This week, I got together with some friends and food writers to try out my fantasy stove, the AGA Total Control Range Cooker. (I’ll have one in cream please, Universe!)
The cast-iron appliance, so emblematic of grand British country houses, boils, simmers, roasts, bakes, grills, stir-fries, steams, steams, slow cooks, fries and toasts, with an even and forgiving radiant heat. And it’s so cozy and inviting when you come in from the cold that you feel like curling up in front of it, with a big mug of tea, not to venture outdoors again until the last snowman has melted into a pool of water. We put it to the test by making a Scottish meal together to celebrate the birthday of my home country’s national poet and 18th-century bad boy, Robert (a.k.a. Rabbie) Burns.
I created a menu from some of my favourite sources that celebrates the traditional high-carb-and-cal grub of my home country. I hope these intensely rich dishes will create a few converts to a mighty tasty cuisine.
For Starters: Cullen Skink
This is Scotland’s chowder–a creamy, chunky soup made with leeks, potatoes, onions and flakes of smoked haddock, then topped with fresh chives. We went with this River Cottage recipe, which requires nothing more high-tech than a masher to get the consistency right.
The dish calls for slow sweating of the onions and leeks in butter, which was easy on the AGA’s more gently simmering hotplate. The stovetop takes a little getting used to at first, because there’s no dial for heat control. But you just move things from the boiling to the simmering plate, depending on how high you need the cooking temperature to be. You can do up to three small pots at once on each hotplate, and the whole thing quickly becomes second nature.
The Main Event: Balmoral Chicken
I wanted everybody to try haggis–a sheep’s stomach stuffed with heart, liver, lungs, oatmeal and a few shakes each of salt and pepper. If you were raised on this weird sausage like me, you’re likely to love it, but for newbies, its lumpy black and beige contents can be a little intimidating. So I went with my aunt Rosemary‘s favourite version, which is chicken, stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon. Oh, and you brush on some butter too… too late to hold back by this point.
My aunt’s a cook-from-the-hip type of lady, so the recipe she sent was about as long as a tweet. And really, the dish is that simple. However, I picked up a few extra details–and a recipe for whisky sauce–from this amazing how-to video by Scottish chef Heather Reid, who could easily double her body weight after one helping of her own fat-tastic dish.
We added at least double the whisky Reid recommends for the sauce, after taste-testing, and finished up reducing the sauce at a fast boil in the baking pan with some extra cooking juices on the AGA boiling plate. The Balmoral chicken we started in the roasting oven, wrapped in foil to keep the bird moist, then transferred to the baking oven at the end, uncovered, to crisp up the bacon. It glistens with salty, smoky bacon juices by the time you’re done.
On the Side:
For veggies, we went with mashed potatoes and turnip–tatties and neeps. You can add chicken stock to these veggies for a lighter, yet flavourful version, or go full-fat with milk, cream and butter. Some people mash the two root veggies together, but I like keeping them separate for that inevitable guest at your table who won’t have anything to do with turnips.
If you like Eton Mess, you’ll love Cranachan (recipe below). It’s a swirly mix of vanilla and whisky-laced whipped cream, berries, runny honey and gently toasted oats and almonds. We used Balvenie’s Caribbean Cask, 14-year-old, which is aged in a rum barrel and has an extra-lovely sweetness.
It would be great for sipping at this point in the evening too.
The recipe is from Jamie’s Great Britain. What makes Jamie Oliver’s version is the addition of orange juice and zest and a sprig of rosemary to the berry sauce. And what made our version was the addition of buttery shortbread fingers, by Pamela Foster, chef-blogger at the ultimate Downton Abbey upstairs-downstairs food site: downtonabbeycooks.com. You’ll find her recipe here.
We inadvertently used icing sugar instead of fine caster sugar in the shortbread, but the verdict was “happy accident.” What a deliciously rich and smooth cookie! We also accidentally overbrowned (read: burned) our first batch–turns out the AGA will do everything for you except watch the food and shout “Oy!” when you’re too busy gassing with your friends to check for yourself. Second time, we were more careful and produced the most beautiful pale and crunchy fingers of sugary shortbread.
To see more pictures from our Burns Supper at Grange in Toronto, check out everybody’s tweets on Twitter, hashtagged #AGAhaggis. And if you try any of these fab dishes for yourself, tell us in the comments how you got on.
Happy Burns Day!
By Jamie Oliver
1 lb frozen raspberries or strawberries (or a mix)
A sprig of fresh rosemary
3 tbsp runny honey
1 cup rolled oats
3 & 1/2 oz sliced almonds
1 vanilla bean
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup low-fat yoghurt
A splash of whisky
5 oz fresh raspberries
1. Put the frozen berries, rosemary, and 1 tbsp of the honey in a small saucepan and grate over the zest and squeeze in the juice from the orange. Bring everything to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for roughly 10 minutes, or until it’s thick and syrupy. Get rid of the rosemary sprig, then pour the mixture into a serving bowl and leave to cool.
2. While the fruit is bubbling away, put the rolled oats in a dry medium frying pan on a medium heat. Stir and gently toast them, around 5 minutes, or until they’re golden, then tip them into a second serving bowl and put it on the table with a spoon. Return frying pan to the heat and add remaining 2 tbsp honey and the sliced almonds. Toss around for a few minutes, until the almonds are lightly golden and sticky, then remove to another serving bowl and put that on the table with a spoon too.
3. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds. Put the cream and sugar into a bowl, add the vanilla bean seeds and whisk until you get soft peaks, then fold in the yoghurt and whisky. Spoon into a nice serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and pop into the fridge, along with the stewed berries, while you enjoy your dinner.
4. When you’re ready to serve, simply take all of the elements–the stewed berries, toasted oats, sticky almonds and flavoured cream–to the table with a bowl of fresh raspberries or other fruit, a handful of spoons and some tumblers or bowls. The joy is letting everybody build their own cranachan, layering up the ingredients and eating it like a sundae.