Last Updated on March 20, 2021
The Ultimate Scottish Home Cooking – Mince and Tatties.
Classic comfort food from my childhood, mince and tatties (potatoes) is one of those dishes that resolutely stays north of the border – or at least only travels from Scotland to England in the hands of someone who grew up with it.
In my case, my father. His own father and grandfather came from Skye, an island just off the North West coast of Scotland. For much of the war, my father stayed with my great aunts – Gaelic speaking Scottish traditionalists who spent every summer either in Skye or Mull, home of the Maclean Clan seat. Exactly why mince and tatties is so much a part of Scottish Heritage is not clear, but to this day it seems to be an intrinsic part of the Scottish diet. Indeed there’s now an annual mince and tatties competition on Mull!
It is, of course, a very frugal dish that can easily be made even more so. When I was a child my mother used to replace a good part of the mince with Quorn and I know it also works well with up to a third of the meat replaced with cooked puy lentils. My mother would add the leftover gravy from a Sunday roast for extra flavour. You could easily make a vegetarian version by using Quorn, vegetable stock and onion Bisto. I’d add a teaspoon of marmite or mushroom ketchup to give that umami flavour and might use some dark gilled mushrooms too, diced finely. You can add more vegetables too – I’ve used celery and parsnip in this batch and my parents would often throw in a few handfuls of frozen peas 10 minutes before we were ready to eat. So, you can easily adapt it for a flexitarian dish. Try making it with wild venison mince if you want to avoid farmed red meat.
It’s also a great ‘base’ for single households. Add a little chilli and paprika, some red kidney beans and some tomato puree for an approximation of chilli con carne. Add tomatoes and red wine for bolognese sauce. Make it up into a shepherd’s pie to bake in the oven – it is, after all, a deconstructed version of that. Or just indulge in mince and tatties as they should be served – just as they come!
To make the mince, first peel and dice your vegetables. The aim is to have small, evenly sized pieces so that everything cooks through. As children we would object to the bits of onion in mince and tatties, so my mother would use small onions and cook them whole in the mixture. That’s not ideal though and I’m not totally convinced we’d have noticed if the onions had been finely chopped. Carrots and onions are the only two vegetables I see as mandatory. You can add all sorts of other root vegetables – though NOT tomatoes or mushrooms in my view, unless you are doing a veggie version.
Brown the mince carefully in batches so that it doesn’t stew – or you can try the Tom Kerridge method of browning it spread out on a baking tray in a moderately hot oven. Add a little fat to the pan and cook the diced vegetables till the onions are translucent and just starting to colour at the edges. Stir through some seasoned flour and cook for a minute or two until all the fat is absorbed. I like to use allspice and nutmeg with pepper to season the flour but neither are traditional in any way.
Return the mince to the pan and top up with hot beef stock and a dash of Worcester sauce. Definitely don’t add wine – but I rather like a teaspoon of syrupy balsamic vinegar added in here. Again not traditional, but very effective at helping to create a rich gravy. No extra herbs, but do season well with black pepper and a little salt.
Now, leave the whole lot to cook for at least an hour or so on the hob. I actually made mine using the slow-cooker setting of an instant pot for 4 hours – which worked brilliantly. Check the seasoning and taste of your mince. If the gravy isn’t thick enough, you can add a little Bisto or cornflour dissolved in water and cook for a further 10 minutes.
A bit like all the best stews, in my view the mince for mince and tatties tastes best made the day before you want to eat it and then reheated.
For the tatties, just peel and quarter a few floury potatoes. Boil them in salted water until they are soft through, then drain well while you melt a good piece of butter and a glug of milk in a pan. Return the potatoes to the pan, either passing them through a potato ricer or mashing and mix well, adding more butter till you have a meltingly soft puree.
Serve roughly equal quantities of mash and potato on each plate and garnish with a little chopped parsley if you want to be posh. This isn’t really fancy food though – more the right dish for a midweek supper. That said, a wee dram works a treat with mince and tatties and I am sure is traditional!
Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try for yourself.
Mince and Tatties
- Slow Cooker (optional)
- 300 g mince
- 1 tsp beef dripping or oil
- 1 large brown onion
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 stick celery optional
- 300 ml beef stock I was brought up on this dish made with OXO. For a posher version, use homemade beef stock
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 1/2 tsp all spice
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp Worcester sauce
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp cornflour or bisto gravy granules if necessary
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 medium potatoes
- 50 ml milk
- 50 g butter
- Brown the mince in a large frying pan (if necessary in batches) or by spreading on a baking sheet and baking at 180c for 10 minutes
- Season the flour with salt, pepper and with nutmeg and allspice
- If you are using a frying pan, remove the mince and add all the vegetables together with the beef dripping or oil. Continue cooking for 5 minutes so that the onions are translucent. Then add in the flour and cook for a further 5 minutes over a low heat
- If you are using a slow cooker with a sear function then instead of using a frying pan, melt the dripping or oil and add the vegetables. Cook as in stage 2 above
- Either put the vegetables and mince into a heavy-based saucepan/cast-iron casserole or add the mince to the vegetables in the slow cooker. Pour over the hot stock and stir well
- Bring to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for at least 2 hours on the hob, stirring occasionally or for up to 4 hours in the slow cooker.
- Half an hour before you want to eat, put the potatoes in a pan of salted water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes till soft through
- Drain the potatoes.
- Melt the butter in the saucepan you used to cook the potatoes, Add the milk and heat through. Season with salt and pepper
- Put the drained potatoes back in the pan and mash well with a potato masher.
- Check the mince, add Bisto or cornflour dissolved in a little water if necessary to thicken the gravy and add Worcester sauce, balsamic vinegar. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes, then check and season with salt and pepper
- Serve roughly equal portions of mince and potatoes garnished with chopped parsley
Looking for something different? We love this Aubergine Parmigiana which works well as a side dish or as a vegetarian main