Monday, August 21, 2006


It was an absolute pleasure to be straining that stock in my dressing gown, putting it on the hob once again to reduce to a sexy gloss while I rubbed some soft Scottish butter, flour and brown sugar to make a crumble. Today was all about assembly, nothing more. Once I had finished the last of the prep and got some air into my lungs I fried a few shallots and leeks in butter and pork fat, a little garlic and then a third of a bottle of white wine. In went the soaked flagolets and ladlefuls of hot, thick, brown stock. The sweet earthy smell of the beans mixed with the deep meaty flavour of the liquid told you that this food was going to fill you up in places other food simply cannot reach.

Once the stew had been taken to a gentle simmer, I propped the marinated leg of pork in a tray with a couple of skewers and some tatties and threw it into the oven. It roasted up a treat, the crackling an inch high, bone dry and a deep orange colour. The meat was so tender and flavoursome that it made you want to weep, a spoonful of the sleepy bean stew helping you on your way and the only thing saving you being a smidgen of sharp apple and butternut squash sauce. This slow-cooked core of the meal was spruced up by a pile of vegetables less than an hour from the ground: bright orange carrots shaped like assorted Greek sex statues and packed with a sweetness closer to youth than anything else you will find; some large fresh peas, slightly mushy to help mop up the thick brown sauce; and a heap of soft green cabbage.

And we all sat there, the first time the family Unit had been together for some years now, stuffing ourselves with this simple but deeply sensual of meals. There is just something about this particular meat and bean combo that gets to people, even if they don’t realise it. Perhaps it’s something about the three-day prep, watching it come together slowly and knowing that there this is the only way it can be cooked. There are no shortcuts.

It also fuelled an impromptu ceildh on the kitchen floor, a wonderful spontaneous piece of highland madness – a family riddled with behind-the-scenes “issues” all deciding to say “fuck it” and have a fucking dance. The Wife, not from these parts, didn’t know quite what to make of it at first. But within minutes she had poured herself a stiff voddie and coke and was frantically grappling with a tin of golden vag for a rollie. It was fucking marvellous.

And now Phase 1 of our Highland holiday has come to end. But it is a beautiful day. It is early in the morning and the Sun is out, and we have nothing to do but drive through some of the most spectacular scenery known to man on our way to the Isles, the boot full of freshly picked lettuce, courgettes, cabbage, and slabs of salmon – fresh and smoked. We are headed for the remotest part of Britain, and we are going to have an adventure.

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