Monday, June 21, 2010

Scottish Food Fancies - Part 1

As well as bagpipes, tartan, the kilt and big hairy cows, Scotland is also the home of the deep fried Mars Bar -  so you can imagine that when I jumped on my flight from London to Inverness I was probably not expecting the best in the way of culinary experiences. Before I go any further, I will confirm that I am a haggis lover. I am not squeamish about chowing down on this iconic Scottish dish of minced offal, barley, oats and spices, served conveniently in a sheep's stomach. My sister who lives in Scotland thinks the whole idea of haggis is revolting, but happily my lovely Scottish brother in law doesn't feel the same way and treated me to haggis and tatties (potatoes) on my very first night in Scotland.

Haggis dispatched, it was time to see what other culinary treats Scotland had to offer. As it turns out, my visit to Scotland was full of wonderful food experiences - so many in fact that I will be sharing them with you two installments.

Driving around the Scottish Highlands is thirsty work and we decided that afternoon tea was in order. Now, whilst I adore a cup of tea (in fact, I do confess to having a bit of a tea fetish - I have so many varieties and even my desk at work has a pot of tea permanently brewing away on it) I'm generally not a huge cake fan, but when I saw the homemade cakes on offer at this little roadside coffee shop in the middle of nowhere, I just had to indulge. Mine is the chocolate and sour cherry concoction at the front - and boy, was it spectacular. My brother in law chose the creamy caramel delight at the back (which I tasted and can confirm that it was delicious) The cakes were all made by the lady that ran the shop (she also runs the ajoining plant nursery). Teamed with an invigorating pot of freshly brewed tea, it was just perfect.

Whilst visiting the small town of Beauly, I enjoyed this beautiful whole loch trout, at a local restaurant called The Priory (located next to, you guessed it - a 13th Century priory) cooked simply with butter and lemon sauce. It was my first foray into Scottish seafood and as you will see, it wasn't the last. Perhaps it was the deep, dark, cold and very clean waters of the local lochs that made this fish taste so pure and delicious, but it was just perfect.

Oats feature heavily in Scottish cooking and being a big fan of oats I jumped at the chance to try this dish of oat crusted seafood in the little seaside village of Cromarty. The oats were finely ground and seasoned and provided the perfect nutty tasting crust to the super fresh local seafood - scallops, octopus, mussels and salmon. Again, quite a simple dish but so tasty and delicious. I will be stealing the oat crust idea for a dish of my own very soon - it is a great super tasty alternative to breadcrumbs and makes the crust super crispy. Yum!

Back to The Priory for afternoon tea and a selection of Scottish shortbread, scones, caramels and my favourite - meringues! These meringues were to die for - sandwiched between a layer of freshly whipped cream, they were all I wanted with my pot of tea. The other selections didn't stand a chance, so I can't tell you what they were like!! Those meringues took me to my happy place.

I love a terrine and this game terrine really hit the spot. Made with venison and rabbit, served with hot toast and a housemade beetroot relish, this was perfect washed down with a pint of ale at the Plockton Pub. Does anyone remember the wonderful series "Hamish Macbeth" ? Well it was filmed in the picturesque village of Plockton, which can now add a pretty fabulous terrine to its attractions.

Still at the Plockton Pub - it was cold and windy outside, but this salmon and haddock pie warmed the cockles of my heart. Served with a creamy mustard and herb sauce and a breadcrumb crust, it was comfort food personified. The fish was a mixture of fresh fillets and a touch of smoked haddock, which really took the flavour to another level. It was rich and tasty and the fish was cooked just right.

A change of location now - off to the cobbled streets of Edinburgh for their version of a seafood platter. More like what I would call a chowder - Salmon, mussels, scallops and prawns served with a dash of cream, horseradish and crusty bread. It was big on flavour and once again the seafood was superb - clean, fresh tasting and perfectly cooked.

My love affair with game was indulged in this superb venison pate, flavoured with juniper berries and served with oatcakes, spiced red cabbage and fresh redcurrants. This dish came from a little cafe/restaurant in the village of Cromarty (where you will recall I also enjoyed the fantastic oat crusted seafood) This pate was rich and velvety, with the herbal aromatics of the juniper complimenting the venison beautifully. Teamed with the tart burst of the fresh redcurrants and the nuttiness and texture of the oats, it really was a taste sensation.

So ends the first installment of my favourite Scottish food experiences - there were a whole lot more, which I will share with you all soon in Scottish Food Fancies II. Scotland is indeed proving to be bonny. And not a deep fried Mars Bar in sight.


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