Haggis is one of those things that many have heard of but probably not many people who have actually had, unless you are Scottish. And 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 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, particularly 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. It is then traditionally cooked in a lamb’s stomach, which is probably what is most offputting for a lot of people. It 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 and his birthday is celebrated with a typical peasant dinner of haggis, neeps and tatties, along with a dram or two of whisky. 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 both easier to come by. 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 it’s made
This version is pretty easy – 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 near the top) but don’t worry, the oatmeal will absorb it and take on the flavor.
I’ve subtitled this “my heart’s in the Highlands”, partly in honor of one of Burns’ poems. I also brought the ‘heart’ to life thanks to a slight mistake. I picked up some potatoes the other day, which I thought were just red-skinned but in fact were pale pink inside. 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 is coming round, after all. In case you are wondering, the swede 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. But it works here and the taste is virtually the same.
I hope you might give this simplified haggis a go, and then build up the courage to try the original haggis on a trip to Scotland some time – it really is delicious!
The idea of haggis can be a bit offputting for some, but the actual taste can still be one you enjoy. This simplified version uses easier-to-find and more 'palatable' ingredients that will please purists and newcomers alike.
- 1/2 tbsp butter 5g, approx
- 1 onion
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 3/4 tsp ground coriander
- 3/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme or fresh, slightly chopped if fresh
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 lb ground lamb 450g, approx, lamb mince
- 1/2 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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