Scot­tish flavour: royal broth

Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD & DRINK - By Shirley Spear Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chim­neys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye www. three­chim­

THERE’S some dis­pute about how this soup got its name. Some say it is known as Soupe à la Reine, the Queen’s Soup. The rea­son be­hind its re­gal ref­er­ence is said to de­note its vel­vety rich­ness and creamy white re­fine­ment com­pared with the muckle pots of ro­bust, chunky, meaty, veg­etable soups, that were once part of the Scots’ sta­ple diet.

This smooth, white soup was a move to­wards a much more lux­u­ri­ous dish. Its other pop­u­lar name refers to the re­gion of France known as Lor­raine, home of Mary of Guise, the wife of our Scot­tish King James V and mother of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Wid­owed at aged 21, Mary of Guise was be­trothed to King James (him­self a young wid­ower) in a po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious bid to cre­ate a Franco-Scot­tish al­liance with the pow­er­ful House of Guise, against the English. In­de­pen­dence for a Catholic Scot­land was their ul­ti­mate aim.

Scot­tish soups, or pot­tages, were made daily, large enough to serve a whole fam­ily, including any ser­vants, in a typ­i­cal work­ing house­hold.

It was cus­tom­ary for the head of a house­hold to sit around the ta­ble for the mid­day meal, to­gether with his work­ers and ser­vants. It was the most im­por­tant meal of the work­ing day and the soup pot was put over the fire first thing ev­ery morn­ing to cook slowly, in readi­ness.

These pot­tages were full of veg­eta­bles, herbs and a large piece of meat on the bone. Each per­son would slice some meat for their own plate and la­dle the hot broth over it.

There is no doubt in my own mind, that the ac­cepted Scot­tish cus­tom of serv­ing a bowl of soup for lunch is very much part of this culi­nary her­itage.

We also know that both of the Queen Marys had a large num­ber of French peo­ple in their Royal Courts, liv­ing in and around Edinburgh. Fos­ter­ing what has be­come known as the Auld Al­liance be­tween the two coun­tries, they in­flu­enced the Scots in sev­eral ways, with some old Scots words de­rived from the French tongue, still in use to this day.

This week­end, the town of Kin­ross is host­ing a fes­ti­val ded­i­cated to Mary Queen of Scots’ long, but rather sad as­so­ci­a­tion with the area. Mary was held cap­tive in Lochleven Cas­tle, be­fore fi­nally es­cap­ing to Eng­land 450 years ago and ab­di­cat­ing the throne in favour of her son, James VI.

On my fre­quent drives be­tween Skye and Edinburgh, I pass by Loch Leven in the dis­tance, with the an­cient stone tower of its cas­tle on the is­land, sur­rounded by trees.

I re­mem­ber go­ing there as a child on day trips and long­ing to visit the cas­tle, but this was not pos­si­ble then.

Af­ter a se­date Sunday walk around the loch, I would sit on a bench and let my imag­i­na­tion paint pic­tures of what it must be like in­side, while my par­ents read their books and news­pa­pers.

Nowa­days, there are boat trips to the is­land and a tour of the rooms that were once a bleak, un­happy prison.

So this soup is in hon­our of both Mary of Guise and her daugh­ter, Mary, Queen of Scots, and their pop­u­lar French in­flu­ence in Scot­land.

I scoured a few books to find the ul­ti­mate recipe but, al­though there are var­i­ous ref­er­ences, there is not one which is spe­cific.

This is my con­coc­tion, based upon those old recipes and knowl­edge that bread and al­monds were of­ten used to thicken soups and rus­tic dishes, as were rice, egg yolks and cream. A good, flavour­some, home­made chicken stock is essential.

SOUPE LOR­RAINE (Serves 8-12)

1 fam­ily-sized chicken, prefer­ably Scot­tish, reared free-range (al­ter­na­tively, buy 2 small breasts of good qual­ity chicken) 125g ground al­monds 125g white bread­crumbs made from a Scot­tish plain loaf 4 eggs, just hard-boiled 50g un­salted but­ter 1 large onion, finely chopped ½ medium bulb fresh fen­nel, finely chopped 2 large lemons, finely grated zest only Freshly grated nut­meg, plus salt and pep­per for sea­son­ing 850ml good qual­ity chicken stock, prefer­ably home­made (NB you may need a lit­tle more stock to ad­just the fi­nal thick­ness of the soup) 275ml fresh dou­ble cream Method if us­ing a whole chicken and mak­ing your own stock 1. Be­gin by roast­ing the chicken in the usual way. Once cooked and cooled, re­move one whole breast plus the best of the leg meat. Re­move all skin and chop finely. Set aside. Re­move re­main­ing meat from the chicken to use sep­a­rately. 2. Place the chicken car­cass in a large saucepan and make a stock us­ing: one large onion, one large car­rot, two cel­ery sticks plus some leaves, white of one leek, half a medium fen­nel bulb plus any fronds, one le­mon sliced, and fresh herbs such as pars­ley, bay leaves, rose­mary and thyme. Add a few pep­per­corns and a sprin­kling of sea salt, cover with cold wa­ter, plus 275ml dry white wine. Bring to boil­ing point, cover with a lid and sim­mer on a low heat for 1 hour 30 min­utes min­i­mum. Strain and re­serve liquor for the soup. Method if us­ing chicken breasts, plus stock cube 1. Place 275ml ready-made chicken stock in a wide, shal­low saucepan. Add one sliced le­mon, plus half a small onion peeled and sliced, two bay leaves, three large sprigs of pars­ley with stalks, two sprigs of le­mon thyme, fronds of fen­nel if avail­able, plus a few cel­ery leaves taken from the cen­tre of the bunch. Bring to boil­ing point and turn down heat. Place the chicken breast in the gen­tly sim­mer­ing stock to poach slowly, for around 10-15 min­utes, de­pend­ing upon thick­ness of the meat. 2. Once cooked right through, re­move chicken and set aside. Strain the poach­ing liquor through a sieve into a large mea­sur­ing jug or bowl and keep for mak­ing the soup. Method for mak­ing the Soup 1. Place yolks from the just hard­boiled eggs, bread­crumbs, le­mon zest and two ta­ble­spoons of chicken stock into a liq­uidiser or food pro­ces­sor and whizz to a thick paste. You may need to add a lit­tle more stock. Re­move to a bowl and add a good grat­ing of fresh nut­meg, some ground sea salt and pep­per. Set aside. 2. Melt but­ter in a large saucepan and sauté the chopped veg­eta­bles un­til soft. Add ground al­monds and mix well. Pour in chicken stock, bring to boil and sim­mer gen­tly for 10 min­utes. Add egg and bread­crumb paste. Stir again. Al­low soup to sim­mer for a fur­ther five min­utes be­fore adding cooked chicken. 3. Stir in the dou­ble cream. Bring back to sim­mer­ing point and cook very gen­tly for a fur­ther five min­utes or so. The soup will be­gin to thicken as the cream heats, but take care to en­sure it does not boil and split. Check sea­son­ing. 4. At this stage, the soup can be liq­uidised once more to make it smoother. This is not essential, but it will help to mince the chicken and veg­eta­bles more finely. The fi­nal soup should be ad­justed with more stock or cream un­til the con­sis­tency is just right for im­me­di­ate serv­ing.

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