As a child I never realised just why Robert Burns was so important to Scotland. My childhood memories of reading ‘To a moose’ while struggling to understand the language and the significance remain with me, alongside Burns suppers being plied with whisky by elderly relatives to pour (wastefully) over my haggis. Burns was not important to me, simply because I never knew better and these youthful events still remain the only time I refused the intoxicating brown liquid. I never knew how he had done so much to for the Scots language at a time of savage repression of everything Scots. I never understood that songs like ‘A man’s a man’ were so ahead of their time and are as relevant today as they were in the late 1700s. In fact I’m certain he would’ve had an acerbic verse for the rulers of today. So as Scotland embarks on a momentous year in 2014 it’s right and fitting that we should begin it by celebrating one of our greatest sons with a food he alone made the national dish. Haggis. Burns was truly a man of the people and pointedly wrote his ode to a food that was both thrifty and hamely.
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.
Traditionally the evening would be celebrated with cock-a-leekie soup followed by the haggis as the main event and then cranachan. However as 21st century Scotland looks to showcase her unrivalled natural larder there is no better meat to turn to for a celebration around the table with family and friends for a night of Scots hospitality. And while Burns would doubtlessly have objected to the dish having a fancy name, he’d have enjoyed the idea of good food and a dram with friends reciting verse and celebrating the Scots tongue.
Venison and haggis en croute with clapshot
450g venison loin in one piece, preferably wild red deer
350g puff pastry
1 egg whisked for eggwash
1 medium turnip (around 500g)
1 onion finely chopped
Knob butter for mashing
1. Set the oven to 200C. Mix the haggis with the whisky until is easy to spread.
2. Roll the pastry out so that is about 2.5 times the width of the venison and slightly longer at both ends. Place the haggis on the pastry and speed evenly.
3. Place the venison in the middle of the pastry and fold over the two sides to meet. Use a little of the eggs ‘glue’ then fold over the ends and do the same. Place with the joined side down on a pre-greased baking tray and place in the oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.
4. Remove the cooked venison from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes to let the juices soak back into the meat. It should remain moist protected by the fat from the haggis.
5. Meanwhile for the clapshot boil the potatoes, turnip and onion together in salted water until tender, around 15-20 minutes. Mash with the butter and serve alongside the carved venison with a dram of whisky.
Photo credit Sumayya Usmani