Although stovies were never really a regular component of my diet back when I was growing up in Scotland, I do have many a fond memory of enjoying this rustic reassembling of leftovers; whether enjoying a bowl of my gran’s unique own-recipe on a cold winter’s afternoon as a child, or burning my tongue on the molten lava-hot offerings at the much-lamented Green Tree pub on Edinburgh’s Cowgate as a blootered teenager, I’ll admit that I’m find myself getting a little misty eyed recalling stovies of yore.
With this in mind, last week I decided to look up a few recipes on the interwebs, enquire with friends and relatives, and attempt to relive my stovies of yore, and I was certainly not disappointed.
According to a few sources, the Scottish word stovies is derived from the French “étouffée”, to steam or braise, and hence in Scotland the term “to stove” simply means to cook upon the stovetop. The stovies story apparently came from the days when the master of the house would give the remnants of the Sunday roast lunch to the servants to make of it what they wished, and so stovies were born. Because of this, there is very little agreement as to what the truly authentic stovies recipe actually is, with each family having such different leftovers as well as different takes upon the reuse of said leftovers.
I guess that using up the remains of the Sunday roast would cover almost all bases ingredients-wise, as you’d have the meat coupled with both the subsequent fat and gravy, but my mother still swears by the use of rolled brisket, my gran would almost always use bacon, whilst my nextdoor neighbour chose unskinned (and occasionally Lorne) sausage meat. I have heard that some weirdos even use corned beef.
And then there are those who insist upon accompanying their stovies with oatcakes, not something that sounds too appetising to these ears, but each to their own. I’m happy with just a wee bit of brown sauce (read: HP sauce, Daddies or equivalent) on the side. I’ve also heard from many sources that the flavour of stovies is immensely improved if preceded by a reasonably sizable volume of beer.
After perusing a number of suggestions online, and getting much advice from self-professed stovies aficionados, I played about with a few options and on Halloween came up with what I feel is the definitive stovies recipe.
The end result received some rave reviews from our son: “Mmmmmmn. It’s yummy in my tummy!”; but it has to be said that my wife, having grown up in Canada, viewed this one-pot-meal with a certain degree of trepidation, with arched eyebrows questioning its nutritional value, and arguing that it wasn’t a “complete, healthy meal.” Sheesh.
Okay… here goes:
In lieu of the remains of a roast, I decided upon $10 worth of thin veal slices from our local Portuguese butcher, a cup of rendered beef fat or dripping (an essential element, in my mind), and two cups of decent beef stock.
Take a large heavy saucepan or dutch oven (I used my trusty Staub cast iron) and heat up your beef fat or dripping (lard in a pinch) at medium-high.
Chop the thin veal slices into rough strips and throw into the pan, browning them as evenly as you can. Set these aside.
Dice two onions, turn down the heat to medium, and add to the fat in the pan, allowing them to turn golden and soften, without allowing them to brown. This should take around 10 minutes.
Add one cup of dark beer. I plumped for Creemore’s Altbier. Bring to a boil and cook off all that booze.
Wash, peel, and cut into 3cm “cubes” six large potatoes. Add these to the onions and beer.
Add your browned veal strips and your beef stock.
Bring to boil again, reduce to simmer, cover and leave for 40 minutes.
Take the lid off your Dutch oven, and cook on simmer for a further 20 minutes.
Leave to cool for 10 minutes then add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in warmed bowls with brown sauce and enjoy.
Just the thing for these chillier nights here in Toronto!
Stovies will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, and also freeze really well, but with them being so decidedly moreish (especially after a few drinks) this rarely happens.
A note from the author: I’d be curious to hear how you feel stovies should be made and served. Please leave your comments below.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And it has been so long since he last had stovies.