Scottish Cuisine: A Complex Treasury of Old and New

It's time to banish the myth that the signature Scottish dish is the scorned haggis. Glasgow, one of Scotland's largest cities, was recently rated by Condé Nast Traveler (the bible of the travel industry), as the favorite U.K. destination for haute cuisine, culinary excellence and friendliness. The awards, which were voted for by readers of the magazine, ranked Glasgow as second in Britain, with only London delivering finer food, sans the friendliness!

As a transplanted Scot who's long been touting the glories of that country's fresh, pristine larder, I am delighted that Glasgow has finally achieved some well-deserved recognition. Scottish cuisine is a complex treasury of old and new – and has nothing to do with English food.

Alan Tomkins, last year's director of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau and the owner of eight outstanding eateries, notes that "the world clamors to buy at a premium, smoked Scotch salmon, beef and fresh Atlantic seafood – we have it on tap. And in our restaurants, high standards are not only expected, but achieved."

Glasgow's culinary revolution, with its emphasis on Scotland's pure ingredients, was almost single-handedly started 25 years ago by Ronnie Clydesdale, chef-owner of "The Ubiquitous Chip." He gambled his unemployment check on the possibility that locals might just appreciate good Scottish produce cooked simply and without pretense.

It worked. Today, the restaurant has won numerous awards, and is a prime destination for locals and visitors who want to sample the best that Scotland has to offer. From wee nibbles to entrees to sweet meats, the Ubiquitous Chip's menu items may include Solway Firth Grey Mullet, Lanark Blue ewe's milk cheese and Campbells of Rutherglen Muscat. Ronnie's son, Colin, continues the "think global, eat local" tradition with the opening of Stravaigin and Stravaigin 2.

Dining at tiny, unpretentious restaurants like 16 Byres Road, where chef Neil Grant reigns over a postage stamp-sized kitchen, is a dazzling culinary experience.

Glasgow has always catered to vegetarians, so you'll find nearly every restaurant offers a wide choice of creative dishes to delight the kosher and vegetarian diner.

Besides gourmet cuisine, the city is crammed with alfresco cafes, top entertainment, museums and architectural gems like Glasgow University and Garnethill Synagogue, the latter an imposing Gothic-style structure.

The influence of world-famous architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh may be seen throughout the city. Nancy McLardie of the Glasgow City Marketing Board sums it all up saying, "We are cool, creative and cosmopolitan … this is the attraction for the millions of tourists each year."

But culinary fame goes beyond Glasgow. From this land of magical mountains and crystal-clear lochs come game, seafood, dairy products and fresh produce arriving in kitchens to be served within hours.

Exploring Speyside – the area around the river Spey in north-east Scotland – the charming Highland village of Aberlour is the home of Walkers Shortbread, where the famed recipe has been produced for more than 100 years. Apart from a modest sign, no one could guess that nestled in a grove of fir trees, where the air is clean and fresh, are four state-of-the-art bakeries that produce 10,000 tons of Orthodox Union-certified Walkers Shortbread each year.

Over coffee sipped from delicate cups and a selection of – you guessed it – fresh-baked shortbread, Andrew Stokes, export sales manager, explained the company's worldwide success: "Quality is the determining factor, and on that there is no compromise. Ingredients come from areas as close to home as possible – flour is milled in Scotland, pure creamery butter from the U.K., and sugar beet from East Anglia, England." No artificial coloring, flavoring or preservatives are used.

The United States is Walker's biggest market, and the kosher certification is of the highest importance. A rabbi flies in from New York on a regular basis.

"We never know when he is coming," Stokes said jovially, but "we always pass with flying colors!"

In the sleepy village of Comrie, we lunched with food celebrities Catherine Brown and Maxine Clark on grilled Arbroath smokies (hot smoked haddock), tender baby lettuce, sun-ripened blackberries and loganberries, and crusty granary bread – all produced nearby. "This is artisan food," declared Maxine, "not necessarily organic, but all grown and prepared with love and care."

At Grantown on Spey, we were welcomed by Sonia and William Marshall, owners of Culdearn House. At this luxurious country hotel, we dined on game terrine with onion marmalade; sea bass with ginger glaze; and cranachan, a traditional Scottish dessert consisting of fresh raspberries, whipped cream, toasted oatmeal and whisky – irresistible!

Sonia is in charge of the kitchen and noted that "all ingredients come from local suppliers, so that we complete traceability from farm to plate."

At Drumearn Cottage, a comfortable bed and breakfast in Perthshire, any time is tea time when Helen and Eric Gordon chat with guests over hot, fragrant tea, home-baked biscuits (known as cookies in the States) and little cakes.

And while following Scotland's famous Whisky Trail – home of more than 90 distilleries – we discovered Ballindalloch Castle, home of the Macpherson-Grants since 1546. For a fee, you may wander through the exquisitely furnished rooms, stroll through manicured gardens and take tea in the Castle Tea Rooms.

In the gift shop, you can buy a package of family recipes – tied with red and green plaid ribbon – and a copy of I Love Food, a book of recipes and stories written by Clare Macpherson-Grant Russell, the grande-dame of Ballindalloch Castle.

On this trip, all dietary caution simply flew out the window. Now, it's on to Weight Watchers!

Smoked-Salmon Castles

A fuss-free, deliciously rich starter, this was adapted from a Ballindalloch Castle recipe.

12 oz. smoked salmon, thinly sliced
2 large, ripe avocados, peeled and stones removed
8 oz. Neufchâtel cream cheese, cut in chunks
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
3-4 drops hot sauce or to taste
lemon wedges and parsley sprigs for garnish

Rinse 6 small custard cups with cold water. Do not dry. Line with half the smoked salmon, allowing salmon to hang over the edges.

Cut the avocados into 1-inch pieces. Place in food processor with remaining salmon, cream cheese, lemon juice and hot sauce. Process until smooth. Divide mixture evenly between the custard cups.

Fold over edges of the salmon. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate.

Turn out onto salad plates. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.

Serves 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 262; protein, 16 g; carbohydrates, 8 g; fat, 19 g; cholesterol, 34 mg; sodium, 1,253 mg.

Mackerel With Olives and Capers

Chervil is a popular herb used in Scottish cooking. It's a member of the parsley family, but has a faint anise flavor. Parsley may be substituted.

4 mackerel fillets
3 Tbsps. seasoned dry breadcrumbs
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 Tbsps. sliced black olives
1 Tbsp. capers, rinsed
2 large tomatoes, seeds removed and cut in 1/4-inch thick wedges
2 Tbsps. snipped chervil, divided
salt and white pepper to taste

Toss the mackerel in breadcrumbs to coat. Sprinkle lightly with pepper. Cut three (1-inch) slashes in each.

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mackerel, skin-side down. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until nicely browned.

Turn over and reduce heat. Cook 3 to 4 minutes longer, or until flakes are opaque when separated with fork. Remove and keep warm.

Add the olives and capers to the skillet, stirring to scrape up the flavorful sediment. Cook for a minute or two.

Add the tomatoes and 1 tablespoon chervil. Heat through.

To Serve: Divide the tomato mixture evenly onto 4 plates. Top with the mackerel, skin-side up. Sprinkle with remaining chervil.

Serves 4.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 390; protein, 22 g; carbohydrates, 7 g; fat, 30 g; cholesterol, 78 mg; sodium, 300 mg.


There are many versions of this classic Scottish pudding, traditionally prepared with all-local ingredients. You may substitute regular oatmeal (i.e., Quakers oatmeal, but not the instant kind).

3 Tbsps. pinhead oatmeal
2 cups heavy cream
4 Tbsps. whisky
3 Tbsps. honey
3 cups fresh raspberries
additional whisky to drizzle (optional)

Place the oatmeal on a small baking sheet. Toast in toaster oven or under the broiler. This takes only 2 to 3 minutes, depending on heat of broiler. Watch carefully to avoid scorching. Cool.

Whip the cream till it peaks softly.

Fold in the whisky and honey, then the oatmeal. Gently fold in the berries.

Divide into glasses or small dessert dishes.

Serve chilled and drizzled with a little more whisky (optional).

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 351; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 20 g; fat, 30 g; cholesterol, 109 mg; sodium, 50 mg.

Carrots With Caraway

May substitute a bag of cleaned baby carrots to save some time.

1 lb. carrots, cleaned
2 tsps. caraway seed
4 Tbsps. unsalted butter, melted
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut carrots into strips, about 2 inches by one-quarter inch. Cook in boiling salted water for 4 minutes or until crisp tender. Drain well.

Stir the caraway seed into the melted butter. Pour over the carrots and toss.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Serves 4.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 145; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 9 g; fat, 12 g; cholesterol, 31 mg; sodium, 45 mg.

Seared Calves' Liver With Parsnip Purée

Inspired by a dish served at Stravaigin restaurant.

4 medium parsnips, peeled, and cores removed
3 Tbsps. margarine
salt and pepper
3 Tbsps. bottled oil-and-vinegar dressing
zest of 1 orange
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley sprigs
6 Tbsps. vegetable oil
4 slices (about 4 ounces each) calves' liver
6 shallots, thinly sliced
1-2 Tbsps. seasoned flour

Cut the parsnips into 1-inch chunks. Cook in simmering water until soft, about 20 minutes.

Drain well. Place in food processor with margarine. Process until smooth.

Season with salt and pepper, and keep warm.

Process the dressing with the orange zest, basil and parsley until blended. Set aside.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat.

Sprinkle the liver lightly with salt and pepper. Add to skillet and sear 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Toss the shallots in flour. Add remaining oil to the skillet. Heat over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and fry until golden.

To Assemble: Divide parsnip purée evenly between 4 plates. Top with a slice of liver. Scatter crispy shallots over and drizzle the dressing around.

Serve hot.

Serves 4.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 448; protein, 23 g; carbohydrates, 10 g; fat, 35 g; cholesterol, 401 mg; sodium, 309 mg.

Chocolate Shortbread Truffles

These are usually served with coffee after dinner. Confectioners' sugar may be substituted for cocoa powder. Store in an airtight container in a cool place, but not in the refrigerator.

8 oz. good dark chocolate (i.e., Ghirardelli's), broken in small pieces
6 Tbsps. unsalted butter, cut in 6 pieces
11/4 cups finely crushed shortbread
1 Tbsp. whisky
1/4 tsp. orange extract
3 Tbsps. unsweetened cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave, about 11?2 minutes on high or until softened. Mix until thoroughly blended. Stir in whisky and orange extract. Add shortbread crumbs.

Mix well. Chill to firm up.

Shape heaping teaspoonfuls into balls. Roll in cocoa powder.

Chill. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 2 dozen.

Approximate nutrients per truffle: calories, 97; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 8 g; fat, 7 g; cholesterol, 9 mg; sodium, 16 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman is a cookbook author and a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Reach her at:



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