Travel & Cook: Autumnal Scottish Fare Part I – Your Gratin, Miss Barrowman’s Custard?
Toasty Gratin of Haddock with Creamy Scotch Goat’s CheeseThe tangled bine-stems scored the sky Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh Had sought their household fires.*
This dish is bold in its simplicity. Its traditional to its detriment – in name at least, though not, we can testify, in flavour.
Egg and milk combined and slow cooked, are incredibly nutritious and hearty. Good for our bodies, bones and spirits, as well as for lasting energy.
But it’s unlikely we’d see Scotch Fish Custard on a menu. Or if we did, would you order it? Hold on one moment – let’s analyse this Savoury Custard business, because maybe I can convince you.
If you are reading this in a spring or summer climate, read on too – this dish is wonderful the day after, sliced up cold from the fridge with a fresh green salad, dressed with lemon, sesame and coriander. For those of you in the autumnal or wintery climes like me, serve with light but hearty shredded cabbage blanched in ham hough broth.
A heat-thickened egg yolk and milk combination has rich history both in England and France, as early as the Middle Ages.
The very word custard comes from the French ‘Croustade’ or Custard Tart. This would have been either savoury or sweet.
Florence White has several dishes scattered through her book that use a custard base. A Potato Pudding-pie, which is not dissimilar to my Pumpkin Pie; an Orange Pudding; Deddington Pudden Pie (with lemon peel, currants and ground rice – I can’t wait to make this one! November 22nd, watch this space).
But these are not surprising custard propositions, in that they are sweet.
In 1931 it was still very common to make a savoury custard. Today, we would think of these as a quiche (in this case, a crustless quiche) or even, with eggwhites delicately beaten to within an inch of their life, a mousse.
A timbale, a frittata, a vegetable terrine? yum; tasty, particular, cultural specialities, yet they are essentially savoury custards – eggs and milk combined, poured over or pan-baked with diced or pulled meat, herbs and vegetables.
A savoury Custard Royale is sliced into firm, textural shapes and added as a protein-rich garnish to soups and broths.
Herewith, from the Woman’s Leader 1931, a recipe submitted by Miss M. Barrowman of Giffnock, Glasgow.
It seems that to make Miss Barrowman’s Fish Custard appealing, I must give it a foreign name. Quiche? Warm Frittata? Gratin?
A Gratin is oven baked, brown and crispy on top from cheese and egg combined. Perfect.
I didn’t get to Glasgow to track down Miss MB.
When it came to finding fish though, I was lucky enough, through rain, hail and icy winds, past deserted Plockton and Portree harbours, to stumble on this little fish shop Am Buth Bheag on the pier at Kyle of Lochalsh. Thank you to the well informed young man at the
Eilean Donan Castle Cafe who directed me to this hidden local seafood treasure. (What a magical castle – atmospheric, with detailed historical displays: the kitchens are a must-see for any food historian or just for any foodie).
At Am Buth Bheag on the blustery wet pier, I was able to buy, fresh from small fishing boats, North Sea Haddock and “Prawns” as they were called – in fact known to us in Australia as “Langoustines” or, as I bought just the tails, heads removed, “Scampi”. But look for more on those crunchy-shelled delicacies in the next post.
Almond Milk Custards were once reserved for the rich and the noble. Almonds were expensive.
Today, we can buy Organic Almond Milk at the supermarket. Our favourite is without a doubt the unadulterated Rude Health brand. No added sugars, nothing artificial, no preservatives that may make my son turn into a crazy person.
This recipe is so quick and easy. Any leftovers are happily consumed like a frittata the following day. But on a chilly evening, there’s nothing can warm the cockles quite like this savoury baked custard.
Gratin of Haddock with Creamy Goat’s Cheese
based on Miss Barrowman’s “Scottish Fish Custard”
Preparation: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes
- 1 lb very fresh haddock fillets
- 3 organic eggs
- 400ml almond milk (use rice milk for FAILSAFE)
- 3 tbsp creamy goats cheese or 3 mini buffalo mozzarella balls or crumbled sheep/goat feta
- ½ tsp sea salt crystals
- grated nutmeg (leave out for FAILSAFE)
To Serve: lemon wedges if you wish; fish or scampi roe; spoonful of farm butter
- Preheat the oven to 160°
- Grease a ceramic or pyrex oven dish with butter, coconut oil or olive oil.
- Roll up the haddock fillets and lay them side by side in the oven dish.
- Combine, whisking lightly, the eggs, almond milk and salt and pour over the rolled fish fillets.
- Cut the creamy goat’s cheese or mozzarella balls in thick slices (or crumble feta) and lay on top of the fillets.
- Sprinkle lightly with grated nutmeg.
- Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, until golden brown on top and the fish just cooked through. Don’t overcook it.
Serve with steamed cabbage or a dressed green salad and Potted Langoustines (recipe to follow later this week)
You’ll never disdain savoury custard again!