Venison liver pâté

This simple recipe is the first stepping stone on the road to gentle re-acquaintance with my blog after an absence of over a month.  This simple, rich and aromatic pâté recipe brought contrasting textures and flavours to a delightful spread of antipasti we enjoyed recently.

It is not every day that a friend turns up at my door with the gift of a venison liver, not even at the start of the stalking season, so the liver was gratefully received, albeit a slightly novel present.  Despite having masticated our way through several red deer hinds since my vegetarian self moved to Uist, this is the first I have managed to get a hold of a liver.

Who knows where they go.  I hold no secrets about the whereabouts of the North Uist deer liver mountain.  Perhaps because they are the deer’s best kept secret, they don’t get as far as the punter, and who could begrudge the hunter or stalker this most glorious component of The Fifth Quarter?  Not me. Well, most of the time…

November? Already?

Had it not been for my extensive travels over the last month, reminding me that it is indeed already November due to the potentially looming travel disruption of flights and ferries, I think I would still be under the misguided apprehension that summer had just ended.  Time has flown past these last two or three months and the winter is winging past at a frightening rate. Not a bad thing, most people would argue.

Work commitments have taken me away from the island for large chunks of the last month and I have been on one of my typical circumnavigations of Scotland.  Meetings in Perth, Oban, Aberdeen and Inverness, additional stopovers in Skye, Glasgow and a flying visit to my parents (literally).  I felt like a pinball ricocheting around Scotland in planes, trains and automobiles (and ferries).

In truth, most of the time I enjoy these excursions off the island – good chance to catch up with friends, family and colleagues along the way, visit cities, shops, see more people than sheep on a daily basis. However, I have clearly spent far too many nights staying at the hotel next to Glasgow Airport, pending flight next morning.

One night last week, between trips, I was home and woke up with a start when I heard a plane fly over.  Slightly baffled for a few minutes, I assumed I was in that hotel next to Glasgow Airport, only to find to my relief when I came to that I was in fact at home and that the air ambulance had just flown over! No doubt the sound of its arrival would be a relief to a patient in need too.

Despite a few tentative waits in departure lounges scanning the forecasts on my phone and hoping the flight would go, and occasional turbulent flights and tricky landings, pleased to say I mostly avoided the dreaded cancellations. All but once that is when a technical fault caused a ferry to break down, delaying my arrival home by 12 hours.

With a substantial workload and pre-Christmas deadlines looming, I am glad I can be back home to focus and get my teeth into meeting the deadlines before the festive break. That’s the plan, at least!

Sad Song

In the interim between my last post and this, one of the true originals of music, Lou Reed died.  Not such a Perfect Day.  Lou Reed was a true artist and a musical pioneer who has influenced and shaped rock music landscape for decades.  His often wonderfully idiosyncratic and deadpan, droll delivery of his unique and thought provoking lyrics had perfect musical accompaniment. His guitar style was special – distinctively assertive yet bare bones. His work has been and will always be part of the musical highlights of my life.

While it is totally understandable, it is also pity that most of the obituaries and tributes in the music (and popular) press focused on his early years with the Velvet Underground. No denying this brilliant and ground breaking work and the 1972 solo Transformer album that followed.  However, that was very knowingly hip and cool.

It was between 1989 and 2000 that his work really spoke to me.  I still regularly play his 1989 album New York with such gems as Dirty Blvd, Romeo Had Juliette and Strawman, which contain some of his best bile-laden lyrics.  The albums Songs for Drella, Magic and Loss, Set the Twilight Reeling and Ecstasy complete the album quintet that best summarises what I value about his work.

We saw him in Edinburgh when he toured for the Ecstasy album.  He was at his cantankerous artistic best: acerbic, contrary and expressive, everything one should expect from Lou Reed at a gig: an unmalleable, difficult and complex personality laid bare.

Planning ahead

Earlier, I was talking of plans and the ball is finally rolling with our plans to renovate and extend our crumbling croft house. In between trips away, we have been working with our architect to finalise the plans.  After numerous iterations, we are pleased to say these plans are complete at last, thanks to the help of our patient, can-do architect.

It would be much easier in many respects if it was a new build.  Working with old houses brings constraint, challenge and additional costs, not least because we must pay VAT at 20% on the renovation and extension, unlike a new build.  We had considered flattening the house and starting again, but only fleetingly.  We bought the house with our eyes open and in part because it would be a challenging, exciting and alarming project. We knew it would require total renovation and extension, and the time is nigh.

A few people have asked me if I intend to blog about the renovation and extension project of our old croft house. I would like to, if nothing else but to document the process for our own benefit and reflection later. Given I can barely maintain this blog at the moment, it doesn’t look that likely for now but I may change my mind. More on the build in future posts. For today I have had my fill.

Just before I tackled this post, I had spent a considerable amount of time researching bathroom extractor fans online. After 30 pages of looking at dull plastic objects that pretty much all look the same, fulfill more or less a similar purpose, some quieter or more powerfully than others, I lost the will to live.  So here I am.  Venison liver pâté.

Venison liver pâté

It does seems a pity to deconstruct this most perfect and healthy of red deer livers to pâté, but the result was well worth it.  The deconstruction was , however, less than pretty. Mincing deer liver is not for the faint-hearted and the resulting passage of the organ through our electric mincer was reminiscent of the remake of the Evil Dead, a splat and sprayfest that we recently enjoyed  This resulted in me shielding the kitchen from the ensuing bloodbath with a bin bag screen around the mincer. Photographs have been deliberately withheld, lest they be blocked by my server. Don’t be deterred!

liver 1

Before mincing, the liver must be prepped by removing all membranes and vessels before use.  This left about a kilo of liver to work with, enough for 2 terrines. The inclusion of minced pork belly to add texture meant the pâté was somewhat a hybrid between a terrine and a classic pâté, but I thought the addition of the pork was necessary to add fat for moisture and to balance the intensity of the rich and powerful gamey liver.

The pate was served with home made two seed crackers, my own rowan and apple jelly, various salamis, Sicilian Castelvetrano olives and Great Glen Game’s wonderful smoked venison (see Twitter @GreatGlenGame). This is one of the wonderful charcuterie products they sell.  I have been trying in vane to get a hold of some for a while.  Each time I pass Roy Bridge, unfortunately, it is after shop closing, otherwise I would stop by for some.  I managed to pick up some at a new deli that has sprung up in Portree, Skye.

The olives and salami come from our great new Island Deli on Benbecula.  How fantastic it is to at last have our own fresh cheese and charcuterie selection, as well as good coffee from this new island business.


The ingredients below are for 1 terrine.


500g venison liver, minced

350g pork belly, minced

50 ml brandy

6 juniper berries, crushed

100 ml port

200 g pancetta or streaky bacon

1 egg, beaten

salt and pepper

Set the oven to 180C


  • Mince the trimmed venison liver, then the pork belly.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, except the egg and bacon, mix well, leave to stand for a couple of hours.
  • At this stage, check the seasoning by frying a piece of mixture in a frying pan, adjust if required, according to taste.
  • Line a terrine with overlapping slices of streaky bacon widthways. Combine the beaten egg into the meat mixture then fill the terrine with the mixture.
  • Finish by wrapping the bacon ends over the mixture in the terrine and cover with foil.
  • Place in the oven in a Bain Marie , the water coming 3/4 way up the sides of the terrine, for 1 1/2 hours.
  • Place a weight on top of the terrine, allow to cool then chill overnight before running a knife around the edge, turning out and slicing.

pate 2

pate 1

Burns Night 2013 – Haggis and A’That

“But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or, like the snow-fall in the river,
A moment white, then melts forever.”

Robert Burns  –  Tam O’Shanter, 1791

No self-respecting lowland Scot, even those without fervent patriotic zeal such as myself, can let Burns Night, 25 January, pass without a celebration of our national bard.  Of course, Burns is a towering cultural icon and a defining figure of Scottish identity who is celebrated not just in Scotland but also among the Scottish Diaspora worldwide.

A celebration on Burns birthday of course involves haggis and all the trimmings.  Given that this post is subject to relevant but significant cultural and poetic digression, and I am supposed to be writing a food-centric blog,  please feel free cut to the chase of the recipe for Haggis en croute below.  The dessert of chocolate, bramble and whisky tart with bramble ripple ice cream will follow in the next post.

Contributions of the bard

Despite an early death aged 37, Burns produced a large and consistent output of work of over 600 poems and songs.  He was rather sentimentally called the ‘Heaven-taught ploughman’ as knowledge of his work gained acclaim, notably in Edinburgh during The Scottish Enlightenment.

More’s the pity he was perhaps misunderstood as it is not for the sentimental works that Burns should best be remembered but for his capacity to write with spontaneity, humour and sincerity across a large diversity of subjects . These included inequalities of class and gender, poverty, patriotism, republicanism and occasionally his commentary on the ways of the Scottish Kirk and Calvinism, which were so powerful and influential at that time.

“While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.”

Robert Burns – The Rights of Women, 1792

A lifetime of Burns

Despite enjoying thought-provoking poetry,  I am not prone to the poetic and leave literary flourishes to others more eloquent in that respect than me. Still, Burns for me endures as one of the few poets whose works I still pick up and read on occasion. Unlike music, which still resonates with me as powerfully as it did when I was an adolescent, my voracity for poetry has dissipated.

I now rarely read my preferred more contemporary Scottish poets;  Norman MacCaig, William MacIllvany and Edwin Morgan. I no longer ponder on great works by Ginsberg, Hart Crane, Walt Whitman or even Raymond Carver and all I admire of his ‘dirty realism’. I somewhat circumspectly will not postulate as to why this is that case, but it has as much to with time as inclination – and space in my brain.

As a lowland Scot, I don’t think I am particularly unusual in the fact that Burns poetry and song has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  As a child, we sung his songs at school, read his poems regularly.  ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was not confined to Hogmanay, but sung to signify the end of many a celebration. As time has moved along, and I became involved in playing traditional music, rarely would a song session take place without the rendition of a Burns song and no instrumental gathering would see an end without a tune to which one of his songs was composed.

My own favourite song and indeed one of Burns most venerated must be  “Is There for Honest Poverty“, perhaps better known as “A Man’s a Man for A’ That“, certain to have been seditious in its day (and hence was first published anonymously) is an expression of egalitarian ideas of society.  Sheena Wellington fittingly sung this liberalist anthem at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and stole to the show from the politicians.

 Is There for Honest Poverty (A Man’s A Man For A’ That), (1795)

Is there for honesty poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave – we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A price can mak a belted knight,
A marquise, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Of course, Burns is also full of satire, humour and he wrote plenty songs about the virtues (or otherwise)  of imbibing whisky and carousing. One thing I have noticed and that does make me smile about Burns is his apparent penchant for peppering his prose with numerous descriptive references to vomit, often in very different contexts. In ‘A Winter Night’, Burns chronicles the impact of a winter storm on exposed wildlife (st. 2: bocked = vomit):

When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
Sharp shivers thro’ the leafless bow’r;
When Phoebus gies a short-liv’d glow’r,
         Far south the lift,
Dim-dark’ning thro’ the flaky show’r,
         Or whirling drift:

Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor Labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi’ snawy wreeths upchoked,
         Wild-eddying swirl,
Or thro’ the mining outlet bocked,
         Down headlong hurl.

There is another such reference in the most celebratory poem for Burns Night ‘Address to a Haggis‘: ‘Or fricassee wad mak her spew’. Aside from Burns making me think of the many ways to describe vomit in the Scot’s vernacular, other thought-provoking poems and songs from his works are worthy of a mention.

My highlights include the satirical ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’, an attack on the hypocrisy of the Calvinist Kirk based on the true story of a Kirk elder Willie Fisher of Mauchline, Ayrshire. The song ‘Ca the Yowes to the Knowes’  lends itself nicely to accompaniment and creative musical arrangements for fiddle and cello. No Burns Night would be complete without ‘Tam O’Shanter’, Burns only example of narrative poetry filled with pathos, humour, horror and eloquence in equal measure.

There is one final song that is perhaps the most pertinent, given the time of year (i.e. the looming UK tax deadline)  and was coincidentally the first Burns song I learned in entirety when I was a child, ‘The Deil’s Awa wi’ th’ Exciseman’. Burns was employed as a Gauger (exciseman) at the end of his short life, a profession the poem may indicate he was not entirely at ease with.

(Reference: The Canongate Burns – The Complete Works and Poems of Robert Burns).

A final word on Burns in Scots culture.  I was listening to Radio Scotland this morning and therein some vox pops commenting on plans for celebrating Burns Night.  The words haggis, whisky, fun and party came up each time, yet of 8 or so interviewees, only one person identified the evening with the work of Burns.  On reflection, maybe I should consider myself as having a bit more cultural or patriotic zeal than I credit myself with – for better or worse….

To address the issue of Haggis

Over the years, I have attended many weird and wonderful Burns nights.  Worthy of note was that we enjoyed with flatmates of The Man Named Sous when he studied at The Newark School of Violin Making.  A verse each of ‘Address to a Haggis’ was recited by us two Scots and other of various nationalities from countries including Iceland, France, the US, Italy and England.  We all struggled with the verses, most less so with the veggie haggis and hardly any of us at all with the whisky and music that followed.

Last year, there was a Burns Night dinner in our village hall, which was an interesting mix of cultures of Gaelic and Scots, with plenty Gaelic song, and Highland bagpipe tunes – even our local MSP, a Scot’s scholar himself recited Tam O’Shanter. Although, for me personally, reciting ‘Address to a Haggis’ in Gaelic was a bit incongruous.  I imagine it must be like a native Gaelic speaker hearing Sorley MacLean in English, or reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez in anything but Spanish, if it is your first language. Nuances of the language are lost in translation.

This year, with the weather foul, we are not planning an excursion to the hall, but are having our own alternative Burns night.  I must admit, I love haggis, but when it comes to delivery, each Burns night is pretty much a carbon copy of the last – a pile of haggis, a pile of neeps and a pile of mashed tatties.  Not that I am suggesting a shift too far away from the traditional is required – just a bit of a twist.

Haggis en croute

I admit I did not make my own haggis.  A proper haggis is made of sheep plucks (lungs, liver and heart – quite difficult to acquire here), oatmeal, fat, onion, salt and spices, all minced and mixed together and contained in a sheep’s stomach, ready for boiling. I noticed in The Guardian this week Nigel Slater admitted that despite a love of haggis, he has not made and does not intend to make his own.  I can feel better about purchasing mine then!

The haggis was boiled and prepared en croute, first being rolled in Parma ham to prevent any fat leaching out into the pastry and making it soggy.  Now, haggis with its spiciness and fattiness can be a bit indigestion inducing, so I thought I would ramp up the experience two-fold by adding that friend of dyspepsia – puff pastry. The haggis was formed into a sausage shape and rolled much like a beef Wellington.

Instead of plain and simple neeps accompaniment was neeps, parsnips and carrots mashed together with horseradish and garlic.  The traditional mash with a bit of parsley was included.

Haggis Ingredients

1 top quality haggis (traditional or veggie – both work)

a sheet of puff pastry

4 slices of Parma ham

a packet of Rennies/Gaviscon 🙂

Oven temperature 180C (fan)

Haggis en croute


  • Boil the haggis for the alloted time, about 40 minutes for a medium haggis.
  • Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.  Remove from the skin/stomach and form into a sausage shape.
  • Roll out the puff pastry, place 4 slices of parma ham along it and place the haggis on top.
  • Roll the pastry and ham around the haggis as you would for a beef Wellington.
  • Seal the pastry with egg wash and place the edge underneath, tuck the ends under.
  • Decorate appropriately (we chose a thistle), egg wash and place in the oven for 40 minutes.  Slice and serve with mash and veg.

haggis cut

Enjoy wi’ a wee dram until ye are fu’ tae burstin’. Slàinte mhah, as they say round these parts and let Burns hae the last word….

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

Roberts Burns – Address to a Haggis, 1786

haggis served