On the last day of November, on the cusp of autumn departing completely for winter, with crisp cold frosty mornings, early evening darkness and the last of the summer leaves still cling to the trees, comes St. Andrews Day. The story goes that the relics of Andrew the Apostle were brought from Constantinople to what is now St. Andrews and presented to a Pictish king Angus, who vowed that if granted victory over the Angles in battle he would appoint Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland. As clouds formed a white saltire against the blue sky over the battlefield the outnumbered army of Scots and Picts was victorious and Angus kept his word
In these more peaceful times it is an opportunity to come together with family and friends and celebrate not only Scotland’s Patron Saint but also her natural larder. Where Burns Night has an almost set menu of cock-a-leekie, the ubiquitous haggis and cranachan, a St.Andrew’s Night in offers the opportunity for the adventurous cook to have a play with what’s in season. And there’s plenty to choose from. Witch sole has a wonderful flavour and though relatively delicate can handle big flavours as I realised when I had it with thermidor sauce, therefore steaming with a seaside whisky like Ledaig from Mull was a nice foil. Not too much whisky though, just a wee dram as you want it to to enjoy the flavour, not become intoxicated! Mussels and samphire are also a perfect combination and when you add all four together you get a lovely blend of sweetness, brine, malt and aquatic asparagus freshness. A perfect little fish course or starter that speaks of the waters that surround our nation. I served here with roast apache potatoes but I think would work best purely as a taste of the sea.
Whisky steamed witch sole with mussels and samphire
Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a fish course
4 witch sole fillets
2 handfuls samphire
Dram whisky – preferably coastal malt
1. Clean and de-beard the mussels discarding all which are dead. Roll the witch sole as tightly as you can;
2. In a steamer or covered saucepan with steamer insert bring the dram of whisky and a good splash of water to the boil. Add the sole and samphire and steam for 3-4 minutes until cooked;
3. In a separate pan at the same time heat a heavy based pan with a lid and add a splash of water and the mussels. Cover and cook for 4 minutes without removing the lid.
4. Serve all together with a few of the mussels still in their shells.