Fergus Henderson, master of understatement in the kitchen, introduces his recipe for Scottish mince from Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking: Part II with typically wry hyperbole on the page:
“A dish discussed as much as cassoulet in Castelnaudary. Questions such as should you add peas or carrots can start a gastronomic row of great proportions. Sticking my neck out, I know Caledonia [sic] MacBrayne adds peas to its mince but I don’t, although I do like a spot of carrot in mine. It gets worse--I can’t help making a small gesture to the old alliance as well. If you haven’t tossed this book away in disgust already, here are my mince thoughts.”
While the influence of the old--or typically ‘auld’--alliance with France on Scottish food is predominantly bogwash, Henderson’s reference is sound. He adds a lot of red wine, and the only red wine he serves in his restaurants is French, to his Scottish mince. Our recipe takes certain liberties with his, as explained in the Notes. Always served with mashed potatoes or, although Henderson omits the advice, clapshot. For six on a hungry night.
- about 4 teaspoons neutral oil
- a big sweet onion peeled and cut into thinnest crescents
- 2 leeks, trimmed, rinsed, split lengthway in half and also sliced into thinnest crescents
- 2 peeled carrots split lengthway and (you guessed it) cut into thinnest crescents
- 4 gloves garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
- 2 lb ground beef or, better, venison
- 3 canned San Marzano tomatoes, squashed
- about ¾ cup oatmeal (essential)
- 3 shots (US not little UK measures) Worcestershire
- about ⅓ bottle red wine
- a fair amount of beef stock
- salt (or not)
- Heat the oil in a big heavy skillet over a medium flame until it shimmers, then dump the onion, leek, carrot and garlic into the skillet, stirring to coat everything with the oil.
- Reduce the heat to medium low and slowly sweat the vegetables until they soften, usually in less than half an hour, but not much less.
- Stir the meat into the vegetables, raise the heat to medium high and stir the nascent mince, unclumping the beef until some specks of brown appear in the pan, on the meat; either or both.
- Stir the tomatoes, oatmeal and Worcestershire into the mix, followed by the wine.
- Cook to nearly evaporate the wine before adding enough stock: “You are,” according to Henderson, and he is right, “looking for a loose lave consistency.”
- Simmer the mince for about 2 hours (not a typographical error); you will need to keep adding stock from time to time to maintain your lava.
- Add some cayenne and check the mince for salt.
- Serve the mince, and this is not negotiable, with mashed potatoes or clapshot.
-This (quite obviously) is a homely dish, relished in Scotland as “mince and tatties” for family suppers.
-As Henderson maintains, the long cooking time “allows the mince to become itself, as is the case with most of us.”
-We have doubled the vegetables other than garlic (is garlic a vegetable?), tripled or perhaps sextupled the Worcestershire depending on the quantity of Henderson’s shot (he does not say whether it is a British or American measure and likely does not care), browned the meat, added the indeterminate amount of cayenne and substituted beef for Henderson’s chicken stock.
-In 1829, Mrs. Dalgairns, a superb cookbook writer, dispersed with all but the beef, onions and oatmeal seasoned simply with salt and pepper but judiciously enlivened with vinegar. You might substitute about a tablespoon of malt for the tomatoes. Like our recipe and unlike Henderson’s, Mrs. Dalgairns liked to brown her beef.
-Scottish mince may sound prosaic but will not fail to impress the most jaded diner on a cold winter’s night. Defy convention and build a dinner party around it. Blow your money on good smoked salmon served with buttered brown bread along with lots of lemon and capers to start. Scotland forever.
-The capable Catharine Brown notes that carrot and turnip often have been added to the Dalgairns base; dice the turnip--it must be yellow--fine and throw it into the skillet with everything else at Step 1.
-If insecure you could serve the mince in individual ramekins richly disguised under a puff pastry lid as Scottish pies. Authentic, no; excellent, yes.