Gilly’s Best Of British (and Scottish and Irish)
Let’s be frank: Britain is not exactly a culinary mecca. This is, after all, the land of such appetisingly-christened dishes as “toad in the hole”, “knickerbocker glory” and “spotted dick”. But good British food definitely exists. I’ve spent the last three weeks travelling in England, Scotland and Ireland eating and drinking everything I possibly could (in the name of research, you understand) and now I am here to present to you My List of England, Scotland and Ireland’s Tastiest Dishes.*
*not to be confused with My List of England, Scotland and Ireland’s Dishiest Blokes, which can be provided on request should you wish it.
Visiting Scotland was quite the dream come true for me, as not only do I have Scottish ancestry, but I am a huge fan of the Outlander books and TV show (if you’re waiting for me to express any sort of shame about this you will be waiting for a long time). So while a lot of my time in Scotland was spent searching for Jamie Fraser, I did also manage to eat some interesting and delightful things.
First up: Haggis. It does not sound good. It does not look good, despite attempts at dressing it up. But I am hear to tell you that haggis – a mincemeat dish made of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs – actually tastes very, very good. Traditionally served with “neeps and tatties” (turnips and potatoes) and a whisky sauce, this Scottish staple is eaten at all times of day, and even features in most Full Scottish Breakfasts. We even tried it in the form of “bonbons”, crumbed and fried. The pub food in Scotland was excellent. I had scampi, salmon, curry, calamari, and mac and cheese (for a reason we never quite got to the bottom of, macaroni and cheese is EVERYWHERE in Scotland. If you can shed some light on the matter, please do get in touch).
Whisky, unsurprisingly, features in a lot of Scottish cooking. I am trying to train myself to like whisky. I like the warmth of it, but I still find the first taste to be a bit of an assault on the senses – although the better the whisky, the smoother it is. We did a tour of Glengoyne Distillery which extremely interesting, and saw proof everywhere we went of the Scots’ love for all things whisky.
Ireland was just beautiful – but I’m afraid I spent more time exploring the scenery, music and other aspects of Irish culture than I did the food, so this section is a little lacking. I was being a proper tourist and forgot I was a food blogger for a few days. Sorry chaps. On an unrelated-to-food note, traditional Irish music is one of my new favourite things, and I am listening to the Dubliners as I write this.
I asked a few people about Irish cuisine and basically just got laughed away, some potato jokes, and told to have a pint of Guinness. Which I did – many pints, in fact. I love Guinness. It’s like beer, chocolate, coffee and marmite had a refreshing, luscious love-child. I was also introduced to such local delicacies as “curry chips” (exactly what it sounds like), and my new favourite thing: breakfast rolls. In convenience stores and petrol stations, there are hot food bars filled with all things good and breakfast: bacon, eggs, hash browns, sausages, black pudding, white pudding, and various other naughty fried things. For a few euro, your choice of items is stuffed into a fresh bread roll and slathered with ketchup and/or brown sauce. And can I tell you, as horribly unhealthy as this all sounds, the morning after a big night of Irish-style drinking (and let me tell you, the Irish can drink, and that’s coming from an Australian) a breakfast roll washed down with a Lucozade is just sinfully delicious. And I was on holiday. So please stop judging me.
Ah, the Mother Country. Home of the roast dinner, inventor of the ginger nut biscuit, land of high tea, fish and chips, and bangers and mash. I find healthy eating quite difficult in England, but that’s mainly because my love of biscuits is so strong it could almost be classified as a fetish, and I am staying with lovely lovely family who offer me a cup of tea and wave a biscuit tin under my nose every 45 seconds.
My favourite English pub, the Nag’s Head in Chichester, does a delicious carvery roast – for £12 you can choose between beef, pork, turkey or gammon, and help yourself to all the trimmings – roast potatoes, carrots, parsnip, peas, greens, gravy, bread sauce, red currant jelly, mustard, stuffing and Yorkshire puddings. Proper English meal, that is.
So I’ve picked two fairly simple but classic recipes that exist in some form in all three countries – a proper fry-up breakfast, and scones. Tally-ho!
A FULL ENGLISH (OR SCOTTISH OR IRISH) FRY-UP
I know a fry-up is generally considered breakfast food, but eating what you want when you want is one of the beautiful things about being an adult (and considering we have to deal with crap like taxes, plebiscites and medicare forms, we need to take all the beautiful things we can get). So have breakfast for dinner, or a fry-up for lunch, or a midnight feast. The world is your bacon-flavoured oyster.
INGREDIENTS (per person)
2 x rashers streaky bacon
2 x eggs
big handful of mushrooms
2 x sausages (Nice ones please. Nothing worse than a lacklustre sausage.)
1 x tomato
2 x slices black/white pudding (optional – could be quite hard to find where you live. You could also do haggis but I have no idea how to cook this so will not put it in the instructions)
Obviously we’re going to fry all of this! You can grill/bake things if you’re cooking for a large crowd, but for true, greasy authenticity I don’t recommend it. The trick here is getting everything hot and sizzling and ready to eat at the same time. I’m going to give approximate timings but you’re going to have to use your wits a bit – things like thickness of bacon etc will affect the timing. If something looks cooked, for pity’s sake, take it off the heat and put it on the plate! You can always heat it up for a minute or so before serving.
- Slice the mushrooms and cut the tomato in half.
- Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick pan to a medium heat and add the sausages (and black/white pudding if you’re having it).
- After 5 minutes or so, add the bacon. Turn the sausages.
- After another 5 minutes add the mushrooms and the tomatoes, cut side down. (If you’re feeling extra indulgent, I suggest adding a teaspoonful of crushed garlic and a knob of butter to the mushrooms).
- Stick the bread in the toaster. (I always forget to do this and end up eating the bread fresh because I’m very impatient. It’s really not as good.)
- When everything seems 1-2 minutes away from being ready, make some space in the pan and crack the eggs in.
- When the eggs are golden round the edges and the whites are cooked, you’re done!
- Arrange artfully on a plate. If you’re having concerns about your health, add some sliced avocado and a tiny handful of green salad – the added colour makes the whole thing look more wholesome. Serve with a homemade relish if you’re a better person than me, or ketchup if you’re getting down on my level. Enjoy with a nice cup of tea!
Who doesn’t love a good scone with jam and cream? And for the record, I would like it to be known that I pronounce the word “scone” to rhyme with “gone” and “john”, not “cone” and “own”. You know, the right way. Glad we cleared that up. I’ve been using Nigella’s recipe for Lily’s Scones for years now and it’s pretty great, but when I was in Ireland I was introduced to Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course, and her recipe for “Mummy’s Sweet White Scones” was also fantastic. So this is a simplified version of the two recipes together, designed to be as quick and store-cupboard-friendly as possible.
450g plain white flour
30g caster sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
75g salted butter, cold and diced
2 x eggs
1 x extra egg for egg wash
- Preheat the oven to 220ºc. Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl and throw the chopped butter on top.
- Use your fingers to literally rub the butter into the flour, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, or damp sand, or, you know, buttery flour. You’re probably going to think “there’s not enough butter!” but there IS and if you add more I will smack your ears. Make a well in the centre of the bowl.
- Whisk the eggs and milk together in a jug, then pour into the well and mix to a soft dough. DO NOT OVERMIX OR OVERWORK. Seriously, touch it as little as possible. You will have hard scones, and a hard scone is even WORSE than a lacklustre sausage.
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface and gently pat it until it’s about 3cm thick. Use a scone cutter, or an upturned glass, and press rounds. You should get about 12 – you’ll probably have to rearrange the dough at least once. Pop these onto a baking tray with a sheet of baking paper on it.
- Whisk the extra egg, and brush each scone with the egg – you want it all covered, but not too much! Shiny not slimy.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes. Serve still warm if possible, which a selection of jams and lightly whipped thickened fresh cream, and a delicious pot of tea. Smashing.