Whether you’re craving haggis but can’t find it, or are vaguely tempted to try it but a little unsure, this simplified recipe is for you. All the flavors of the classic Scottish dish with easier to find (and more familiar) ingredients.
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Haggis is one of those things that many have heard of, but in a semi-mystical way. Unless you are Scottish or have visited Scotland, you probably haven’t tried it. Being Scottish, I tend to find the first question people ask when you get on to the topic is “what’s in it?”
Sadly the answer often means there’s very little chance of them trying it. I have tended, over time, to change my response to being more vague. I reply more along the lines of you might not like the sound of the answer, but that goes for a lot of things, if you really knew, like some fast foods.
However with haggis, while it might sound a bit weird it’s actually all pretty good for you and tasty too.
What’s in haggis?
For clarity’s sake, haggis is generally lamb heart, lungs and often liver and/or trimmings mixed with onions, oatmeal and spices. The mixture is then traditionally cooked in a lamb’s stomach, which is probably what is most offputting for a lot of people.
Haggis has a fairly rich flavor but you balance out the taste with the traditional sides of mashed potatoes (“tatties”) and mashed rutabaga/swede (“neeps”).
These days haggis as a stuffing is also common, as we in fact had at our wedding. And there was a pretty good clearing of plates, despite very few having had it before. True, there was wine and we may have more adventurous friends than average, but it goes to show it really is tasty.
When is haggis served?
Haggis is most traditionally eaten for Burns’ night on January 25th. Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland. If nothing else, you probably know him for ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Scots far and wide celebrate his birthday with a typical peasant dinner of haggis, neeps and tatties. Along with a dram or two of whisky, naturally.
It probably helps that Burns’ wrote a poem called ‘To a haggis’, now traditionally recited as part of the dinner. The haggis may even by brought in to the room with bagpipes playing.
We don’t always keep the tradition up, at least not in a grand way, but did host smaller Burns’ night suppers a few times when we lived in London.
The US laws ban some of the ingredients of a traditional haggis so you can’t get a truly authentic one. Even those ingredients you are allowed can be hard to come by if you try to make it yourself.
So, I decided to make a simpler version with ingredients that are easier to find. Plus hopefully less off-putting for those who might not quite be up for trying the real thing. The result is really tasty, retaining the essence of the traditional haggis but a little less strong and gamey.
How to make this simplified version
This version is pretty easy to make. Yes, it takes a little time, but very little of that is active. You simply pre-cook the onion, meat and spices, simmer it in the stock, mix in the oatmeal and bake.
I haven’t pre-roasted the oatmeal as some do as I figured it’s going in the oven which will slightly crisp the top anyway. When you put it in your dish for the oven, it may look like it has a little too much liquid (as in photo below) but don’t worry, the oatmeal will absorb it and take on the flavor.
I originally subtitled this “my heart’s in the Highlands”, partly in honor of one of Burns’ poems. The first time I made this, I also brought the ‘heart’ to life thanks to a slight mistake. I picked up some potatoes which I thought were just red-skinned but in fact were pale pink inside.
But they gave me an idea. When I was little, I found haggis too peppery on its own so made a ‘sandwich’ by layering swede, haggis and potato together. I figured with some pink potatoes, why not do the same here and make it in a heart mould. Valentine’s day isn’t so long after Burns’ Night, after all.
In case you are wondering, the swede in the above is also not quite ‘normal’ color either. It’s what is known here as a Gilfeather swede which is a lot paler – normally it is more of a yellowy-orange (as in the other photos). But it works here and the taste is virtually the same.
I hope you might give this simplified haggis a go – it has won over many people who are either existing haggis fans or newcomers. The flavors really are so close to the ‘original’ but it’s certainly easier (though do try the ‘real thing’ on a trip to Scotland some time if you can, too!).
Try these other classic Scottish recipes:
- Cranachan (cream, oat, whisky & raspberry dessert)
- Oatcakes (oat crackers)
- Cullen skink (smoked haddock chowder)
- Smoked haddock pate
- Plus get more British recipes in the archives.
- ½ tbsp butter 5g, approx
- 1 onion
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ¾ tsp ground coriander
- ¾ tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp allspice
- ½ tsp dried thyme or fresh, slightly chopped if fresh
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1 lb ground lamb 450g, approx, lamb mince
- ½ lb chicken livers 225g
- 1 cup stock 240ml
- 4 oz pinhead oatmeal 115g
- 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 of 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 and cover. Allow to simmer for around 20mins.
- Then add the oatmeal, mix well and transfer to an oven dish (unless you started with a dish that can transfer).
- Cover the dish and put in the oven for 30mins.
- Remove the lid and cook another 10 mins.
- Serve with mashed potatoes and mashed rutabaga/swede.
- Note: I allow around 4oz/110g rutabaga/swede and potato per person, skin them, boil them then add some butter and pepper to the rutabaga/swede and some butter and milk to the potatoes and mash each of them.
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