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Haggis Alternatives for a Traditional Scottish Burns Supper
Haggis is the traditional culinary centrepiece of any Burns Supper. On January 25th each year - in Scotland and far beyond - haggis will be served with the customary tatties and neeps (potatoes and Swede turnip/rutabaga) as part of a small or large gathering to commemorate the anniversary of the Scottish Bard's birth. What happens, however, when you don't have access to haggis, or simply don't like it? Does this mean that you can not organise or take part in an authentic, Scottish Burns Supper? While many purists would undoubtedly say yes, the majority will hopefully agree that this is absolutely not the case and that a Burns Supper without haggis is indeed entirely possible.
The recipes and foodstuffs included on this page are all variations on genuinely Scottish dishes, which can be served as an alternative to haggis at a Burns Supper and still allow the evening to proceed in an otherwise traditional fashion.
Traditional Scottish Steak Pie with Chips and Brussels Sprouts
Steak pie is a hugely popular foodstuff in Scotland. It is most often associated with New Year (Hogmanay) but is widely eaten at all times of year, making it the perfect haggis substitute for a Burns Supper. It is comprised of stewing beef and link sausages, which are firstly cooked and cooled before being topped with puff pastry and baked in the oven.
Ingredients for Two Generous Servings
¾ lb stewing beef (diced)
4 beef link sausages
2 pints boiling water
½ lb puff pastry
2 large potatoes
Brussels sprouts (quantity as required)
Beaten egg for glazing
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the vegetable oil in to a large stew pot and gently heat. Add the beef only to the pot (not the sausages at this stage) and season with salt and pepper. Stir the beef around with a wooden spoon to brown and seal evenly. This will take a few minutes. After that, pour in the boiling water and bring to a gentle simmer. Beef stock or gravy may be the more common inclusion in pies of this type but the water gives this pie an old world simplicity and works very well. Maintain the simmer for one hour.
Although pricking sausages with a fork prior to frying them is not advisable, it is essential to do so before adding them to the stew after the initial hour. Simmer for a further fifteen minutes before turning off the heat, covering and leaving to cool completely. It is necessary to cool the meat before assembling the pie, otherwise the steam will spoil the pastry. If time is short, try sitting the pan in a couple of inches of cold water in your sink to speed up the process.
Start making your chips when the meat is set aside to cool. Peel and chop the potatoes and add them to a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Drain through a colander and allow the chips to cool before adding them to a plastic container with a lid and the fridge for half an hour. Pat them carefully dry in a clean tea towel and deep fry for five minutes. Drain on kitchen paper, cool and return to the dried dish and the fridge.
Add the steak and sausage to a 10" x 7" pie dish, with enough stock to almost cover it. Roll out the pastry to approximately 11" x 8" on a floured surface and carefully lay it on top of the dish, crimping around the edges. Glaze with beaten egg, make a "+" in the centre as a steam vent and bake in a preheated oven at 400F/200C for forty minutes.
Remove any dead leaves from the Brussels sprouts and add them to boiling, salted water for ten to twelve minutes. Give the chips a second fry for five to six minutes until crisp and golden. Plate up your meal as shown and serve immediately to your hungry guests.
Hearty Beef and Root Vegetable Stew
If you want something authentically Scottish for a small, family Burns Supper but don't have the time or inclination to go to any great culinary lengths, this simple, one pot stew may be just what you are looking for. The cooking time is moderately lengthy but most of it is hands off, allowing you to be attending to other things while your meal cooks. The meat used is shin of beef, which does not know the greatest of reputations and is often considered to be tough. Where shin of beef is cooked long and slow, however, it is one of the tastiest cuts of all. The vegetables include potatoes and Swede turnip, both intrinsically associated with Burns Suppers.
Ingredients for Two
¾ lb shin of beef
½ medium onion
½ Swede turnip/rutabaga
1 large potato
1 large carrot
2 pints fresh beef stock
1 pint boiling water (more may be required)
½ tsp dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chop the shin of beef in to bite sized pieces. Add it to a dry, cold stew pot and gently heat. There should be enough fat on the beef to brown the meat in its own juices. Season with salt and pepper and add the thinly sliced onion. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer for two hours.
Peel and roughly chop the potato, turnip and carrot. Add to the stew with the boiling water. Simmer for a further hour, adding more boiling water if required. Ladle in to serving plates. The HP Sauce is not exactly traditional but absolutely delicious...
Quick Fun Quiz: How much do you know about Scotland's Bard?
There are millions who have heard of Burns and know him as a poet and lyricist but perhaps know significantly less about Robert Burns, the man. How much do you know about Burns, in general terms? Why not take a couple of minutes to challenge yourself with the ten, multiple choice questions in the quiz below? You can then share the quiz and put any Burns enthusiasts among your friends to the test!
Venison Stew with Roasted Potatoes, Braised Cabbage and Onion
Ingredients for Two People
¾ lb diced loin of venison
2 tbsp plain/all purpose flour
4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 pints fresh beef stock
1 large carrot
12 to 14 baby new potatoes
½ small white cabbage
1 small onion
½ tsp dried sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
It is vital to cook the venison long and slow. Begin by spooning the flour in to a large bowl and seasoning it well with salt and pepper. Add the diced venison and very carefully stir it around with a wooden spoon to ensure even coating. Add two tablespoons of the vegetable oil only to a large stew pot and bring up to a medium heat before adding the venison. Stir the venison around over a medium heat to seal and brown. This will only take a few minutes.
Pour the beef stock in to the pot and turn up the heat until it only just begins to boil. Reduce the heat to achieve a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally and ensuring the liquid level remains high enough to cover the meat.
When the venison is simmering, add the potatoes to a pot of cold, salted water and bring the water to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour. Drain the potatoes, return them to the empty pot, cover and leave to cool.
When the venison has been simmering for an hour and a half, wash and slice the carrot in to discs. Add it to the pot for a final half hour's simmering.
The cabbage should be shredded and the onion peeled and finely sliced. Add with remaining vegetable oil to a large pot and season with the sage, salt and pepper. Sautee for ten to twelve minutes until softened, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.
When the potatoes are cool, they should peel very easily by hand. Pat them dry with kitchen paper and deep fry at a fairly high heat for five or six minutes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper before service.
Salmon Poached in White Wine with New Potatoes and Broccoli
Salmon is another foodstuff widely associated with Scotland. Although the white wine used in this preparation method may not be authentically Scottish, the cooking method most certainly is, dating back to when salmon fishermen would cook their catch in large fish kettles/poachers in this way in river water on the banks of rivers such as the Tay and Tweed.
Ingredients per Serving
4oz slice salmon loin fillet (skin on)
Half bottle of dry white wine
1 pint cold water
6 to 8 baby new potatoes
½ small head of broccoli
Salt and white pepper
It is vitally important before you begin cooking your salmon to remove the pin bones. These bones can cause significant problems if they are eaten by a diner. Click the image to the right, showing the pin bones, to enlarge it and get some idea of the potential problem. Ideally, ask your fishmonger to undertake this task on your behalf but it is still more than worth checking for any which remain when you get home and before you begin cooking. SImply lay the salmon fillet skin side down and rub your fingers gently along the flesh, against the grain. If you do feel any bones, carefully pull them out in the direction they are running with a pair of tweezers.
Lay the salmon skin side down in a large pot. Season with salt and white pepper, as well as a generous pinch of dried dill. Pour in the white wine and water. Place on a high heat until the liquid only just begins to boil. Turn off the heat at this stage, cover the pot and leave the salmon to cook in the cooling liquid for a couple of hours.
The potatoes should be washed but not peeled. Add them to a pot with some salt and plenty of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for thirty minutes. Drain and return to the empty pot with some butter and a pinch of dried dill. Gently swirl to evenly coat.
The broccoli should be washed and carefully broken in to florets. Add to a pot of simmering salted water and cook for eight to ten minutes before draining for service.
Planning a Burns Supper - The Bigger Picture
The whole purpose of this page is to provide suggestions for people organising a Burns Supper (of any size) with what to serve to some or all of their guests instead of haggis. When the haggis is taken out of an event of this type, however, it is important not to ignore the other principal traditional features if you want your gathering to retain any level of authenticity. These factors are whisky and the works of Robbie Burns.
The number of Scottish single malt whiskies available can lead to incredible confusion when deciding which one or ones to purchase. If you have not already done so, why not try a malt from the Isle of Jura? Unlike its near and far better known neighbour, Islay, Jura has only one working distillery but its productions cater to a wide variety of whisky tastes and the Jura Superstition in particular is a joy to taste.
In a musical sense, below is but one example of songs popular at Burns Suppers.
Chicken Breast Stuffed with Black Pudding on Clapshot
This recipe is an alternative to the classic Scottish dish, Balmoral Chicken, which consists of a chicken breast fillet stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon. Balmoral Chicken is usually served with a whisky cream sauce.
Chicken breast fillets in supermarkets are unfortunately often sold with the skin already removed. As crispy skin was desired as a part of this dish, a chicken breast quarter was purchased. The fillet was carefully sliced off the bone, skin intact. It was literally at the last minute that the decision was made to use the remainder of the chicken quarter in a bonus recipe, included on this page immediately after this idea.
Ingredients per Serving
1 chicken breast fillet (skin on)
2oz black pudding (approximately)
½ small Swede turnip/rutabaga
1 large potato
1 tsp freshly chopped chives
Salt, black pepper and white pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Lay the chicken breast fillet on a chopping board, skin side uppermost. Hold it flat with the palm of your weaker hand and very carefully make a horizontal slit with a sharp knife to form a pocket for the black pudding stuffing. The black pudding should then be shaped in your hands to as close to the shape of the pocket as possible before being used to stuff the chicken and the flap folded over. It is important not to overstuff the chicken, or the black pudding will simply leak out during cooking.
Put your oven on to preheat to 400F/200C. In order to crisp up the skin of the chicken breast fillet, it is going to firstly be briefly fried. Pour a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in to a non-stick frying pan and bring it up to a fairly high heat. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and black pepper. Lay it skin side down in the frying pan and fry on a high heat for two or three minutes until the skin is crisped and golden.
Lay a sheet of foil in a roasting tray and the chicken in the centre, skin side up. Carefully fold the foil over to form a sealed tent and cook in the oven for twenty-five minutes.
Peel the potato and the Swede turnip and dice to about one inch pieces. Put them in a large pot, season with salt and add enough cold water to completely cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for twenty-five minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Season with white pepper, add a little butter and mash before stirring through the chopped chives. Spoon on to a serving plate as a bed for the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the oven and unwrap the foil, careful of escaping steam. Stick a skewer in to the meat to ensure the juices run clear before lifting it to a chopping board with a spatula. Rest for a few minutes before slicing in to three portions and laying it on the clapshot. Scatter more chopped chives over the top as a final garnish if desired.
Bonus Dish! - Chicken and Clapshot Broth
A handy guide to the life of Burns, his most popular works and the meaning of some of the Old Scots words used in his songs and poems.
A more appropriate soup for Burns Suppers may be Cullen Skink or Scotch Broth but this last minute preparation, incorporating the ingredients of Clapshot (Swede turnip, potato and chives) as well as a couple of other available items, proved very tasty.
The stock should be made first. Add the chicken carcass to a pot with a half teaspoon of black peppercorns, sea salt and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for twenty-five minutes before removing the chicken to a plate. Allow to cool enough to handle and peel off the chicken flesh. Return the bones to the pot, top up with more boiling water and simmer for another hour, before turning off the heat and covering.
Allow the stock to cool for about an hour. Discard the chicken bones and strain the stock through some kitchen paper in a sieve to remove the other impurities. Return the stock to the washed pot with half a peeled and chopped Swede and a peeled and chopped potato. Bring back to the boil and simmer for twenty minutes.
Add the chicken meat and some chopped chives and simmer for a further ten minutes before serving with crusty bread.
Looking For a Burns Supper Dessert? Why not make Cranachan?
Cranachan is not a foodstuff you will find appearing very often on the dinner table of the average Scottish family - but the perhaps surprising truth is that neither is haggis! At Burns Suppers, however, and many better quality restaurants and hotels throughout particularly rural Scotland, you will find it is popular. The link below the image provides a very simple recipe for the preparation of this truly delicious creation.
Have You Ever Been to a Burns Supper Without Haggis?
Thank you for visiting this page and hopefully it has helped convince you if you were not entirely convinced before that a traditional Burns Supper without haggis is indeed possible. I hope you enjoy any Burns Supper you may attend this or any year - with or without haggis.
Any comments or feedback you have may be left in the space below.