Robert Burns: that guy who wrote ‘Auld Lang Syne’. That’s all he was to me before a half-Scot housemate suggested we throw our own Burns Night supper. Now, he’s captured a little piece of my heart – the bit reserved for food, booze, and hootenanny.
Burns’ legacy has influenced some of literature’s greats, from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to The Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’. Last Monday, his legacy extended to ceasing the covid continuum in my flat. He inspired the creation of Scottish flags from IKEA bags, impassioned poetry recitals, and an authentic (FaceTimed) address from my flatmate’s kilt-adorned father. Often dubbed one of the greatest Scots in history, Burns’ work overflows with sincerity, Scottish culture, and food – oh, the food!
The centrepiece of any Burns supper is the haggis, the “Great chieftain o’ puddin’ race” Burns’ immortalised in 48 lines in the ‘Address to a Haggis’. By description alone, haggis is hardly something to get excited about – when you hear dinner’s going to be offal stuffed into a sheep’s stomach, your mouth doesn’t exactly start watering. But as soon as you dare take your first bite, the divisive delicacy wins you over. Rookies certainly won’t have experienced meat with texture like it before, but the flavours are familiar and welcoming. Sausage, pepper, and warm herbs greet you, and you find yourself immediately relaxing into it.
Joining the Burns Night plate are staples that put a nervous haggis first-timer at ease. Neeps and tatties are the comforting starch of swede (trust me) and potatoes, and whisky sauce has a creamy, umami depth reminiscent of Diane sauce. These can be done with a twist and other sides are often added in: My Monday menu consisted of a nod to my household’s Swiss and Scottish heritage with Neeps and Tatties rösti, buttered lemony leeks, haggis, and whisky sauce. The röstis are crispy with hidden swede sweetness. Topped with haggis, whisky sauce, and buttered leeks, one mouthful feels decadent – a squeeze of lemon in the leeks to cut through the richness and you’re on your way to the perfect bite.
Burns Night offers a rare spark of novelty in a time where days are monotonous at best. There is a bounty of tradition to immerse yourself in, and the more you commit the better the night gets. So pour yourself a wee dram and start practicing your poetry!
Neeps & Tatties Rösti Recipe
Ingredients (Serves 6)
- 500g Swede, peeled and grated
- 300g floury potatoes (about 5), peeled and grated
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp salt (to taste)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Equal parts butter and vegetable oil, for frying
- Preheat an oven to 180 C/350 F.
- In a large bowl mix the grated swede, potatoes, thyme, salt, and pepper together. Place in a cheese cloth (or tea towel) and squeeze out excess water (the drier the better). Tightly pack rösti mixture into balls roughy 4cm in diameter.*
- At a high heat, put equal parts butter and vegetable oil into a frying pan, adding enough to cover the entire bottom in a thin layer. Add a rösti ball to the pan and firmly flatten with a wide spatula. Allow to cook about 2 mins or until the bottom is golden-brown, then flip using a spatula (with confidence!). Repeat with all rösti balls.
- Once both sides of the röstis are golden-brown, place on a baking tray and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through.
*If preparing ahead of time, fry the röstis and wait until ready to serve to put in the oven. This prevents the starch in the potatoes oxidising and turning them an unappetising grey colour.
Photo by Katie Hollands.