Scottish Haut Cuisine

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

Address to a Haggis – Robert Burns

My grandfather’s father came from Scotland to the mountain west just over a hundred years ago. My grandfather never stopped being a Scotsman. He was active in the local Highland Games. At my cousin’s wedding, there was a picture of all four of my father & uncles wearing clan kilts. And in his 80s, after decades of never traveling by plane, he decided to go back to the old sod and spent a month or so wandering around Scotland reintroducing himself to various long-severed branches of the family and being welcomed in with open arms.

As with so many cultures, cuisine plays a critical role in the transmission of this culture. Instead of curries or empanadas or stir fries, we had corned beef hash.

My mother is a midwestern girl, raised in California. But it was another century, so when she married my father she took over responsibility for making the corned beef hash. I think fondly on her tendency to forget the garlic salt, which only my grandmother could spot in omission. Often when we got together as a family, dinner would be corned beef hash (with accouterments) and a pie or two from my mother’s hands.

I HATED corned beef hash. It looked disgusting. It tasted disgusting. No sane person would eat it. But it was served to me over and over again in an era where there were no alternative food options and as a person under ten you ate the dinner that was served or you did not eat dinner. And so despite my dislike, I ate the stuff. By the time I was ready to head off to college and leave the familial fold, I liked it quite a lot. It was tasty (if you closed your eyes). And it tasted like family times and traditions.

Sometime in this century, I made friends with a man of Hungarian descent who (logically) hosts a Burns Night. It’s one of my favorite things – poetry, song, deep meaning and good company. And to accompany the beverages available, I often bring a batch of corned beef hash to share.

I was making the meal yesterday (it actually is better on the second day, so I make it on Saturday and freeze it on the porch. Then I carry it frozen to the celebration and heat it up there. I’ve been doing a lot of Blue Apron and Hello Fresh lately, which produces these lovely, colorful meals that are in many ways designed for Instagram. The contrast with Corned Beef hash was… stark. I also realized that 100% of the ingredients fall into two categories: preserved meats & roots.

So with no further ado, here is how to make your very own, highly Instagrammable Corned Beef Hash.

I recommend dusty cans – they taste better

Scottish Corned Beef Hash
From the kitchen of Carolyn Johnstone – long may her memory endure!
Serves ~12 hearty rustics
Prep time: 30 minutes – Cook time: 1 hr minimum (3 is better)

1) Boil 5 lbs russett potatoes, whole, with skins on
2) Chop 1/2 lb bacon (or a whole pound if you’re getting into the spirit)
3) Chop 2 large yellow onions
4) In a large dutch oven on the stove, cook together bacon and onions
5) Open and cube 2 cans of “corned beef”. Make sure not to break the key or your life will be full of pain.
6) Once bacon is rendered and onions are soft, add corned beef.
7) Add 1 teaspoon garlic salt (optional if you’re my mom)
8) Once potatoes are cooked through, drain and let sit for a few minutes. Then by hand peel off the skins and cube the potatoes into the dutch oven.
9) Start by adding two cups of water (see note before)

The best way to cook this is to leave it simmering on your stove over the course of several hours. If you do this, you’ll need to add more water in as it gets thick, since this often leads to the dish getting burned. If you do burn it, just stir above the burned line and you’ll be fine.

Serve with:
Large curd cottage cheese
White Italian bread slices

What am I, chopped meat?
Potato skin residue
At the beginning of simmer

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

2 thoughts on “Scottish Haut Cuisine”

  1. On actual Burns night this year I decided not to break our local tradition of getting takeout on Fridays so we had artisan pizza and swanky salad. Not very Johnstone. I’ve never had the secret formula before, probably because I’m a dude, but the cat is out of the bag now and these are different times. Exciting new times. Will I be excommunicated if I throw in a turnip or two? How about if I dissolve some cabbage or kale in the goo?


    1. I think the only appropriate green thing to add would be a leek, and only then if you’re feeding it to someone Welsh. Glad to pass along the old recipe!


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