By Carolyn McDonald Graf
Balmoral Castle, located in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 50 miles west of Aberdeen, has been a favorite vacation spot of the British royalty since 1852, when it was bought by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. The original manor on the site was built in 1390. The present castle was built in 1856 as the original became too small for the needs of the growing royal family. Queen Victoria was enchanted with Scotland. So was Prince Albert, as it reminded him of his home in Germany. He was very involved in the design of the new home. His influence is seen in several of the features that echo German architecture.
It was to Balmoral that the queen retreated after the death of her beloved Albert, from which she never completely recovered. It was also here that she formed a deep bond with her Scottish servant John Brown. It caused somewhat of a scandal and she was spoken of by her detractors as Mrs. Brown. The movie Mrs. Brown was based on this friendship. Parts of the films Mrs. Brown (1997) and The Queen (2006) recounted events at Balmoral. In both films, substitute locations were used.
At Queen Victoria’s death, her will left Balmoral and its estate to Edward VII and succeeding British monarchs. It was never owned by the Crown and is a private property, meaning that no revenues from the estate go to Parliament or the public purse, as would otherwise be the case for property owned outright by the monarchy. It continued to be a place of retreat for the monarchs and was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II who died there September 8, 2022.
The 50,000-acre estate contains a wide variety of landscapes, from the Dee river valley to open mountains. The working estate includes grouse moors, forestry, and farmland, as well as managed herds of deer, Highland cattle, and ponies. It also offers access to the public for fishing and hiking during certain seasons. Trees cover approximately 8,000 acres, of which 3,000 acres are used for forestry yielding nearly 10,000 tons of wood per year. Ballochbuie Forest, one of the largest remaining areas of old Caledonian pine growth in Scotland, consists of approximately 3,000 acres. It is managed with only minimal or no intervention. Approximately 50 full-time and 50–100 part-time staff are hired to maintain the working estate.
Starting in 1931, the castle gardens were opened to the public for the first time and were open daily between April and the end of July, after which Queen Elizabeth II would have arrived for her annual stay. The ballroom was the only room in the castle that could be viewed by the public.
Balmoral Chicken is a recent recipe and there is no record of it being served at Balmoral. But it is an elegant and tasty dish worthy of serving in your castle.
2 large chicken breasts
Haggis (see easy recipe below)
4 rashers (strips) of bacon
Vegetables of your choice to serve. Neeps and tatties are traditional
Whisky Sauce (see recipe below)
Turn the oven on to 350F and then start by cooking the haggis. The traditional ingredients for haggis are not available in the US. There are several fine tasting substitute recipes. One is included below. Set it aside to cool.
Reset the oven to 400F. Take the chicken breasts and make a slit in the side at the largest point, slicing through until a small amount is left on the opposite side, creating a pocket.
Take the cooked haggis and stuff some into each chicken breast. You don’t want them to be too full, as the chicken should basically seal back around the haggis to form a circle of chicken with the haggis at the center.
Lay the bacon out and then place the chicken breast on one end, rolling it to cover the center and seal the slit. Ideally, the ends of the bacon will be on the underside of the chicken. If you really need to, you can secure it with a toothpick, but it should stick fairly well to the chicken by itself.
Fry the wrapped chicken breasts so that the bacon browns a little and starts to crisp a bit.
Put them into a pan or on a baking tray and bake in the oven for around 30-40 minutes depending on the size of the chicken breasts. The juices should run clear when you insert a sharp knife.
Meanwhile, cook any accompanying vegetables and the whisky sauce, which can be served over the chicken or on the side.
½ tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon dried thyme or fresh, slightly chopped if fresh
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 lb. ground lamb
½ lb. chicken livers
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup pinhead or steel cut oatmeal
Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
Warm the butter in a pan. Finely dice the onion and cook over a medium heat in the butter until softened, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile take any fatty or tough pieces off the chicken livers and roughly chop.
Add the various spices and thyme to the onion and cook a minute then add the lamb and chicken livers.
Brown the meat. Then, once it is all cooked, add the stock (see note below) and cover. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
Then add the oatmeal, mix well and transfer to an oven dish Cover the dish and put in the oven for 30 mins.
Remove the lid and cook another 10 mins. Let cool. You won’t need this much for your Chicken rolls but it makes good leftovers sliced and fried for breakfast.
Note: When I tested this recipe, the oatmeal wasn’t cooked enough. I would add the oatmeal along with the chicken stock to give it more cooking time.
3-4 Tablespoon whisky
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a small pan to medium. Add the butter and melt.
Add 3 tablespoons of your choice of whisky then light it with a match and allow it to burn off the alcohol. This makes the sauce less bitter. Be careful at this stage, the flame can be quite aggressive but will burn out quickly.
Add the cream, stock, and mustard to the pan once the flame is out. Allow to thicken and reduce on a low heat while continuing to stir, then add salt and pepper to taste
If you would like a stronger whisky taste, you can add another tablespoon of whisky at the end, too.