Darina Allen: Cullen Skink

THE Scots have spoken loud and clear, they will remain in the union but nothing will ever be quite the same again.

Darina Allen: Cullen Skink

They have always been intensely patriotic, enormously proud of their heritage, their music, and their tartans, even their food which doesn’t necessarily have a sterling reputation in gastronomic quarters. Haggis and neeps doesn’t do it for many people outside Scotland, but a good haggis is a mighty dish to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold autumn or winter day.

Here at the Cookery School, I asked both teachers and students to name 8 or 9 Scottish dishes other than haggis. There was a bit of head scratching, then Dundee cake came up, Scotch pancakes, Cullen Skink, cranachan, tatties, Scotch woodcock, Scotch broth, cock-a-leekie, bridies, Scotch eggs, shortbread, bannocks, porridge, marmalade….an impressive ‘off the cuff’ list. Then I went upstairs to the Ballymaloe Cookery School library to root around. I was surprised by how many books on Scottish food I had amassed over the years.

Our own Theodora Fitzgibbon’s book A Taste of Scotland: Scottish Traditional Food is a gem as is Catherine Brown’s Scottish Regional Recipes. Jane Grigson’s section on Scotland in her British Cookery is as excellent as you would expect from this much loved and respected cookery writer.

Mark Hix’s book on British Regional Food also has many Scottish gems. Mark points out that “what characterises most Scottish food is the canny frugality of a northern European peasant tradition”.

Scottish produce tends to be exceptionally delicious, the Highlands are rich with game – grouse, partridge, capercaille, snipe, pheasant, deer……the fast flowing rivers (burns) are still teeming with salmon and trout. Then there are the Highland cattle, Scottish Aberdeen Angus and the blackface lamb.

The soft fruit too benefits from slower ripening in a cooler climate with long summer evenings. Scottish varieties of raspberries, tayberries, boysenberries and loganberries are justly famous.

We haven’t even mentioned the whiskey, the cheeses and the shellfish, langoustine, razor clams and lobsters – much of which is exported.

Even writing this article makes me want to head for the Highlands. Meanwhile, I’ll make do with cooking up a wee taste of Scotland here in Shanagarry.

Cullen Skink

1 medium onion, sliced

2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) butter

1kg (2 1/4lb) smoked haddock, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces

225g (8oz) cooked and sieved potato

900ml (1 1/2 pints/3 3/4 cups) milk

150ml (5fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) cream

salt, freshly ground black pepper, chives

Serves 8

Cullen is on the southern shore of the Moray Firth – harbour, white sands, bright fisherman’s cottages, town high on the cliffs – and skink in this instance means soup or broth. Skink is more commonly used as a name for skin of beef, the basic ingredient of beef broth, and so has loosely come to mean soup. On the east coast, smoked haddock is the basic ingredient, and potatoes are used to thicken the cooking liquor – less liquid can be added to make a stew rather than a soup.

Soften the onion in butter in a large saucepan. As it softens and turns yellow put in the fish. Pour in 600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) of water and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove the fish, discard the skin and bone, and flake the flesh. Stir the potato into the cooking liquor, making a smooth texture, and add the milk. Put in the fish, reheat and taste for seasoning. Add cream and chives before serving.

Recipe Taken from The Observer Guide to British Cookery by Jane Grigson

Scotch Woodcock

50g (1½oz) tin of anchovies, drained or 50g (1½oz) salted anchovies, soaked then boned

175 g (6oz) butter

6 slices of bread, crusts removed

4 large egg yolks

300 ml (10 fl oz) whipping or double cream

Salt, pepper, cayenne

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Serves 6

Scotch woodcock was once a popular savoury – it makes a delicious easy snack.

Mash the anchovies with two-thirds of the butter. Toast the bread, spread on the anchovy butter and keep it warm. Melt the remaining butter in a small heavy pan, beat in the egg yolks – off the heat – and the cream. Season, then replace on a low to medium heat and stir until you have a thick sauce. Do not allow the mixture to come near boiling point or it will curdle. Pour over the toast, sprinkle with a pinch or two of parsley and serve.

Taken from The Observer Guide to British Cookery, by Jane Grigson

JR’s Dundee Cake

225g (8oz/2 cups) softened butter

225g (8oz/1 cup) caster sugar

grated rind of 1 large orange

4 eggs

225g (8oz/2 cups) plain flour, sifted

50g (2oz) ground almonds

25g (1oz) mixed candied peel

100g (4oz) currants

100g (4oz) sultanas

100g (4oz) raisins

50g (2oz) glacé cherries, quartered

40-50 split blanched and peeled almonds

Makes 1 x 18cm (7in) round cake or 900g (2lb) loaf

Our pastry chef at Ballymaloe House is famous for his Dundee cake. He never travels without a chunk in his bag so fellow train or plane passengers strike it lucky as well!

Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 and line an 18cm (7in) round tin or a 900g (2lb) loaf tin. Cream butter and sugar until smooth and light. Beat the eggs. Add in three stages, alternating with a tablespoon of flour between each addition. Beat thoroughly. Mix ground almonds, dried fruit and orange rind before folding into the mixture. Fold in the remaining flour carefully. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange split almonds over the top.

Bake in oven for 2½-3 hours until skewer comes out clean. Remove and allow 10 minutes before putting onto a wire rack to cool.

Scotch shortbread

12 ozs (350g/3 cups) plain white flour

10 ozs (285g/21/2 sticks) butter

4 ozs (110g/1/2 cup) castor sugar

3 ozs (75g/scant 1/2 cup) ground rice

good pinch of salt

good pinch of baking powder

vanilla or castor sugar for sprinkling

Swiss roll tin 10 x 15 ins (25.5 x 38cm)

Makes 24-32 depending on size

The ground rice gives a particularly appealing texture to this shortbread.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and rub in until the whole mixture comes together. (Alternatively whizz everything together in the food processor.) Spread evenly into the tin, roll flat.

Bake for 1-1 hours in a low oven, 140-150°C/275-300°F/regulo 1-2 or bake for 20-30 minutes in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. It should be pale golden but fully cooked through. Cut into squares or fingers while still hot. Sprinkle with castor or vanilla sugar and allow to cool. Store in an airtight tin.


60g (2oz) medium or coarse oatmeal, toasted lightly.

300 ml (10 fl oz) cream

A little honey or sugar to sweeten

4-5 tbsp malt whiskey

125g (4oz) raspberries

Crannachan or cream-crowdie has become very much the national pudding of Scotland.

The basic recipe for four is simple enough.

Toast lightly the oatmeal. Whip the cream until it is thick and light with a little honey or sugar to sweeten. Finally mix in four or five tablespoons of malt whiskey and gently fold in the raspberries.

Taken from The Observer Guide to British Cookeryby Jane Grigson


1lb (450g) freshly mashed potatoes

½lb (225g) kale or spring cabbage, thinly sliced

1 tbsp (1 American tbsp + 1 tsp) spring onion

¼ pint (150ml) cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the cabbage or kale in a little boiling salted water, drain well.

Serves 4

All cultures that have cabbage and potatoes put them together in some form. In Ireland we have colcannon, in England, bubble and squeak but the Scottish version is called Rumbledethumps.

Put the cream into a large pot with the spring onion, bring slowly to the boil, add the potatoes and freshly cooked cabbage. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes. Taste, you could add a lump of butter if you like, the Scots do!

Hot Tips

Salmon watch

Salmon Watch Ireland are holding a conference in Salthill Hotel, Galway, they will focus on measures that need to be taken in the freshwater environment to make our rivers more effective in the production of more and stronger smolts.

Saturday, October 11, 2.30pm – 5.30pm. Contact: wemyss.bob@gmail.com

Date for your diary

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland are running a Small Food Business Start-Up Seminar in Silver Springs Moran Hotel, Tivoli, Cork. They will explain all the requirements needed to get your business off the ground and offer advice on how to comply with the relevant food safety legislation. Thursday, October 9, 8am – 12.45pm

For further information: businessstartup@fsai.ie  - 01 8171310

Get Blogging

Thinking of starting a blog but not sure where to start. Why not join a Get Blogging course with Lucy Pearce on Saturday, October 11, from 9.30am – 1pm at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. This fast paced course will have you fired up and ready to go in just three hours. on-021 4646785 or www.cookingisfun.ie

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