“Golf was invented in Scotland. It’s not supposed to be fun.”

I saw that quote in a magazine a while back, and I’m still not sure if it was supposed to be funny or not. I mean when you think about it, things that originate in Scotland are mostly meant to be endured, not enjoyed. Haggis. Bagpipes. Plaid. Robbie Burns. Presbyterianism. Fly fishing. The aforementioned golf. And of course, Scots.

To be fair, not every culture is all bad, Scottish included. So while they do indeed toss cabers and eat nettle soup, they also invented whisky. That alone is enough to forgive all other sins. (On the other hand, whisky is probably what initially produced haggis, bagpipes, plaid, and an awful lot of Scots in the first place.)

Other things on the positive side of the equation? Oatmeal is actually pretty tasty when made right. And they stir it with something called a “spurtle”, which is an excellent word to toss around at parties. “Yeah, this damn prostate problem is driving me crazy. I never thought it could be so tough to spurtle, but now...”

Also, Sheena Easton.


I think she was also a singer.

Oh wait! There’s one more:

Finnan Haddie.

There is a grand tradition in many countries of using desiccation – sometimes with smoke, sometimes just a-hangin’ in the cold air – to preserve food. This had the welcome effect of staving off starvation during lean months in the days before refrigeration.*

In Scotland one of the carryover dishes from this primordial era is smoked haddock, or “finnan haddie”. But here’s where things get a little fuzzy for me. A few years ago I got caught between two dress – sorry, kilt – wearing Scotsmen who were engaged in an Islay fueled argument about whether all smoked haddock was called “finnan haddie”, or just that haddock which had been smoked long enough to turn a golden color. (They did agree that the smoked haddock dyed yellow to look aged was a national disgrace – unlike haggis, apparently.) I’m not sure what the final resolution was, as I managed to wriggle past them and out the door before cabers started flying.

Either way I love the stuff and call it “finnan haddie” yellow or not. My mom used to make it for my dad, as his British mother did before her, and that’s how I was introduced to it. However the price of this once peasant dish has since risen to the point where the last time I prepared it for myself was sometime around 2006.

That is, until last Monday. Last Monday I was trawling the aisles of my local Price Chopper looking for replacement sock garters when a familiar golden glint caught my eye. It was coming from the fish counter.

Finnan Haddie! A whole pile of ’em!

And they were on sale!

I practically leaped over the glass case and grabbed the fishmonger by the throat.

Yo! Fishkeep! Get your halibut over here and serve forth some of that Hebrides haddock!


I’d like a half pound of the finnan haddie, please.”

“Oh. Ok. Here.” He handed over a paper cone. It smelled like my old Chevy Nova after I drove it into my neighbor’s compost heap to put out a brake fire.

I immediately abandoned the sock garter quest. Hosiery could wait – I had finnan haddie!

Back home I tore the top off the cone and slid the golden slab of fish onto my cutting board.

Not 10 seconds later NewWifey(tm), back in the computer room on the complete opposite side of the house, yelled out, “HONEY! DID YOU BUILD A CAMPFIRE IN OUR LIVING ROOM AGAIN?!” I heard her padded feet come sprinting down the hall. She slid into the kitchen, eyes wide with fear.

I laughed. “No, it’s just finnan haddie. I promised I’d never try to make S’mores indoors ever again, remember? But that does remind me of a joke: how do Cub Scouts become Boy Scouts? They eat a Brownie!

She rolled her eyes. “You told me that joke in 2007. It wasn’t funny then either. So what the hell is finnan haddie, and why did you light it on fire?”

Finnan haddie” I said, “is smoked haddock. It’s Scottish.”

“Why do the Scottish hate haddock so much?” she said.

They’re Scots. They hate everything. But this stuff is actually really good. You simmer it in milk and onions and stuff to tame it a bit and get it soft, then pour thick cream sauce over it and –

She cut me off. “You enjoy” she said, and turned to leave.

You don’t want to try it?

“Smoked fish in milk? I’d rather eat haggis.”

I can make that too. I just need to find sheep lungs.

She padded back to the computer room without answering.

Fine. More for me.

I made the finnan haddie.

Now let me back up just a minute here, because I gotta set the stage.

Two weeks before, lamb went on sale at Price Chopper. This was highly unusual. Lamb normally only goes on sale twice a year: just before Christmas, and just before Easter. To see it marked down to $2.99/lb a week after Christmas meant there must have been some sort of epidemic that decimated the sheep flocks of Australia and they had to get rid of the carcasses fast. Oh well. Their loss is my meal. I picked up a 7-pounder.

If you’re new to my blog, here’s a quick fun fact: in addition to haggis, smoked milk fish, and sock garters, my wife also hates lamb. I’ve written several entries mentioning this, and it still holds true. So, once again, I went it alone.

I made a pretty simple preparation. Just boned it out, butterflied the meat, spread it with an herb paste and some fruit compote, then rolled it, tied it, and baked it off. Made a stock with the bone.

It was very good. But of course you knew it would be.

I ate that damn roast for the next five days straight. Mostly just sliced as-is, but a few times in more exotic dishes. A bunch went into a batch of Scotch Broth, one of my favorite soups.

It just occurred to me: I actually do like a lot of Scottish stuff, don’t I. Maybe I should forgive them already for being forced to read “Tam oShanter in high school. After all:


Where was I? Oh yeah –

So I’ve eaten all this lamb and now I’m basically down to scraps. But they’re lamb scraps, so I just can’t throw them away. I seriously mulled over the possibility of turning them into lamb ice cream, just to see. But I only had a couple of eggs left, and the crΓ¨me anglaise base I use to make my ice cream requires at least 8.

So I made pie:

Pie 1

I likes me a good meat pie. But examples around here tend to feature either a small amount of meat bolstered by large amounts of veg and a rather soupy base, or an overly dense, no-filler block of meat that would be better used as a wheel chock (you need some filler to lighten things up, since protein is pretty damn dense. If you wonder why it’s so hard to swallow your meatballs/meatloaf , try using lots more breadcrumbs than you think is necessary next time).

I like plenty of meat, not too many competing flavors, soft texture but not soupy, and Sheena Easton serving it to me. So that’s what I made. To really amp up the lamb flavor I used the rest of the stock, and thickened the entire thing with Chinese sweet (sticky) rice, a roux, AND an egg/cream liaison. I wanted it to set up firm without being dense, and that’s the way to do it. I added a few leftover roasted mushrooms, a bit of miropoix, and a couple ofΒ  smashed roasted baby potatoes to keep things from getting monotonous, and dusted the top crust with rosemary and sea salt.

It was very good. But of course you knew it would be.

So why am I telling you about my lamb pie in the middle of an entry dedicated to finnan haddie?

I dunno. Vanity, I guess. That’s why I do anything, after all.

But there’s this also: I took a pic of the finnan haddie, but not by itself. I artfully (*cough*) placed a wedge of the aforementioned pie in the shot on a whim. If I’d posted that picture without context, you all would have been terribly confused.

I suppose I should also explain the bread. Finnan haddie is often (in my house, anyway) served with toast points, similar to how Welsh Rabbit is (and it’s “rabbit”, not “rarebit”. Yes it is). But if I’m gonna fork over half a week’s salary for a slab of Scottish smoked haddock, you can bet your single malt that I’m not gonna spoon it over Institution Grade Wonder Bread. I quick whipped up a loaf of basic American white, fortified with a little whole wheat and some vital wheat gluten** to give it a bit more structure, and used that.

(BTW, if you never learn any other cooking thing, learn how to make a basic loaf of white bread. At its simplest it takes 2 hours start to finish with “Quick Rise” yeast. That’s less time than it takes you to drive to the store and buy a loaf…if you blow a tire along the way and have to change it yourself by the side of the road. Anyway, just make the damn thing. You can’t fuck it up, not even you, and it’s world’s better than that aerated sponge you paid $3.99 for just because it comes pre-sliced. Write me if you need a recipe.)

Ok, enough talk. Pictures:

Finnan Haddie group

(I read a food photography article that said you should place one of the ingredients of the dish in the shot. Since the lamb wouldn’t stand still long enough, I used mustard powder, which went into the cream sauce. They also said to drop the exposure one stop toΒ evoke a rustic, country setting. I think the article lied. It just looks dark.)

Here’s the pie alone (again, because vanity):

Pie slice 2

So, that’s why I’m fat. Thanks again, Scotland.

On the other hand.

I guess it’s a wash.

Oh, what the hell. Pass the haggis…..

Finally, I know this was a food intensive entry. To make it up to those of you who aren’t interested in such things, here’s a gratuitous picture of my cat winking at you:

One eye cat

We cool now? Good.



* Go watch the movie “Babettes’s Feast”. If you’re a foodie, this is mandatory.

** Do not tell me you are gluten intolerant unless the Celiac test came back positive. You DID get tested when you first suspected you might have a debilitating biological disorder, didn’t you? You realize that “But I feel pukey whenever I eat a cracker!” is not a diagnosis, right? Gluten intolerance is just today’s version of the 80’s MSG hysteria. And no, there is no such thing as “Frankenwheat”. They tested it against historical stocks, and there’s no difference. Go look up “placebo effect”, then make yourself a sandwich. Stop being stupid.)

26 thoughts on “Strut

  1. To be fair, I probably am indeed celiac, but I like my bread too much to give it up. Ahem.

    I like the general look of the lamb pie, but I personally would’ve wanted a bit more veggie and broth. I don’t know if that makes me a purist or a Philistine. However, I can forgive you if you tell me the white stuff with the fish isn’t *shudder* tartar sauce.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There was a LOT of broth, but I thickened it to the point where it jelled to a slicing consistency. Just a matter of preference, but for a pie like this my own predilection is to eat it with a fork, not a spoon. It tasted like broth, but a different mouth feel. Know what I mean, jelly bean? πŸ™‚

      LOL! It was NOT tartar sauce. It was a bechamel made with the smoke infused milk that the fish simmered in. Plus a little mustard powder, and thin sliced onions that had simmered in butter. To add that pro touch, I dusted the top with smoked Spanish paprika. So a little more smoke flavor, but a *different* smoke. The contrast was subtle, but definite.

      And…THAT’S not why you’re a Philistine πŸ˜‰


      1. Ah, than you redeemed yourself. Tartar sauce is disgusting. The bechamel, however, sounds like it could add a layer of interest. I might have to give that a shot.

        I know what you mean about the pie. I just want my broth a bit less jelled, lol. But I’m sure it’s scrumptious!

        And just call me Goliath.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the way language shifts about. I’ve never heard it called Welsh Rabbit, only ever Rarebit, and it’s just smoked haddock here. I had some last week but I made mine into fish cakes. I’d baked a few extra potatoes in their skins – always good to have a few of those – so I grated one, mixed in chopped parsley, the flaked fish, a bit of horseradish, salt and pepper and an egg yolk. Shaped into patties, squashed into panko breadcrumbs, fried in hot oil, bloody delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some years (decades?) ago I read a long, scholarly dissertaition on the “rarebit/rabbit” question. I’ll distill their 15 or so pages into this: it was originally “rabbit”, but morphed into “rarebit” for various reasons, and now some are reverting to the original to either sound learned or fey, whilst others insist despite evidence to the contrary that the evolved version is the original and will not budge, damn your eyes. That’s what I think I recall, anyway πŸ™‚

      Your dish sounds excellent, and I would step over Sheena Easton herself to try some!


  3. I feel like, maybe, in my extreme self-centeredness, this is a direct call-out post of me. I’ll have you know two things: 1) I am not gluten intolerant; I am allergic to wheat. and 2) I found that out via allergy testing done by a doctor. Why anyone would voluntarily give up wheat-based foods is beyond me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ALL my entries are directed at you. Didn’t you know that, S?

      However, in this case, it was not. As you have had an actual, bona fide diagnosis by an actual, bona fide medico, you are above this entry’s contempt. Indeed, you have my sincere sympathy instead. What a horrible thing not to be able to eat a timpano if offered!


  4. Okay so I’m going to need that bread recipe, because the only time I ever tried to make white bread with someone watching over me at every step (via Twitter) it took about a day and a half and by the end of it I didn’t even want to LOOK at the damn thing. I went straight to the bakery next to the shop around the corner (2 minutes and 43 seconds) and bought a regular loaf just to spite myself.

    Stupid bread.

    Also I’d say whiskey was created to help people endure the woeful peculiarities of Scotland. They do have the Scottish accent going for them though, which is…. quite something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you got your bread from a bake shop that crafts their own from scratch, you probably got a very good loaf indeed. However that still pales in comparison to the loaf you pull out of your own oven steaming hot, your entire house already heady with bread scent from the baking. Learning to make it yourself is definitely worth it. (Another thing to consider: when the good men of the Orange Order finally reduce your corner bakery to rubble, homemade may be your only option. Best learn before that eventuality.)

      If I were you, I’d visit the blog of the lady who left the comment right after yours (“sallybr”). She is a bread baker on a level I will never achieve, and has numerous recipes and instructions on her site. If you want to go all-in on making bread even that corner bakery will envy, hers is the place to peruse.

      You know, I think writing out my recipe here might be a bit of a fool’s errand. I probably should not have included that line in my entry, as in truth I rarely use recipes, even for baking. I have had a number of queries now though, so….how about this: if I did an entry like my tutorial on how to make ricotta cheese ( ) do you think you could follow along? Would a series of still shots be helpful?

      I’d make a video but, y’know, this American accent is…quite something.



  5. So much cool stuff in this post! You started and finished with two things very dear to my heart. Golf… my nemesis. And imaginary gluten intolerance… I cannot tolerate it (sorry, could not resist the pun)

    The pie with the perfectly set filling would get you a hand shake from Paul Hollywood in Great British Bake Off (not sure you followed it, it’s one of my addictions)

    well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, a compliment on my baking from the Queen herself!! I couldn’t be more happy if NewWifey(tm) agreed to finally have a 3-some with that 19 year old Cirque du Soleil Asian contortionist girl! Seriously, thanks for that, Sally. Makes all my labors here finally worthwhile *sob* πŸ™‚

      And yes: THOSE IDIOT IMAGINARY GLUTEN INTOLERANCE PEOPLE SHOULD…well, they should all really get Celiac, so they can tell the difference and REALLY have something to complain about. Bozos.

      Lol. Golf is indeed a cruel mistress, is she not? Still we keep coming back to her holes….

      Ok, gotta go look up “Great British Bake Off” now. Thanks again, babe!


      1. oh, you MUST watch it… it got me totally hooked, so I watch each season again and again, amazing bakes… My favorite bit is the technical challenge, in which each contestant gets the same recipe (very basic, major details not revealed) – and they must bake it and then the judges pick the best – but it’s a blind judging, so they don’t know who baked what… Very cool…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well then watch it I shall…as long as it’s on YouTube πŸ™‚ I mean, how could I resist a show that turns my favorite relaxing pastime into something so absolutely stressful? Cool indeed!


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