Mark Hix on how to host the perfect Burns Supper
My native Dorset may be at the opposite end of this island to Scotland, but I’ve hosted so many Burns Suppers at the restaurants over the years that I feel like something of an authority.
Obviously you should just book into one of my places on the 25th and have a guaranteed fab time, but if you’re determined to host your own evening of Scottish revelry, here are some tips.
How formal should it be?
This is one of those nights where people should really be going all-out. At very least I’d want to see some tweeds, but any Scots on your invite list should be dusting off the family tartan. Anyone rocking up in jeans should be gifted a single glass of whiskey and kicked back out into the cold.
Will supermarket-bought haggis suffice?
Most people make do with MacSweens, which is fine, but as you can imagine, anything churned out in vast numbers and left to sit on a supermarket shelf is going to be a compromise. Your local butcher should be your first port of call. I use Blackface haggis made in Dumfriesshire, which doesn’t taste of sawdust like many of the commercial ones. Think of it like the difference between a top notch black pudding and a budget one.
What should you serve to drink?
If you just stick bottles of whisky on the table, you’re going to have a riot on your hands come midnight. I often knock up some whisky cocktails; a great one is Monkey Shoulder whisky and Temperley’s ice cider
with oatmeal brose, cream and heather honey water, topped with cinnamon. Then I’d pour glasses of a nice whisky to toast the haggis itself.
What starters and desserts will compliment the haggis?
This is a night steeped in tradition, so I’d always go for something like a classic Cullen Skink (a smoked haddock soup) or Scotch broth. Or you could go the game route and serve a red deer chop with haggis dumplings. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with cranachan (whipped cream, whisky, honey, raspberries and whisky-soaked oatmeal) and rhubarb.
What exactly are “neeps and tatties”?
Well, this is a point of some contention. The word “neeps” obviously suggests turnips, but the Scottish often call swedes turnips. Nobody seems entirely sure, so just go with your preference. I reckon swedes both look and taste better, so I use a few of those, roughly mashed.
When should you address the haggis?
The haggis should be addressed as it’s being brought into the room. Ideally this should be accompanied by a live piper, although admittedly this might not go down particularly well with your neighbours. If you stick on some pipe music from Spotify nobody will complain. The host should really be the one to read the Address to a Haggis, although be warned, if you weren’t brought up reading Burns in school like most Scots were, you’re probably best passing it over to someone born north of the border, because it’s a difficult one to get your tongue around.
And after all this we’re expected to go to work the next day?
Absolutely. Save a bit of the haggis and fry it up in a pan with an egg and whack a load of HP sauce on top. That’ll sort you right out. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always a hair of the dog…