, stems removed and shredded
6 tablespoons butter
4 medium leeks, sliced with some of the green top
1 cup milk, more if needed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons melted butter to finishSTART NOTE not mentioned below END NOT
Cut potatoes in 2 to 3 pieces. Put them in a large pan of cold salted water, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer potatoes until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add kale and boil until just tender, 8 to 12 minutes. Drain it, rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly. Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a frying pan and saute' leeks over low heat until soft but not brown. Take from the heat and stir in the kale.
When potatoes are cooked, drain and return them to pan. Mash with a potato masher and beat in remaining butter and milk. Return pan to heat and beat potatoes with a wooden spoon until very hot and fluffy, adding more milk if necessary so pure'e just falls easily from the spoon.
Add kale and heat mixture until very hot. Season to taste. Kailkenny can be served at once, or it may be spread in a buttered baking dish and refrigerated up to 2 days.
To reheat it: Sprinkle kailkenny with melted butter and bake in a 350-degree oven until very hot and browned, 30 to 40 minutes.
A savory version of the popular scone.
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1/3 cup butter
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, more if needed
Sift flour with salt, baking soda and sugar into a bowl. Mix in caraway seeds, then rub in butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles crumbs. Add buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon, mixing as quickly and lightly as possible. The dough should be quite soft, so add more buttermilk if necessary. Note: do not overmix; the dough should remain quite rough.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured board, flour the back of your hand and pat dough to about 1 inch thick. Lightly flour surface of dough and cut it into rounds with a 2-inch cookie cutter. Set skons on lightly floured baking sheet and bake in a 425-degree oven until risen and lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.
Sour-skons are best eaten just after baking, but they can be made up to 4 hours ahead and stored in an airtight container. Warm them 5 minutes in a low oven before serving.
A chunky bitter marmalade will complement the creamy mousse.
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 cups Scottish orange marmalade
3 ( 1/4-ounce) envelopes gelatin
1 cup water
2 cups whipping cream, whipped until it holds a soft peak
FOR THE CHANTILLY CREAM:
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whipping cream, stiffly whipped
In a medium bowl, beat eggs, egg yolks and sugar until blended. Beat at high speed until mixture is thick and light and leaves a ribbon trail when whisk is lifted, 5 to 8 minutes. Heat marmalade until thin enough to pour and stir into egg mixture.
Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small pan and leave 5 minutes or until spongy. Melt over low heat and stir thoroughly into egg mixture. Set bowl over ice and chill, stirring gently, until mixture starts to thicken. At once fold in lightly whipped cream. Note: work quickly as the mousse sets fast. Pour mixture into a 3-quart mold and refrigerate until firmly set, at least 2 hours. The mousse can be kept covered in the refrigerator up to 2 days.
To finish: not more than 2 hours before serving, unmold mousse by dipping mold into a pan of lukewarm water a few seconds. Run a knife around edge of mousse and unmold it onto a platter. Make chantilly cream by whisking sugar and vanilla into whipped cream. Fill cream into pastry bag with a star tube and decorate mousse with rosettes of cream. Chill mousse until serving.