A Scottish dish, made from oatmeal, fried with fat, onion and seasonings

Skirlie may not sound the most appetising of dishes from the dictionary definition. But it is one of those surprising comfort foods that Scotland is so good at producing. My first taste was in a Highlands farmhouse kitchen. The nutty side dish soaked up the slug of rich gravy served alongside roast pheasant.
Somehow this unpromising blend of oatmeal and onions, cooked in butter and lard, was the star of the show. It’s amazing how those dishes that are meant to play second fiddle beat the main player. Think how a crispy, light Yorkshire Pudding seems to make the perfect roast beef dinner. How is apple pie never the same without a smothering of silky smooth vanilla custard?
Unfortunately, some people dismiss skirlie as cheap, rustic food. They portray it as a poor man’s haggis. That’s fairly damning as haggis – a concoction of sheep insides with oatmeal – was never a rich man’s dish.
Perhaps, that’s why you seldom see skirlie on a restaurant menu. Chefs are most likely to use it as a stuffing in a chicken breast or serve it as part of the trimming with roast turkey at Christmas time. It remains a filling comfort food served up at home. My favourite way of serving skirlie is with another traditional Scottish dish – mince and tatties – perfect for soaking up the sauce. Some swear by it as a hangover cure, topped with a fried egg. I’ve never tried that but it sounds much better than the more traditional cure of a sugary can of Irn Bru.

Try skirlie yourself – it’s easy to make

Whilst you can buy ready-made skirlie in butchers and supermarkets across Scotland it’s better homemade. If you want to cook it yourself, there are many internet recipes available. Here’s a good one provided by Scots food blogger Graeme Taylor. You can follow more of his recipes on his blog ‘A Scots Larder’.


Skirlie – A Scots Larder

Skirlie is one of those wonderful Scottish words that’s just so descriptive, and my introduction to it was during my vegetarian days when Dad made it as an alternative to stuffing for me on Christmas Day. It is perfect for this purpose, as well as being good for stirring through mash.

A word of caution, make sure you are using pinhead or medium oatmeal. Elsewhere in the world, they are called steel-cut oats. Whatever you do don’t used rolled oats. It simply won’t work and you’ll miss out on the slight crunch skirlie should have. And be warned, if you are calorie counting or on a low-fat diet beware. This is calorie-laden with 219 kcal and 9.4g of fat in one serving. But all good things have a drawback.

Finally, don’t confuse skirlie with the noise a bagpipe makes. That’s a skirl and they are definitely very different things. However, some suggest that skirlie is given that name because the oats make a squealing and wailing noise as you chase them around the frying pan.

This post has been written to celebrate Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight 2020.


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