July, 2010: Brave Scotland

As a teacher, summer affords me a lot of time to catch up on new restaurants and revisit some of my favorites—restaurants where I can sit down and feel confident that the experience will fulfill my expectations, both in terms of atmosphere and food.

I’m so eager that I always make a “Summer Restaurant To-Do List.”  This summer’s list (to name a few) included Red Lion Grog House, Barcelona Tapas, Napolese, and Sandra Rice and Noodles.

But, for me, MacNiven’s is on a perpetual to-do list.

MacNiven’s has become a reliable dining destination.  And not just for me—here in the city, it’s one of those places that people invariably seem eager to visit, and are comfortable with taking their time leaving.  And as opposed to some other, over-hyped restaurants that have been a big disappointment in years past (Bonefish, Bella Vita), MacNiven’s is, time and again, comfortable and consistent.  The waitstaff is friendly and attentive, the knowledgeable bartenders frequently offer solid guidance.

What is that old saying?—familiarity breeds contempt.  Well, as long as I can remember, the food menu at MacNiven’s has remained the same.  Contrary to some of my more restless sensibilities, I happen to be perfectly comfortable with MacNiven’s sameness.

I started off by taking the server’s advice on the beer-special:  Robert the Bruce from Three Floyd’s—a heavy and bitterly delicious Scottish ale (Three Floyd’s is a Munster, Indiana-based micro brewery, known for their well-crafted and “not normal” beer.  Check them out here:  www.3floyds.com).

When the beer arrived, I promptly ordered the Scotch Eggs.  As always, the pre-meal treats arrived:  steam curling over the sausage-coated eggs.  The hard-cooked interior was predictably eggy and not over-done—a nice contrast to the firm, peppery, and juicy exterior. 

The Scotch Eggs were served with a spicy red pepper remoulade (read:  spicy mayonnaise).  If you’re interested in preparing your own Scotch eggs, here’s a recipe:


 

Scotch Eggs

Yield:  6 eggs

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • ½ bunch fresh sage, small chop
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, small chop
  • To taste, kosher salt and white pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 6 hardboiled eggs
  • 4 cups oil (vegetable or canola)
  • 1 cup seasoned, all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 cups Panko breadcrumbs

1.  Preheat oven to 375ºF.

2.  In a heavy-bottom stockpot or saucepan, heat oil to 350ºF.

3.  While oil and oven are heating, prepare the Scotch eggs.  In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine pork, fennel, sage parsley, salt and pepper.  Mix on medium-low speed.  Add egg—don’t overdo it, mix until just incorporated.

4.  Pat the hardboiled eggs dry with a paper towel.  Form the sausage mixture into six, evenly-sized discs.  Place the eggs in the center of the discs, and cover each egg until completely coated with sausage.  Chill for 20 minutes.

5.  In shallow containers, prepare the three-step breading:  seasoned flour, beaten egg with milk, and Panko breadcrumbs.  Dredge the eggs in flour (making sure to shake off excess), egg, and then breadcrumb.

6.  Deep fry at 350ºF until golden brown (about 5-7 minutes), turning to ensure even cooking.  Remove from oil and place on a sheetpan or roasting pan.  Bake at 375ºF until sausage is cooked (approximately 15 minutes).  After removing from oven, allow Scotch eggs to rest for 5 minutes.

7.  Cut each eggs into quarters.

8.  Serve with horseradish-mustard sauce (recipe follows).

Horseradish-Mustard Dipping Sauce

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup freshly grated horseradish
  • ½ cup stoneground mustard
  • To taste, white pepper.

1.  Combine all ingredients.  Chill before service.

 


 

Lunch was accompanied by an Osiris Pale Ale from Sun King Brewery (Hoosier-based as well: http://www.sunkingbrewing.com).  Then the highlight of my meal arrived—the haggis.

As most know, this national dish of Scotland is a large, boiled sausage—the outer casing being a sheep’s stomach (tripe)—stuffed with a pudding of oatmeal, onion, and mutton offal:  internal organs—in the case of haggis, typically being the heart, liver, and lungs.  Haggis is served on high days and holidays.

A bit of reading will tell you that haggis likely comes from the verb haggen:  “to hack.”  Some suggest that the dish’s name has its roots in the words au gui l’an neuf:  “mistletoe for the New Year”—the cry of the mistletoe purveyors during the Middle Ages (the chant accompanied by the haggis, as some propose, perhaps a distant memory of ancient druidic ceremonies).

The sans-stomach-bag haggis at MacNiven’s is a little more eater-friendly.  The oats were plump and chewy—the creamy offal pudding was gamely pungent and liverly rich.  MacNiven’s haggis was served with sliced, rye bread and fresh whipped butter, the two components acting as a dry-sour and creamy-sweet dichotomy.

Check out this recipe for a closer inspection at the preparation of a traditional haggis:

 


 

Traditional Scottish Haggis

Serves:  6

  • 1 sheep’s (or lamb’s) stomach, well rinsed and fresh
  • 6 ounces coarse or pinhead oatmeal (not rolled oats)
  • 1 sheep’s pluck:  liver, heart, lungs
  • 1 pound suet:  the fat that surrounds the kidneys—can be beef or lamb
  • 1 pound onions, minced
  • Stock—just enough to moisten
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 400 F, with enough room to accommodate a large stockpot or stewing pan.

2.  Turn the stomach bag inside out, then scrub and scrape it in several changes of cold water.  Plunge it in scalding water, and let soak for a few hours in water and salt solution.

3.  Toast oatmeal on a sheetpan until brown (approximately 10 minutes).

4.  Wash the pluck, then drain the liver, and heart of its blood (the butcher would have likely done this).  If you are unable to obtain lungs, kidneys and tongue will do instead.  Put the pluck into a stockpot with cold water and bring to a boil.  Simmer—skimming intermittently—for an hour.

5.  Drain the pluck and examine it—removing black bits and veins.  Grate the liver and chop the rest of the meat (you may not need all the liver, as half will usually be enough).  Chop the suet, rub out membrane scraps with well-floured hands.  Mix together the meats, suet, and onions.  Fold in the oatmeal.  Season with salt and pepper.

6.  Add the entire mixture to the stomach bag.  Be careful to only fill halfway, as you need to allow room for the oatmeal to swell.  Moisten mixture with a small amount of stock.

7.  Press excess air out of the bag and sew shut.

8.  Place haggis on an upturned saucier inside a pan of boiling water.

9.  Prick bag with a needle when it initially swells.  Simmer it for 3 hours or until firm and cooked thoroughly.

10.  Serve haggis with clapshot:  seasoned and buttered mashed rutabagas (“neeps”) and potatoes (“tatties), as well as a dram of high quality malt whiskey or strong beer.

(Note:  a haggis can be cooked without a stomach bag—cook mixture gently in a covered pan for 3 hours.)

 


 

I’m unsure if the haggis at MacNiven’s honors the traditional peasant methods of Scotland, but it’s still a bowlful of innards that have been transformed into something rich and delicious—comfort food, my friends.

Reflecting on my summer lunch-trip to MacNiven’s—not to mention the components of beer, sausage, eggs, grains, and the Middle Ages—reminded me of the Medieval custom of drinking beer with breakfast.  (I’ve even heard more recent stories of people who continue to enjoy a pint of stout with breakfast in Ireland.)  Considering this notion a step further, I noted that all our breakfast cereals are made from different varieties of grass:  oats, barley, corn, and wheat.  I thought back to lunch, to my friend sitting across the table, lifting a Scotch egg from the plate.  Among the pleasant pub sounds of the restaurant, my friend—with a mouthful of sausage and egg—nodded his head in approval and said, “tastes like breakfast.”  I grinned, and took a sip of beer.

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Published on July 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. MacNivens IS wonderful, thanks for sharing more thoughts on foods I have yet to try there….


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