Coming up on February 14 and 15, the Queen Mary’s ScotsFestival and International Highland Games this year is providing a culinary feast for all. In addition to the Burns Night Supper and all the Scottish and Celtic Food vendors, this year the ScotsFestival will feature Chef Eric W. McBride from the Celtic Caterer, with two days of exciting demonstrations covering not only the food of Scotland but all eight of the Celtic Nations. Chef Eric is the perfect person for this, not only being a trained chef who has won many competitions with his cooking, but also educated in Scottish and Celtic History both in the United States and in Scotland. He started participating in Scottish festivals even before he moved to Scotland, playing in bagpipe bands.
Chef McBride explained how Scottish cuisine came about. He said, “Scottish cuisine, the earliest part, ties in with what the Irish were doing. In the early days of Scotland, there was a lot of smoking, where they would find a cave at the seashore whose opening was covered at high tide. They would go into them with the different fish, venison or other foods, light a fire and when the tide rose, it would seal the cave and smoke the foods. When the tide fell, they would go back into the cave and get the food. That was called cold-smoking. That was one of the older ways of smoking, obviously introduced from Rome. A lot of what we call Scottish cooking borrows heavily from French cooking, a little Italian and a little Norse. The Norse brought in a lot of their West Coast introductions like blue cheese. Blue cheese is used in a lot of Scottish cuisine, the way Parmesan is used in Italian food. It is used to add subtle flavors, it is not allowed to dominate anything. I do a smoked salmon and blue cheese pate that I do in my demonstrations, it enhances and enriches the dish but does not dominate it”.
Chef McBride explained that one of Scotland’s most well-known foods is actually thanks to the French. He continued, “Salmon was re-introduced to the Scottish by the French. In fact, salmon was once thought of by the Scottish as we thought of catfish thirty or forty years ago; it was junk fish, nobody ate it. What happened was that during the French Revolution you had all those noble people who were rounded up by the authorities. They all had many culinary employees, chefs and sous chefs and when the noblemen died, they would have to find new work. At that time no one in France was willing to employ anyone as a chef. So they left the country, some went to Spain, some went to Italy. They would not go to England or Germany, but a lot of them because of the old alliances went to Scotland. There they noticed that there was this abundant great fish that nobody was using. They started cooking them with sauces and it took off huge, the way salmon is now identified with Scottish cooking”.
Another influence on Scotland was, oddly enough, Italy. Chef McBride said, “When Italy started becoming a unified country, many residents did not want to stay for whatever reason. There was a large migration of Italian people.They noticed that most Scots did not enjoy cooking, so the Italians in the 1850’s brought the idea of the kiosk, which was popular throughout the Mediterranean, to Scotland which eventually became the early fish and chips shops. Scotland has been open for a lot of this stuff”.
Of course, the most well-known dish identified with Scotland is haggis. As Chef McBride explained it, haggis is not just a Scottish dish but popular all over Europe. “When we talk about haggis, which is the quintessential Scottish dish that everybody experiences, it was a dish that at one time was eaten all across Europe in every household. I found recipes in Norway, in Greece for haggis, the Isle of Man had their own version of haggis. It was a way a poor family could survive better. They might have some sheep, probably two lambs and it was a way to maximize them to last all winter long. You had to use everything, so that’s when they started using the offal and using the lungs and heart. We can’t import British or Scottish made haggis because of diseases we can get similar to mad cow disease because of the lungs. When I make haggis, even though I have found most countries have no problems with lungs, there is a similar flavor if you use beef tongue. So I will substitute beef tongue along with the sheep heart and liver when I make haggis for the flavor”.
When asked what he says to people who have never tried haggis, Chef McBride answered, “People ask me about haggis all the time who have never tried it. I ask them, ‘do you like bratwurst?’. They usually answer, ‘I love bratwurst!’. Well it’s the same thing, made with lamb instead of pork. It’s all in the flavoring, the spices and the fat that you put into it. One is with pork, one is lamb. What the comedians all hold against it is because they used to use stomach lining the same way that we use the sausage intestine linings. Ninety precent of people who eat sausages don’t realize they are wrapped in pig intestines. All they would do for haggis is they would take the stomach lining, put it in a salt solution, a brine, for about 24 hours. When you do that, you can scrape it all down and you are just left with a membrane. Then you can put the meat in that way and boil it. When I make it I sort of construct it, boil things separately, grind it and then put it all together. The water it has been boiled in can be either used to make a gravy for it, or you can mix the water with some of the fat, mix it in and let it re-saturate the meat”.
As Chef McBride continued, he pointed out that bland haggis is not the way it should be in Scotland. “Ninety percent of the people forget that there is liver in the haggis and what does the liver do? It absorbs things. So you need to put 4 or 5 times the seasoning and fat into the haggis. Haggis is very spicy in Scotland; you’re putting white pepper into there, you’re putting cayenne into there. Then they put cinnamon in, not a little bit sweet but the hot spice as the Indians know it. Plus all the other spices like cloves, nutmeg and allspice. When I make my haggis, I make it a very gourmet like that and for events like Burns Night dinners, it is gone in seconds. You’ve got the steel-cut oats in it, with the spices and onions as well, with the steel-cut oats, tiny granules in it, make it different than a bratwurst. The oats are used as a thickening agent, really to go in and help hold everything together. I’ve been working with a sausage company in Colorado recently trying to make a haggis sausage”.
Saturday and Sunday will be perfect days to enjoy Chef McBride’s cooking demos and also to taste the finished products. According to Chef McBride “Each demonstration that I do is about 45 minutes long and if I’m cooking I keep them down to one dish. I go into the history behind each of the dishes. So the first one I will be doing on Saturday will be the Smoked Salmon Cheese Pate. And so we’ll examine how the French influenced Scottish cooking and how the smoking was influenced by the Romans. So I’ll explain about the salmon and how the blue cheese influence comes in from the Norse Another dish I’ll be doing, and I won’t be doing all Scottish food, a lot of Scottish and Irish dishes go under the same name or a slightly different name, such as the Irish colcannon, known in Scottish as Kilkenny. In my cookbook I list out nine different variations that I have found of this dish within all the Celtic nations. All are predominately potatoes, cabbage and onions. Add a little parsnips and you have Scottish. On the west coast of Scotland they don’t use cabbage, they use kale. Western Ireland does potatoes, cabbage,onions and carrots. Southern Ireland uses scallions, the green onions, instead of regular onions. Dublin does potatoes, onions, cabbage and a boiled egg mashed into it. I actually like that version the best. There is also the Welsh version which has potatoes, cabbage and leeks.”
Chef McBride will be demonstrating many other dishes too. “Another dish that I’ll be doing on Saturday is a whiskey mousse. The mousse is obviously brought in from French influence. Using whiskey is another key aspect of Scotch cuisine. Once they got ahold of whiskey from Ireland they went to town with it. The difference between Scotch whiskey and Irish whiskey is the number of times it is distilled. With the demonstrations that I’ll be doing, such as cabbage, another dish, most Americans say they are not interested in cabbage at all as a dish. I say to them, ‘how about cabbage fried with bacon?’. That’s a hugely popular dish that I’ll be doing on Sunday morning. I’ll be doing it with cream and lemon juice, bacon and bacon fat.”
All of Chef McBride’s demos are open to all attendees of the ScotsFestival. “I will be doing cooking demonstrations Saturday and Sunday and also promoting three Celtic Cookbooks”, he said. “The books have won several competitions against other mainstream chefs. I won with my Irish cookbook for my Irish Asparagus Blue Cheese Salad which I will be making for one of my demonstrations. A Three-time Marinated Irish Stew, marinated first in red wine, then butter, than Guinness. With the demonstrations that I’ll be doing, such as cabbage, another dish, most Americans say they are not interested in cabbage at all as a dish. I say to them, ‘how about cabbage fried with bacon?’. That’s a hugely popular dish that I’ll be doing on Sunday morning. I’ll be doing it with cream and lemon juice, bacon and bacon fat. butter and then Guinness. I also will have three new spices that I’ve put together, because my demos illustrate the use of spices and herbs. Of course everybody knows about the most popular Celtic spices, known by the tune ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’. I have a Gaelic seasoning thyme-based blend that is really good in soups and stews”. It will truly be time well-spent attending Chef Eric McBride’s cooking demonstrations.
With the backdrop of the Queen Mary, constructed over 80 years ago in Clydebank, Scotland, the ScotsFestival and 22nd International Highland Festival takes place February 14 and 15, 2015, from 9am to 6pm. Highland dancers, bagpipe bands, whiskey and craft beer tastings, darts and much more will be found at the ScotsFestival. The Highland Games features an athletic competition, an ancient tradition featuring the hammer throw, caber toss and more. There are even a Wee Highland Games for the children as well as knighting ceremonies and many more fun events. VIP and General Admission tickets are available through the Queen Mary event website. Tickets are also available at the website for the Whiskey and Craft Beer Tastings, Saturday night’s Burns Dinner and Friday night’s Rock Yer Kilt concert.
February 14-15, 2015
1126 Queens Highway Long Beach, CA 90802 Info: (877) 342-0738