Last year, I attended the inaugural Water of Life charity tasting, hosted by ER doc and whisky buff extraordinaire Matthew Lurin, and at the time I recommended the event to anyone looking for “an intimate, relaxed whisky tasting.” After this year’s … Continue reading →
I think I’d make a terrible bartender for a number of reasons: I’m clumsy; I’m bad at talking and doing anything else at the same time; I have almost no patience for inebriated fools. And I dislike Fernet Branca, the tipple that’s … Continue reading →
When I lived in Lyon, France, I made do on a student’s budget and rarely went out to eat. But on the rare occasions that I did, my favorite thing to do was walk down the cobblestoned streets of the … Continue reading →
Tomatin is a contradiction of modernity and history. Situated just off the A9, the main north-south artery in Scotland’s central and eastern Highlands, the distillery’s grounds look like a vacation village, with sweet little cottages and houses and a wee … Continue reading →
The Highlands of Scotland are littered with distilleries, but because the area is so vast, each one has room to spread itself out. Although it’s not unheard of to come upon two within a ten-minute drive of each other (Pitlochry’s … Continue reading →
I journeyed to the far Northeast of Scotland to Pulteney Distillery on the same day I’d visited its sister, Balblair. The drive from Tain to Wick took me along one of the most dramatic roads I’ve ever driven—a narrow two-lane … Continue reading →
I’ve been a fan of Balblair since the first time I tasted the 2001 vintage a few years ago. It’s a very ur–Highland malt, embodying all the flavors and textures idealized in the style, and because the brand tends to … Continue reading →
Anyone who’s been drinking whisky for more than a minute knows that the word originates from the Gaelic uisge beatha, meaning “water of life.” It’s a logical phrase when you consider that it came about during an era when medicine was limited … Continue reading →
When I visited GlenDronach in July 2014, I’d already been on a number of distillery tours in the preceding days. That very morning, I’d been to sister distillery Glenglassaugh and was eagerly anticipating learning more about the place that makes one … Continue reading →
When you drive up to Glenglassaugh, it looks like a fairly ordinary Scottish distillery. There’s a modern visitors’ center, a few historic buildings and dunnage warehouses, some larger warehouses from the mid-20th century, and nice if modest scenery surrounding it all. … Continue reading →
There are many things to love about Scotland but, people always point out, the cuisine is not one of them. These always tend to be people who have never actually traveled to Scotland and bothered to try anything that seemed scary and unfamiliar. I pity these people, not only because they end up missing out on an authentic and pleasurable cuisine, but because they likely suffer from their culinary close-mindedness in other ways, too. (Imagine how dreadful they must be to dine with!)
The truth is that Scottish cuisine might be simple and somewhat unadorned, but when it’s well-made, it can hold its own. It surprises me that in this era of trendy nose-to-tail restaurants, no one in the US seems to have discovered the beauty of haggis, a dish that combines multiple kinds of offal with humble oats, suet, and spices and truly does taste delicious. Perhaps because the haggis emerges from its pudding-bag (aka sheep’s stomach) an ugly, crumbly mess — but that certainly hasn’t stopped chefs in Scotland from plating it up in elegant towers or stuffed in bacon-wrapped chicken breasts.
I digress. Besides the haggis, Scottish cooking offers other dishes that incorporate the most basic ingredients into satisfying and tasty meals. Cullen skink, possibly the best name for anything ever, is a haddock and milk soup: sounds horrible, tastes divine. A good scotch broth is nothing more than barley, vegetables, and a few shreds of meat, and yet you’ve never tasted anything more suited to the wet, windy days of January in Edinburgh. And what about shortbread? It’s flour, butter, and sugar — three ingredients become one divine treat.
My absolute favorite Scottish dish also incorporates only a few basic items. Cranachan is basically trifle made with fresh berries (usually raspberries), whipped cream, and oats. (Oh, oats! The Scots can do about a thousand things with oats.) A little extra flavoring comes from heather honey and, naturally, whisky. It’s a simple, beautiful, wholly satisfying dessert and one upon which you can riff endlessly.
So, since it’s springtime and here in New York that means rhubarb, I decided to whip up a cranachan that’s a little more tart and syrupy than normal. You don’t have to include the whisky, although I obviously recommend it since it provides that little bit of depth the dessert would otherwise lack. I used Compass Box Great King Street, my go-to blend, but feel free to choose a whisky suited to your taste. (A cask strength Glenmorangie or even a sweet-and-salty Old Pulteney would really kick things up.)
– 1 heaping cup of rhubarb, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
– 1 heaping cup of strawberries, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
– 1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. brown sugar
– 1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. whisky
– 1 pint heavy cream
– 1 tsp. honey
– 2 Tbs. oats
1. Toss the rhubarb and strawberries with brown sugar and heat over low in a saucepan. Allow the mixture to gently simmer, stirring often, until the rhubarb breaks down and the liquid becomes syrupy. Remove from heat, and stir in 1 Tbs. whisky. Let cool and then move to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to one day.
2. In a skillet over low heat, dry-toast the oats until they’re brown and nutty. Sprinkle on the brown sugar right at the end of cooking and remove from heat, stirring thoroughly to incorporate. Let cool.
3. Using a whisk, stand mixer, or hand mixer, whip the cream until very stiff peaks form — nearly overwhipped. Fold in the whisky and honey.
4. In glasses, bowls, or ramekins, spoon the fruit mixture and layer the whipped cream over it. Top with the toasted oats and garnish with a sliced strawberry, if desired. Serve immediately.
When you dig in, you’ll want to mix up the layers — and you should! This syrupy fruit base mixes especially well with the whipped cream, and the toasted oats remain crunchy to the last bite.