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  • Writer's pictureSharon Wilson

HAAR - The New Hebridean Kitchen

HAAR The New Hebridean Kitchen was published on December 3rd and is a cookbook written by the late Murdo Alex Macritchie who died of pancreatic cancer in 2019.

The cookbook project was started by the chef but completed by his sister Kathleen MacDonald, after Macritchie lost his three-year battle with the disease. At the time of his diagnosis he was working as a private chef to the model Claudia Schiffer and film director Matthew Vaughan. The name HAAR was also the name of a pop-up restaurant that Macritchie held to showcase the forgotten foods and cooking techniques of the Hebrides.

Written in English and Gaelic (Gaelic text by Jo MacDonald), the book champions the landscape, natural larder, and culture of the chef’s birthplace of Lewis as well as that of the neighbouring islands. All of these inspirations are encapsulated in Macritchie’s culinary creations.

In his book Macritchie also acknowledges the influence of the New Nordic movement made famous by the Copenhagen restaurant Noma and its chef, Rene Redzepi. This influence has been seen on many Scottish menus in the last decade or so where dishes began to be listed under headings ‘The Land’ and ‘The Sea’ as a nod to provenance. The recipes in HAAR are divided into categories such as ‘Moor and Machair’, ‘Rocks and Shore’ and even ‘The Guga’. This underlines Macritchie’s specific focus on the food and foodways of the Hebrides. For example, talking of ‘cuddies’ aka coalfish or a saithe, he says:

“My favourite way of eating cudaigean (young saithe or cuddies as we called them) is simply fried in flour and butter. My grandfather used to catch them on a bamboo rod with an orange cord, little white flies made from seagull feathers and a lead weight made by pouring molten lead into a carved-out piece of peat.”

Reading Macritchie’s book you soon realise that despite the influence of the Nordic movement that the chef cites, he too was a pioneer, fusing the traditional methods and foods of his homeland with new cooking techniques. The pop-up HAAR tasting menu included ‘Croft Potato’ cooked over a smouldering peat fire, Smoked Herring Roe with pickled chive flowers, Salt Mackerel.

The HAAR team (credit: Paul McGinley)

HAAR was a follow up to Macritchie’s first restaurant Sùlair (2010) which retained Italian and French influences despite dishes pointing to an embryonic ‘New Heb’ cuisine. The menus are preserved in the book and reveal exotic dishes and ingredients; avocado ice-cream (remember that?) is served with Isle of Lewis crab. Today these dishes sound jarring and old-fashioned whereas at the time they were considered ‘cutting edge’. It is testament to chefs like Macritchie that we have come so far with Scottish cuisine.

Hebridean recipes in the cookbook are introduced with short explanations. Wild Arctic Hare, Fruit Pudding, Fermented Celeriac, Apple and Rosehip Sauce is preceded by the following prose:

“The Arctic Hare is found on the moors of Lewis and has a distinctive white fur during the winter months. They are absolutely delicious, although many folk in the north of the island would not eat them because of superstition. They were thought to be witches in disguise and a bad omen to anyone who crossed the path of one!
Here I have paired it with fermented celeriac and rosemary purée, a tart apple and rosehip sauce and a slice of marag mhilis (fruit pudding), my take on the traditional Hebridean fruit pudding, made with oats that have been soaked in buttermilk, beef fat, barley flour, barley malt, onions, chopped prunes, rosemary and some spices. The dish is finished with a sauce made with the bones of the hare.”

HAAR encompasses stunning photography with a gastronomic lens that unearths the culture of the unique Hebridean islands. (S. Wilson)

Published by Acair books with all royalties from the book sales being split between Bethesda Hospice and Pancreatic Cancer UK.

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