An Ode To Haggis: A Robert Burns Day Dinner by Chef Brian Ricci of Brick and Mortar

Brion: You have this weird dish that you have no cultural or family connection to and like any dish that’s both delicious and strikingly different, you as a chef say, I want to learn how to do this proper, I want to figure it out. It’s like a puzzle in a way.
Brian Ricci: Sure, I have a big cookbook collection and a lot of it is earmarked for UK cooking. Scottish, English, some Irish, but mostly English cooking. Just a lot of relatively modern day chefs that I think have been doing great stuff for the last twenty years. That’s where a lot of my taste profile and a lot of what I like to do comes from.
Brion: How did you get to all of that stuff?
Brian Ricci: Again, tons of traveling. Hiked across England once. Over the last fifteen years, I’ve spent a lot of time over there. And a lot of that was just sort of the culture and the fact that all the countries are all close together and there’s a lot of good food that comes from there. And great beer, also. It has experienced a rebirth in the last twenty years and you’re seeing that more and more in the last five years in the states. Those beers are really being celebrated here. The whole cask conditioned beer thing. For me, you have to cook what you really like and you have to be passionate about it, otherwise it’s just twelve hours a day everyday, not enjoying what you’re doing.

Haggis platter before I devoured it. Courtesy of Brick and Mortar.

Haggis platter before I devoured it. Courtesy of Brick and Mortar.

Brion: How do you serve it?
Brian Ricci: We’re doing parsnips, rutabaga, we’re adding a little bit of potato to that. Cook that in butter, milk, and cream. Salt and pepper. And then just basically mash that up so it’s sort of a very rich component to the haggis, which is pretty meaty. We’re take the outer leaves of a cabbage and we’ll blister then a bit in a really hot pan—the pan that the haggis comes out of with a little bit of butter added. Add salt and pepper and just toss it around until it wilts a little bit.

Brion: How does the Scotch in cocktail, the Bobby Burns, complement everything?
Brian Ricci: Dom [to bartender Dominick Carullo behind the bar], you hearing this?
Dominick: The cocktail is made with a mellow blended Scotch—usually any Highland blend. Then a richer vermouth.
Brion: I keep thinking of the “toasted oats and barley” of the haggis and the malted barley or blended grain that’s used to make Scotch. Are you supposed to drink a Bobby Burns while eating the haggis?
Dominick: A Bobby Burns will act more as a digestif cocktail. The vermouth, the Benedictine—it’s a richer, sweeter cocktail. It’s a riff on a Manhattan—or a Rob Roy. The truth is, it’s an American cocktail. It was made by an [English born] American bartender in an English bar. And more than likely, it was made right around Robert Burns day and someone said, ah, this is a good name for this drink I made up. It would have been Harry Craddock at The Savoy, who was there during Prohibition because all the best bartenders fled the U.S., with most going to Europe. It’s a classic cocktail. No one knows the exact origin[more on the muddled nature of that, here], but it’s fairly certain that it’s The Savoy.

Brion: How did haggis get associated with famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns?
Brian Ricci: He wrote Address to a Haggis. That big poem. He’s a national hero—that is, speaking without a great depth of knowledge on the subject.
Brion: How does your interpretation of haggis relate to your critical analysis of the poem?
Brian Ricci: [Laughs] We’d have to get it out and go over it line for line. [As for my haggis] it is heresy because it is not done in the most traditional way. On Thursday we’re going to have this guy come in who I’ve worked. I sourced his name from the Saint Andrew’s Society. Clayton Ames. I think he’s in his 60’s or 70’s. He’s American but he throws on this great brogue and does the Address to a Haggis and he’s been doing it for a really long time. He gets calls to do it in New York. He does it in the Philly area. He did it the first year we had it at Kennett and we kind of hit it off. Drank some Scotch after he did his performance.

I give him one of my biggest knives in the kitchen. I’ll give him the haggis and he sort of stabs at it which is part of the poem. It’s a little bit of theater that’s tongue-in-cheek. That’s all part of it. It’s a celebration of things that some of us find fascinating or interesting and maybe other people find kitschy—but it doesn’t mean it can’t be all those things. There’s nothing wrong with that, as David Bowie would attest to[“Under Pressure” was playing a few minutes after I pulled up to the bar].

Brion: When will this happen?
Brian Ricci: 7pm or a little bit thereafter—he’s[Clayton] usually late.
Brion: Is this a one-time service?
Brian Ricci: We’ll be serving it all night. We’re serving it right now. We do a menu item every week for a few nights. Starts on Tuesday and we generally run it for a couple of days. I wanted to do this this week because the fact that Burns night falls on a Monday makes it hard for us to do it just on a Monday. I kind of wanted to give it a few days because I wanted to make a lot of it and I wanted to give people an opportunity to come in.
Brion: What are some other things you’ve featured as meaty specials during the week?
Brian Ricci: We did veal one time so it was veal shoulder, veal belly, veal loins. Almost pick an animal and we’ve done it. Lamb, goat, veal. We’ve actually done different types of fish. We did scallop one week so we got different types of scallops in and made three or four different dishes. We’ve been doing it for the last two or three months. Completely unique preparations—something that’s within what we do. For us to do this for the next few nights is fun because we’re not a Scottish bar or tavern.
Brion: Do you also do specials on the weekend?
Brian Ricci: I try not to run specials on the weekend. I try to stick to the menu and run a couple specials tops. Reason being is that it’s an incredibly busy service for the kitchen and our wait staff. We’re focusing on doing the stuff on our menu really really well and then making sure the food is going out in the pace that I want it to go out.
Specials running till Thursday in honor of Robert Burns
Isle of Mull Cheddar with walnut chutney and barley malt.
Haggis Bundles, Neeps & Tatties: lamb heart,liver, and kidneys cured in delicious Scotch; turnip and potato puree with seared cabbage.                                   Beer Battered Fish & Chips Atlantic cod in Lefthand black jack porter batter and fries
Bannock Buns barley flour pancakes with house cured salmon and dill and sour cream Deep Fried Candy Bars

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