When Shirley Spear was an exile working as a press officer in London in the early 1980s, she despaired of the reputation of Scottish food.
In those days, she says, the restaurant scene barely existed outside of London, and Caledonian cuisine was particularly reviled and mocked. So in 1984 she decided to do something about it. Despite having no training, she and husband Eddie bought The Three Chimneys restaurant in remote north-west Skye and set about trying to popularise traditional Scottish dishes.
‘There were a few Scots chefs making a name for themselves by highlighting fresh Scottish ingredients, people like Ronnie Clydesdale at The Ubiquitous Chip, Hillary Brown at La Poitiniere, Betty Allen at Airds and my mentor David Wilson at The Peat Inn. But the main custodians of our amazing culinary heritage were the women who were cooking behind closed doors from the humblest bothies to the grandest houses. ‘I’ve made a point of taking an interest in the historical derivation of dishes, but historically, dishes were very local and many were not written down. In the Highlands, for instance, the food is historically very plain as it’s based on milk, oats and potatoes. Many ingredients we use today, such as salmon, prawns or oysters, were considered poor people’s food. Some Highlanders wouldn’t eat shellfish because it was considered unclean, as was mackerel because it didn’t have scales.’
It seems absurd now, but back in the Eighties, when The Three Chimneys seemed to be the only restaurant on Skye selling fish, Shirley actually rang Taste of Scotland to see if it was acceptable to serve whole langoustines in their shells.
Shirley’s determination to use local ingredients in authentic Scots dishes struck a chord, and not only did virtually obsolete dishes like cullen skink, partan bree and Tweed Kettle become firm favourites in her corner of Skye, she also began to attract critical acclaim, winning the Macallan/Decanter award in 1990.
‘People wouldn’t eat shellfish as it was seen as unclean, as was mackerel because it didn’t have scales’
Although she has now taken a step back from the stoves at The Three Chimneys, she still feels there is more to do. The restaurant prefers traditional potted game to foie gras, and local wild mushrooms to imported truffles, but Shirley knows that our culinary journey is far from complete. We may be happy to eat ox’s tongue or pig’s cheek, but rustic dishes ‘that are still used in remote parts of the Outer Hebrides and the Northern Isles, like Ceann Copaig, cod’s head stuffed with cod’s liver, or Powsowdie, sheep heid broth, are still off the menu in the nation’s restaurants.
Yet Shirley can still look back on a career that has helped kick-start a profound change to the nation’s culinary landscape. ‘In the past five years the way we now use the best of Scotland’s larder has ricocheted around the nation, and the best young Scottish chefs are now proud of our heritage,’ she says. ‘And, best of all, absolutely no one laughs at Scottish food any longer.’
Tattie drottle soup
6/8 helpings Potatoes and milk were staples in the Scottish diet, particularly in rural areas.
These ingredients went together well with fresh, salted and smoked fish, as well as oatmeal and simple vegetables. I like to add oatmeal for extra flavour and body.
900g potatoes, weighed when peeled and diced (choose a floury potato that’s good for mashing, like Golden Wonder, Kerr’s Pink or Duke of York)
2 medium/large onions, peeled and chopped small
3 sticks of celery plus celery leaves from the centre of the bunch, chopped small
1 medium leek, chopped finely (include paler green but avoid using too much of the dark green stalk)
50g Scottish butter
575mls of vegetable or chicken stock (homemade is best)
575mls fresh milk
125mls double cream
Salt, black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly chopped chives, curly parsley, wild garlic or young nettle tops to garnish
2tbls medium oatmeal, toasted (optional)
Method: Melt butter in a large saucepan until foamy. Add onions. Turn in butter and cook until softened. Add potatoes. Stir together with onion. Add a sprinkling of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Cook gently for a few minutes. Pour in stock, bring to boil and then simmer with lid on for at least 20-25 minutes.
Add milk, stir well and liquidise. Stir in the toasted oatmeal if required. Reheat and finish with double cream, more seasoning if necessary and whole nutmeg, freshly grated over the soup. If too thick, add a little more milk or cream. Serve immediately with green garnish of freshly chopped chives, parsley, wild garlic or young nettle tops, as the longer this soup is left to stand, the thicker it becomes, because of the oatmeal.
Musselburgh and Newhaven are Edinburgh’s fishing ports, famously supplying the town with fresh supplies of fish and shellfish of many kinds in days gone by. Oysters were particularly plentiful at low tide and therefore an everyday ingredient. They were also packed in barrels and exported throughout Europe as far back as Roman times.
Much-prized, one way of serving them was in this traditional, homely recipe for a beef and oyster pie. You will need a typical ceramic, enamel or Pyrex pie dish suitable for a family of 4 people.
450g shortcrust pastry (chilled, but ready to roll)
8/12 slices of thinly cut rump steak (aka frying steak or round steak)
2/3tbls cooking rapeseed oil or olive oil
12 fresh oysters in the shell (or more, if liked)
2 medium onions sliced quite thinly in half-moons
250mls good beef stock.
1 medium glassful of robust red wine or claret
1tbls mushroom ketchup (frequently used ingredient in old Scottish meat recipes)
50g plain white flour (plus extra for rolling pastry)
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
1 egg, beaten with 1tbls milk (for glazing pastry)
Method: Shuck the oysters, place the meat from the shells in a sieve sitting over a bowl to catch the natural juices. Take care to preserve as much juice as possible while shucking the shells.
Take the beef slices and spread on a board. Place an oyster upon each slice and roll up the meat neatly with the oyster safely inside (the finished roll will be similar in size to a typical choc roll). Repeat until all meat is prepared. Sieve the plain flour on to a flat dish and season with salt and pepper.
Roll each piece of beef in the flour to coat lightly and set aside until all are prepared. Heat 2tbls of oil in a heavy-based frying pan and heat gently. Seal the rolls of beef in the hot oil until the flour is turning brown and lift into the pie dish. Add the third tablespoon of oil to the hot pan and add the onion slices. Cook until soft. Add the mushroom ketchup to the hot pan. It should be noisy as it soaks up the hot oil.
Pour in the glass of red wine and half of the prepared beef stock. Turn up the heat until the onions begin to bubble and hiss. Remove from heat and pour the onion mixture over the beef in the pie dish. Cover with foil and place in an oven Gas mark 5 (375F, 190C) for 25 minutes. Prepare the vegetables ready for cooking, while the meat is in the oven. Remove the pie dish and the meat from the oven, remove foil and set aside to cool just a little.
Pour over the oyster juices, strained through a fine sieve to ensure no grit or shell is deposited. Add any additional oysters, if liked, around the meat. At this point you need to judge if you want to add extra beef stock to the dish, or decide if there is enough liquor to provide enough gravy with the pie when served. If adding additional beef stock, be sure it is hot when you do so. Place a pie funnel in the middle of the pie dish at this stage, ready to support the pastry.
Turn up the oven to hot Gas mark 7 (425F, 220C) Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until quite thin, in a shape as near to the shape of the pie dish as possible, only slightly larger. Trim the pastry to the size you want as the pie top. Lightly grease or oil the rim of the pie dish, which should be cooler by now and easy to handle. Make a rim of pastry to fit the rim of the dish.
Brush the rim of pastry with a mixture of beaten egg and milk. Place the pie top on top of the rim of pastry and crimp together with thumb and forefinger. Trim the pastry around the edge of the pie dish with a sharp knife, to make a neat edge. Brush all over with the egg and milk, using a pastry brush. Return to the hot oven and bake the pie for 20/25 minutes until crisp and golden. Keep warm until ready to serve with the accompanying vegetables.
Note: There were various versions of this dish, some of which rolled the oysters in a thin rasher of streaky bacon before rolling it in the beef. Some recipes used mussels in the filling instead of oysters, but the traditional recipe is more true to its origins with fresh oysters. Original recipes probably used far more oysters than above, when they were cheap and plentiful. The finished dish gives an identifiable taste of the sea and the oysters show no sign of being overcooked.
Plate apple pie served with Caledonian cream
Plate apple pie
Fruit pies, tarts, puffs and turnovers of every kind have been made in Scottish homes for generations. Generally these would be made with fresh fruit in season, particularly apples, plums, rhubarb and gooseberries. Fresh fruit was often cooked and preserved for use out-of-season too and used with the addition of dried fruits, including prunes and cranberries.
There were ‘rules’ regarding the type of pastry used, open tarts, covered pies, and how they should be glazed and decorated. In short, the art of pastry-making was distinct and intricate. Flavourings for fruit included lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, candied peel, quince marmalade and sugar.
Bearing all of this in mind, here is a simple version of a household pie, baked in a deep plate rather than a pie dish, with sugary, crisp and very light pastry.
For a 24/26cm enamel pie plate, or similar, such as a Pyrex glass plate
350g shortcrust pastry, prepared and ready to roll 50g plain white flour for rolling the pastry 150g caster sugar. 1 rounded tsp ground cinnamon 1 heaped tbls Seville orange marmalade Grated zest and juice of half a lemon 8 pieces of crystallised ginger, chopped small 2 large cooking apples (preferably Bramleys with a sharp flavour and crisp texture) Knob of butter/lard for greasing rim of pie dish Milk for glazing the pastry
Method: Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 6 (400F, 200C). Place a flat baking sheet on centre shelf. Place 100g of caster sugar in a mixing bowl with the ground cinnamon, marmalade, lemon zest and juice and chopped ginger pieces. Mix well. Wash, peel and core the cooking apples. Slice them and cut into pieces, very roughly 2cms square and add them to the mixing bowl. Combine all the ingredients in the bowl together. Grease the pie plate very lightly all over, including the rim, with the knob or butter or lard.
Take one third of the piece of pastry and roll it out very thinly. Cut a round to fi t the plate and place this over the base and rim (use the upturned plate as a guide.) Pile the fruit filling on top, spreading it over to the rim, but keeping most of the fruit in the middle of the dish, as this will give the fi nished pie a little bit of height. Roll out the remaining piece of pastry thinly.
Lift this carefully and cover the fruit filling completely. Crimp together the edge of the pie around plate rim. Trim off rough edge and keep trimmings to make leaf shapes to decorate the top of the pie. Make 3 or 4 small slashes into the pastry surface with the point of a sharp knife, to allow the steam to escape.
Brush the pastry all over with milk, using a pastry brush. Decorate the top with leaf shapes or similar, made from the pastry trimmings and brush the tops of these too. Finally, use the remaining 50g of caster sugar to sprinkle liberally over the top of the pie. Place the pie on the hot baking sheet in the pre-heated oven and bake for 25/30 minutes until crisp and golden.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little more caster sugar when still hot. Serve warm or cold with Caledonian Cream, pouring cream or custard.
This is delicious served on its own or with fruit of any kind, including poached apples, plums and pears, or soft fruits of summer. It makes a luxurious accompaniment to the simple Plate Apple Pie.
This amount is ample for 4/6 people.
2 heaped tbls Dundee marmalade, warmed gently and then sieved through a small mesh with back of a wooden spoon to ‘mince’ the size of the peel
1 x 140g tub of traditional Highland crowdie cheese
125mls fresh double cream
2 tbl sp golden caster sugar
2 generous tbl sp Highland unblended whisky
2 tbl sp lemon juice
2 tsp toasted oatmeal
Method: Sieve the warmed marmalade into a mixing bowl. Add the crowdie cheese and the double cream. Beat together with whisk until the cheese is much smoother and combines well with the cream and marmalade. Add all the other ingredients and continue whisking until mixture is thick. Add more whisky or lemon juice to suit your own taste. Spoon into a serving dish.
Keep refrigerated until required and garnish with a sprinkling of toasted oatmeal just before serving. To toast oatmeal Toasted oatmeal is used in a number of ways to add texture and taste to Scottish dishes. A small amount can be kept in a sealed jar or airtight container in a cool store cupboard for ease of use at any time. Use medium oatmeal and spread a thin layer on a flat baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in an oven, pre-heated to Gas mark 3 (325F, 170C).
Leave the oatmeal in the oven for about an hour, until it begins to give a wonderful, nutty aroma and is beginning to turn a darker colour and feel slightly harder to touch. Once cooled, store in a screw-top jar in a cool place.
If you are boiling and preparing whole, fresh brown crabs, the empty crab shells act as useful containers for the crabmeat once it has been extracted. You are likely to need 4 large brown crabs for the purpose of this recipe. It is also possible to buy ready prepared “dressed” crab from local fishmongers, which is usually packed into the shell for display purposes. These shells can be washed and used to serve the finished Partan Pie.
If you cannot obtain the shells and are using prepared crabmeat, it is possible to use an ovenproof gratin dish, or similar, as an alternative.
Ingredients for 4 people:
450gms mixed brown and white crabmeat
100gms fresh white breadcrumbs (a Scottish “plain” loaf makes the best breadcrumbs for cooking purposes)
1 large tsp of strong mustard (Dijon or similar)
2 tbl sp lemon juice
2 tbl sp sherry vinegar
1 generous tbl sp chopped parsley
1 generous tbl sp chopped chives
Freshly grated nutmeg
A few twists of fresh ground sea salt and white pepper
1 heaped tbl sp finely grated Scottish mature white cheddar, such as Mull cheddar.
4 small or 2 large crab shells
Method: Place the crabmeat in a mixing bowl. Check for any fragments of shell.
Set aside 1 heaped tabls of breadcrumbs for the topping. Add all the remaining breadcrumbs. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the cheese) and mix well together with the crabmeat and breadcrumbs. Check for seasoning and add more lemon juice if required. Brush the insides of the empty crab shells with a little melted butter and pack the crabmeat mixture into the shells.
Mix the remaining 1 tabls breadcrumbs with the grated cheese and sprinkle over the top of the crabmeat. Place 2 dots of butter on top of the breadcrumbs. Place the filled shells on a baking tray in a moderate oven (Gas 5, 375F, 190C) and heat thoroughly. The topping should be toasted brown and crispy.
Serve with fresh salad as a light lunchtime or a supper dish. As crab is quite a rich ingredient, 1 large crab shell filled with the above mixture will serve 2 people.
This is a dish based upon a very old recipe frequently served in the ale-houses of old Edinburgh. It is a simple salmon “hash”, served hot or cold, and can be made more luxurious with the addition of potatoes and mushrooms, depending upon the time of year, plus a sauce made from its cooking juices.
Syboes (spring onions to some, scallions to others, but this is the Scottish term) can be added, or chopped shallots. Fresh herbs and leaves in season can be added too. The River Tweed runs quite close to Edinburgh, through Peebles and down through the Borders country to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It is one of Scotland’s longest rivers, popular with anglers since the 17th century, and remains a famous Scottish salmon fishing river today. In times gone by, salmon was a poor man’s food, as it was so plentiful, like several other ingredients which have become scarce and expensive in modern times.
The wild salmon would have been cooked whole, in a large salmon kettle, hence the name. A fish kettle, is a wide, but narrow, oval-shaped cooking pot with a good fitting lid, used to poach a whole fish. This utensil originated in Scotland and was used to gently cook a whole fish over a wood fire on the river bank, or on grand picnics and shooting parties in the Scottish hills and moors. The recipe below would feed a family of 4 as a lunch or supper dish, perhaps with additional salad or vegetable ingredients to suit today’s palette and appetite.
Ingredients: A tail piece of salmon fillet weighing approximately 500gms.
250mls cold water
250mls dry white wine
Thinly pared rind of half a large lemon, plus 4 slices from the same lemon.
6 onion rings cut from a slice of 1 medium onion.
A few parsley stalks,
2 bay leaves
8 white peppercorns
1 blade of Mace (frequently used ingredient in old Scottish recipes)
8 x small potatoes of a salad variety, such as Charlottes, boiled, strained and left on the side to cool.
4 x spring onions washed and sliced into small rings, including most of the green tops. 1 x heaped tables freshly chopped curly parsley.
1 x heaped tables finely chopped chives.
Other ingredients of choice, such as wild garlic leaves finely chopped (instead of spring onions); fresh dill, fresh fennel fronds, etc.in addition to parsley and/or the chives.
Freshly ground sea salt and white pepper.
Optional: (Please read through the method below)
100gms button mushrooms (or wild mushrooms in seasons such as Scottish woodland chanterelles)
2 x small shallots peeled and very finely chopped
25gms Scottish butter.
150mls fresh double cream.
Method: Choose a wide saucepan with a close-fitting lid, large enough to take all of the fish in a single layer. Put the water, white wine, lemon rind, lemon slices, onion rings, parsley stalks, bay leaves, peppercorns and mace into the liquid. Lay the piece of salmon on top, either in one piece or cut into two or more pieces, whatever is most manageable.
Cover with the lid and place on a low heat. Bring the liquid slowly to boiling point, when it will bubble gently around the fish for no more than 5 minutes. The fish will change into a pale pink colour as it cooks. Turn off the heat, but do not disturb the lid of the pan.
Leave the fish in the warm liquor for a further 10 minutes to cook for a little longer. Check to ensure it is cooked through, using the sharp point of a knife eased gently into a thick piece of the flesh. If it requires a little longer, leave covered with the lid for another 5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the potatoes to the boil in salted water and cook gently, as normal.
Strain and leave aside to cool down. Prepare the spring onions, chopped parsley and chives, plus any other herbs you may wish to use in addition to these. Put them in a good-sized mixing bowl. Next, lift the cooked salmon from the saucepan and place the pieces on a flat plate to cool down. Once the potatoes are cooled, dice into bite-sized pieces and add to the mixing bowl.
When the salmon is cool, remove the skin and break the fish into large flakes and add to the mixture in the bowl. At this stage the ingredients can be gently combined together with a large metal spoon, checked for seasoning, plus extra lemon juice if required and heaped into a serving dish and served cold. If you wish to serve it warm, simply work faster to dice the potatoes and flake the salmon while still hot.. Alternatively, a more luxurious dish can be produced easily with the addition of the optional ingredients listed above.
Cover the salmon lightly with foil once it has been cooked and removed from the pan and keep it warm. Strain the fish cooking liquor through a fine sieve into another smaller saucepan, preferably with a thick base. Place this over a high heat and reduce liquor to 2 tablespoonfuls at most. Strain again and set aside.
Melt the butter In a small frying pan and sauté the finely chopped shallots until just beginning to colour and soften. Add the prepared mushrooms of your choice and cook until beginning to go soft, but still holding their shape. Add the reduced cooking liquor and increase the heat for a minute or two, until the mushroom juices have combined with the liquor.
Pour in the cream and warm through gently. The mixture should begin to thicken quite quickly as you stir gently. Lift the mushrooms and shallots from the cream with a slotted spoon and add to the (hot or cold) salmon and potatoes. Stir together gently. Strain the remaining creamy sauce into a jug, or similar and either pour over the salmon mixture, or serve separately, passed around the table. Serve with green vegetables or salad ingredients of your choice, as in season, at virtually any time of year. Note:-
The salmon hash was sometimes hot served on a plate ringed with creamy mashed potatoes, rather than the diced potatoes incorporated within the dish. The mushrooms and shallots would be cooked and mixed with the cooked salmon and the sauce poured over the whole dish.
Rumbledethumps and clapshot accompanying Musselburgh pie
Curly Kale (or Kail) was widely grown throughout Scotland and served as a highly nutritious, fresh vegetable for families. Cabbages of any kind may be used in this dish too, according to their season, particularly Savoy, or January King varieties. Prepare enough potatoes for the family as usual. Mash with butter, warm milk or cream according to family taste. Check seasoning. Cover and keep warm while cooking the cabbage.
Shred a small cabbage very finely, or an equivalent weight of curly kale. This can be prepared while the tatties are boiling. Place the greens in a saucepan with a knob of butter and cover with a close-fitting lid. Allow it to cook gently over a very low heat. Add no water, as the cabbage will produce enough liquid of its own to cook in.
Stir well from time to time until it begins to “wilt” but retains some of its crispy texture. This will only take a few minutes. Stir cabbage into the warm mashed potato mixture, check seasoning and ensure it is all hot before serving.
Mash together equal quantities of boiled potatoes and boiled neeps (Scottish orange turnip) with butter. Quantity will depend upon how many people you are serving. Season with salt, pepper and ground ginger to taste. Garnish with chopped chives.
This is a favourite ‘comfort food’ in Scotland!
Wholemeal Cheese Scones
When Shirley and Eddie first opened The Three Chimneys they served these scones with homemade soup at lunchtimes, as an alternative to their home-baked wholemeal bread. They still have restaurant customers who remember driving all the way to Colbost and relishing a bowl of soup such as Neep Bree, or Leek and Potato, served with Warm Cheese Scones – especially on a cold, Skye day!
They are best served soon after they are baked, but they also freeze well in batches if you want to bake more. The following recipe makes 12 scones.
Ingredients: 100gms plain wholemeal flour
100gms white self-raising flour
½ tsp table salt
½ tsp mustard powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
25gms slightly salted Scottish butter
200g mature white Scottish cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large free-range egg
3 tbl fresh milk (possibly more)
Method: Sift the flours together with the salt, mustard powder, cayenne and bicarbonate of soda. Rub in the butter to the dry ingredients, using the tips of your fingers. Set aside 50gms of the grated cheese for the top of the scones and add the remainder to the dry ingredients and mix together lightly with your fingers.
Beat the egg and milk together. Add to the mixture and bind to a make a smooth dough, using the rounded blade of a table knife. Using your hands, gently pull the dough together in the mixing bowl to form a smooth ball, adding a little more milk if the mixture seems too dry and still crumbly.
Place the dough on a floured board and roll it out evenly to a thickness of 4 cm. Do not make the mistake of rolling the dough too thin. Cut out the scones with a 5cm straight-sided cutter, pushing down into the dough without twisting it. This helps to make the scones rise evenly.
Place on a floured baking tray and lightly brush the tops of each scone with a little more milk. Finally sprinkle the remaining grated cheese on the top of each scone. Bake on the centre shelf of a hot oven, pre-heated oven, Gas mark 7, (425F, 220C) and bake for 12 – 15 minutes, until risen and golden. Remove from oven on to a cooling tray.
Resist eating until you are ready to serve!
To find out more about Shirley and the Three Chimneys go to www.threechimneys.co.uk