It’s time for me to re-think Burns Night supper.I say this having got it mightily wrong this Burns Night. Forgot the neeps, decided to go with mashed potatoes and made a flour-based onion gravy using a dark-ish beer finished with some Laphroaig. BP would have been better off if they’d used my offering in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Cullen Skink? Culinary sink, more like. Honour was saved though, by the drinks I chose to accompany the supper.
I’m sorry to have almost let the haggis down, because, for this sassenach, haggis is about honour. It is not for me to talk about the honour of celebrating Scottishness, although every puddin’ chieftain sold south of the border honours Scotland. I can’t even really talk about honouring Burns. For all the poetry and the whisky, it’s the haggis that is piped in to the dining room as the centrepiece of the supper.There’s no getting away from it, though, haggis is offal, and by placing our attention on such a dish we honour the beasts that went to make it. Lamb isn’t just about gigot. It might be tempting then, to think about haggis as wastebasket food, but it is far from that. Haggis is big in flavour, big in texture, and great, hearty winter comfort food. To do it honour we need to encounter it at its best. Are the traditional accompaniments the right ones to make it shine? In the tradition, neeps and tatties is a lot of stodge to go with something that is already padded with oatmeal. So you need something to lighten things up. I could happily leave the mashed or boiled potatoes for another day, and if you insist on the swede, then you’d better have plenty of butter. And to drink? Burns Supper is one of the few feasts in the year where it’s not hard to persuade the most blinkered wine-is-best character that you are probably better off drinking some fruit of the malt. A proper haggis is deep and richly flavoured – and often strongly peppery. Whisky, is a given surely, but a big enough beer at the same time makes an excellent liquid foil.
If I got the food combination wrong this time, at least I got the drinks choice bang on: a cherished, horded, one-last-bottle of the syntactically challenged BrewDog “bitch please” – their collaboration beer with American brewers Three Floyds, and Ardbeg Alligator – a mighty, special edition Islay whisky from Ardbeg, matured in new American oak casks so charred on the inside they are said to look like alligator skin.
I wish I’d gone with what Laphroaig posted as their suggested sauce: a simple cream sauce flavoured with wholegrain mustard, chives, lemon and “2 generous dashings of Laphroaig.” Quarter Cask works best, they say.
German Beer Purity Law: “Reinheitsgebot” on Wikipedia