Everything you need for Burns Night

Sarah Scott gives the lowdown on Burns Night, one of Scotland's largest celebrations, and throws in some essential Scottish recipes and advice for holding your own Burns Night evening.

Burns Night has been celebrated in Scotland for over 200 years. Originally started by friends of Robert Burns as a supper with recitals of his much-loved work to commemorate the 5th anniversary of this death. Today, the celebration is held on or around his birthday on 25 January but the sentiment is the still the same; an evening of Caledonian food and drink, friendship, good natured banter and a chance to celebrate the nation’s favourite Bard.

The menu, just like the traditional ceremony, has not changed much either over the years. However, with Scottish descendants scattered all over the world the supper now often incorporates elements of the local cuisine and regional flavours too. Seasonal variations and contemporary twists on the menu are fine. So long as the emphasis of the evening is excellent company, food and a dram or three of a good single malt then the great man himself would surely approve.

Do it yourself

There are countless parties held to celebrate Burns Night from large, formal affairs to small intimate dinners held at home. Hosting your own Burns Supper is not as daunting as it may sound. Though there is a traditional order of the evening the level of formality is a matter of choice. The only real obligatory parts of the evening are a haggis, a toast to the Bard and the recital of at least one of his songs or poems. 


Seasonal Burns Supper Menu for 4 people
Cullen Skink
Haggis with neeps and tatties and whisky cream sauce

Cullen Skink
This is a really easy traditional Scottish soup with a rich, creamy flavour.

Large (approx 2lb) smoked, un-dyed haddock
Large onion, finely chopped
2 large potatoes, cooked and mashed
2 pints milk
1 bay leaf
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Knob of butter

1. Bring the milk to a gentle boil and poach the haddock for three minutes along with the bay leaf and finely chopped parsley stalks (save the leaves for later on). Turn off the heat and leave for 5 – 10 minutes, then remove the fish and set aside.
2. In a large pan gently soften the onion in the butter for a few minutes.
3. Add the warmed milk to the onions and add the mashed potato. Cook gently.
4. Flake the haddock into bite size chunks making sure you remove all bones and any skin. Add to the soup along with the parsley and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season as required, though it’s worth remembering that the smoked fish adds a lot of salt to the dish.

Haddock stockists
MGW Seafoods Ltd , Falkirk, Scotland deliver locally caught smoked un-dyed haddock.

Haggis with neeps and tatties and whisky cream sauce
A word on the haggis… the haggis really is the guest of honour at any Burns Supper. It enjoys the lavish ceremony of being piped in by a bagpiper while Burns’ tongue-in-cheek poem Address to the Haggis is recited to it. Traditionally served with ‘neeps and tatties’, mashed potatoes and swede or turnip, the dish is a real January warmer. If you don’t fancy attempting to make your own then a good butcher will. Macbeths of Forres, Scotland, won the Great Taste Gold Star 2009 for their haggis which they’ll deliver throughout the UK. Made from meat from their own farm and locally grown barley, their recipe has not changed in the last 400 years. Vegetarians need not re-coil in horror either. Edinburgh based Macsween created the first vegetarian haggis 25 years ago and it now makes up a quarter of their total sales. Approved by the Vegetarian Society its nutty texture has won a Great Taste Gold Star for the last two years.

750g -800g good quality haggis
800g potatoes
800g swede
Milk and butter for mashing

1. Cook the haggis as per the manufacturer’s guidelines.
2. Peel and dice the potatoes and swede and cook separately until soft. Mash the potatoes with milk, butter and seasoning. Do the same with the swede but without the milk.

Whisky cream sauce
This rich sauce is an ideal accompaniment to a flavourful haggis.

4 shallots, finely chopped
300ml double cream
100ml good whisky
Knob of butter

1. Soften the shallots in the butter.
2. Add the whisky and turn up the heat to burn off the alcohol, this won’t take long and will avoid any bitterness. Reduce the heat and stir in the cream. Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes.

Haggis stockists

Cranachan is traditionally made with fresh raspberries; the coulis in this recipe is a good winter alternative to the summer berry.

350g double cream
50g pinhead oatmeal
1 tbsn honey (plus extra for drizzling)
150g raspberry coulis
2 tbsn good malt whisky

1. Toast the oatmeal in a dry frying pan until it’s darkened in colour. Remove from the pan to cool.
2. Whisk the cream with the whisky and honey until it stands firm.
3. Carefully assemble the dessert in either individual glasses or a large glass bowl by forming layers of cream, coulis and oatmeal to end with a layer of cream.
4. Cover and allow to chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
5. Drizzle with honey and oatmeal before serving. 

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