That’s right – in 2014 I won the World Stovies Championship (making, not eating, you cheeky monkeys) and right now I’m going to share the secret(s) of my success…
Stovies has to be one of the most iconic dishes in Scotland, and a hell of a lot nicer than our official national dish – deep-fried pizza. Stovies: a thick gloopy unctuous meaty blend of leftover roast lamb, onions and tatties. You can tell it oozes Scottishness, because it’s got tatties in it. Not ‘potatoes’, tatties. Get that bit right and you’re halfway there.
Now, true stovie experts are able to time it perfectly, so that the tatties at the bottom catch and impart a smokiness to the dish, but don’t worry about that. Even without caught tatties, this is a big steaming pile of hug on a plate.
What goes in them can lead to fist-fights and families never speaking to each other again. Feuds that last generations have been sparked by a suspect plate of this iconic dish. Some people will tell you that stovies should be made with beef, or corned beef, or pork, or leftover curry, but they’re liars and deviants and should be shunned. Lamb is the only acceptable meat here. Accept no substitutes.
Then there’s the heated topic of how you should eat them. I’m a beetroot man. My wife’s all about the oatcakes. And her mother – who was clearly very wrong in the head – thought it was socially acceptable to dip spoonfuls of stovies into a glass of milk before eating them. Then she’d drink the sludgy meaty tattie-clogged milk. She claimed it was a Fife thing, but I’ve checked with multiple Fifers and they just stare at me as if I’ve suggested they have intimate relations with an octopus, then deny all knowledge of this milk-dunking madness.
Anyway, leaving such horrors behind us, first we need leftover roast lamb:
SLOW ROAST LEG OF LAMB
- 1 whole leg of lamb, bone in
- 3 or 4 large onions, thinly sliced
- 1 large glass of vermouth
- Salt and pepper
How big your leg of lamb is will depend on the time of year, but that’s OK. This isn’t crystal meth we’re making here. You can approximate a lot of this without causing an explosion or getting arrested.
- Preheat your oven to 120 degrees Celsius (250F).
- Get yourself a deep roasting dish that will fit the leg of lamb reasonably snugly and drizzle a little oil in the bottom. Rapeseed’s good for this.
- Now scatter the finely sliced onions across the bottom of the dish.
- Wash and pat dry your leg of lamb and place it on the bed of onions.
- Smear the lamb with salted butter and season with salt and pepper.
- Add a generous glass of vermouth to the dish.
Now all you’ve got to do is cover it tightly in tinfoil and stick the whole thing in the oven for six or seven hours. If your oven’s a traitorous lump of evil metal like mine, it’s not a bad idea to check how it’s going after five hours.
By the time it’s finished cooking it’ll be unctuous and moist, and you should be able to carve it with a spoon. There’s going to be a goodly amount of tasty juices in the pan, but probably quite a bit of fat too – this is a good thing! Skim the fat from the juices and when it’s cool pop it in the fridge. We’ll need it later.
Serve your tasty slow roast lamb with mash and whatever else you like.
OK, so now we’ve got lovely leftover lamb. It’s much easier to pick the bone clean while the lamb is still warm-ish. As it cools the fat and connective tissue in the meat will firm up and it’s more of a pain to get those tasty nuggets of dead baby sheep off. You’re looking for bite-sized chunks. Pop the picked meat in a container, top it with any leftover onions from the bottom of the dish, and pour in any of the meat juices you’ve not scarfed. Keep the bone too. Refrigerate.
- Leftover slow-roast leg of lamb (picked)
- 3 or 4 white onions, chopped
- The lamb leg bone
- A bag of floury tatties – Maris Piper or King Edwards are good
- A small bag of waxy tatties – something like a Charlotte works well
- Lamb stock
- Any juices from the leftover lamb
- Lots of lovely lamb fat from the roast
- Pickled sliced beetroot and oatcakes to serve
And now it’s time to get down to the main event, when all that effort slow-roasting your lamb is going to pay off. Your leftovers are about to become a thing of culinary beauty. Not to look at – even the most generous of souls couldn’t describe stovies as anything other than a brown-and-white lumpy mush – but the taste… Oh, the taste… Seriously, if they could hang it in the Louvre they would, that’s how good it is.
- Get yourself a nice large pot – about big enough to fit a baby – and prepare your tatties. Some people peel theirs, but I wash mine, then score the floury tattie’s skins with one of those julienne peelers. Yeah, it’s a bit of a faff, but it means you get a much more whoomphy tattie taste in the finished dish. The amount of tatties you need depends on the size of your pot. Use your best judgement, I trust you.
- Cut your tatties into chunks. Large-ish ones for the floury tatties, bite-sized ones for the waxy.
- Pop a good couple of tablespoons of the reserved lamb fat into the pot and melt it over a medium to high heat, then add the onions. Fry them till they’re lovely and golden, and beginning to caramelise. Now tip in your tatties and stir to coat them with all that lovely lamb fat and onion. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the bone to the pot. I like to sever it at the knuckle, because it fits better.
- Then cover the tatties with lamb stock, and chuck in any leftover onions from the slow roast – I know this sounds like a lot of onions, but they’ve already had seven hours in a low oven and they’re going to melt into a wonderfully savoury smush.
- Now it’s just a case of leaving the pot to simmer away till the tatties are done. The floury ones should be falling apart around the edges while the waxy ones are still all lovely and textural. It’ll take about twenty to twenty five minutes, but the tatties will know when they’re done.
- Take the bone out and if you fancy a little extra richness, scoop out the marrow and add it back to the pot.
- Stir the tatties, breaking some of them up, then chuck in the lamb to heat through.
- Don’t worry if your stovies look a bit like soup at this point – you can always spoon out the extra liquor to get a texture you’re happy with (not surprisingly, the removed liquid tastes great). The more you stir it, the more mashed the tatties will be. Me? I like it to be firm enough not to ooze across the plate, with the occasional chunk of bite-sized tattie still just holding onto its form.
- Have a last taste for seasoning, then serve in a lovely dollopy mound with the pickled beetroot and oatcakes. And don’t skimp on the beetroot – if it doesn’t look like something terrible has gone wrong with your insides the next day, you’ve not eaten enough. Stovies goes very well with a nice dram of whisky too. Mmmm…
I have no idea why it took me so long to try this, but leftover stovies are tremendous for breakfast if you chuck them in a non-stick pan and fry them till they’ve got a lovely crispy golden skin. Serve with poached eggs and hot sauce. And maybe some more beetroot.