Tomorrow is Burns Night which is a significant event in my family. You see, I am Scottish. To be more precise my mother’s father was first-generation Glaswegian and although he left Scotland in his 20s and lived the rest of his life in the south of England, that still makes me Scottish enough to play football for the national team if I am good enough. Despite my age and the fact that I was never a great footballer I still maintain that given their form in recent qualifying campaigns that possibility still exists.
Anyway, the traditional way to celebrate the life of the great Robbie Burns is with haggis. If you fancy making your own it is straightforward enough. Mince up some sheep’s liver, lungs and kidney and mix with sheep’s fat, oatmeal, chopped onion and spices to taste — then shovel the whole lot into a sheep’s stomach, fasten and boil for some considerable time.
This year I shall not be making my own, however. Delicious though it sounds, particularly with a large dollop of neeps and tatties, what I really fancy is another warming, spicy dish which is perfectly suited to a miserable January evening — chicken tagine.
There is no specifically Scottish link to this dish except for the fact that I had a good version of it when I was in a Moroccan restaurant in Edinburgh a few years ago. It is simple to make and there is no sheep’s stomach involved.
To feed four hungry Scots, take eight large chicken thighs and marinate for an hour in the juice of a lemon. In a casserole, brown the chicken in some olive oil then remove from the pan. In the same casserole, sauté a chopped onion until soft and translucent in a little more oil, and add four finely chopped cloves of garlic, a teaspoon each of ground ginger and ground coriander, a large pinch of saffron if you happen to have any around (half a teaspoon of turmeric will also do), the zest of a lemon and season with salt and pepper.
Then return the chicken to the pan and cover with boiling water. Bring to the boil, put on the lid and simmer gently for half an hour until the chicken is cooked through and tender. Just before serving, scatter over some chopped coriander, a handful of Kalamata olives and perhaps a few toasted pine nuts.
Oh and don’t worry if it doesn’t sound Scottish enough — at some point during the weekend I will be having a large measure of a single malt and a deep-fried Mars bar.