A Highland Christmas

Categories: News and previews

Ahead of his upcoming demo on Scottish scran, Luke Mackay shares his vision of the perfect day of Christmas eating

One day I shall have Christmas in Lower Diabaig, on the shores of Loch Torridon in the Wester Ross region of the Scottish Highlands. Of all the places on earth that I have been, it is here that I think of most frequently.

This is the daydream into which I put the most effort—could I wrangle our mortgage to get a bothy by the sea for high days and holidays? Could I persuade my wife and children to move wholesale? What are the schools like? Could I really live in such splendid isolation? What about the bleak mid-winter? How cold would it be, really: would I need snow chains on my car? Should you keep canned food in case of enforced hibernation? Can I get a decent negroni? These are questions that keep me up at night.

In my mental Christmas idyll, I forego turkey and Christmas pudding for something more appropriately wild and local: salmon, from the clear waters of the loch, hot-smoked over beech in the Applecross Smokehouse just up the road, around the bend. It is unprepossessing, in a garage behind a bungalow but belching out the most fragrant smoke and producing surely the finest product in all The Highlands. The burnished amber flakes moist and delicate, with just a little horseradish will make a sublime canapé to be taken by my imaginary fire, maybe a sloe gin to help it down as outside the snow comes.

Fat, quivering scallops
More local seafood to start, this time fat, quivering scallops still pulsing as they hit hot butter, the natural sugars made even sweeter with caramelisation. Some texture and spice with a little fried and crumbled haggis and maybe a wee dram and we’re on our way.

The road from Torridon to Diabaig is a thing of wonderment, dizzying beauty, terrifying drops and hairpin bends. The road melts from view and you pray to whomever you pray to that your wheels will find it, for it’s a long way down. I did this drive the summer before last, still light but just in the gloaming at 10pm, I had the quintessential Highland experience—from nowhere a stag, huge and noble, stock still ahead of me. A Richmond Park animal this was not, and we stopped and just stared until it skipped disdain in its eyes away up the hillside.

Venison must be the show stopper, the main course—cooked very rare in a buttery pastry jacket and served with local girolles, pickled in local vinegar. I can think of nothing finer.

Sweet of tooth
For dessert, I’d take some oatcakes and a wedge of Strathdon Blue. For those sweet of tooth, toasted oats and ginger in a creamy parfait hint at the culinary heritage of this land, while ending the meal with something both light and luxurious. If the snow relents, a walk to the shore to watch the darkness come in apace like a pack of howling wolves, and then back to the fire, the whisky, the warmth.

Join Luke for tips, tastings and recipes Thursday 30th November in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm