The Critic and I missed Burns' night for some reason this year, and so missed our yearly excuse to eat haggis. I feel extremely lucky that the Critic also likes haggis, as it would be very sad to be reduced to eating it only when alone with the cat (who would probably very much like to share, it must be admitted). So I have been hankering for some haggis for a while now and tonight is the night.
Haggis is one of those things that it's best not to investigate too fully before you try, for fear you'll put yourself off of it. Did anyone else out there find it difficult to eat hot dogs for a long time after reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle? (And incidentally, am I the only one who finds it difficult to remember which one is Upton Sinclair and which one is Sinclair Lewis??) So stop thinking about sheeps' stomachs, livers and lungs and think of it as a very tasty somewhat peppery sausage. If you are a meat-eater of any kind, I promise you won't be disappointed.
I have read a lot of recipes about how to make a haggis from scratch, but it seems to me that this defeats the whole purpose of the above attitude: YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS IN THIS. So if you are like me, you'll buy one, from Marks & Spenser's (alas, no longer in Paris), your local grocery store (around the 25th of January, Burns Night) or from the folks at Expatshopping.com. They all taste pretty similar to me and they are all delicious. Seriously.
To prepare your haggis, do the following:
Peel a lot of potatoes. Put them in a pot of water and heat to boiling. In the meantime, take your haggis from its plastic bag. Place it on a large piece of tin foil and sprinkle with Scotch whisky. Wrap it and place it in a pot of simmering water for 45 minutes to an hour. When the potatoes are cooked, remove them from the fire, drain them and mash them with loads of butter, milk and salt and pepper. Remove your haggis from the water and carefully slice it in two. If you have sympathy for the squeamishness of your partner, remove the skin. Load his plate with half the haggis and an equal mound of potatoes. Serve with whisky or (for the faint-hearted) a bit of red wine.
Traditionally, haggis is served with mashed turnips (neaps) but since I'm a bit of a turnip-wimp and so is the Critic, we stick with potatoes. They work just fine. You want a little bit of the haggis and a little bit of the potatoes on each delicious forkful. The texture of the haggis is a little nubby because of the oatmeal and the meat is ground finely and very savoury. It's very much a winter meal, which is why I'm sneaking one in before the fine weather really arrives here in Paris.
A few notes:
- Haggis is rarely sold in an actual sheep stomach. I guess probably in butcher shops in Scotland it probably is, but not in your mainstream supermarkets. They use an artificial bag. Either way, you wouldn't want to eat it.
- The purpose of wrapping the haggis in tin foil is to allow for the possibility that the bag may split. As long as you don't bring the water to a full boil it should be fine, but it's not a bad idea to be careful.
- You can also add whisky to the water in addition to or instead of the whisky on the haggis itself. I find that sprinkling it on the haggis prior to wrapping means you get more whisky taste for less whisky wasted. I like my whisky.
- Burns Night is the 25th of January each year and it is when you traditionally eat haggis and neaps and recite Bobby Burns' Ode to a Haggis. It helps if a) you don't speak English and b) you are not sober when you do.
If, despite my warnings, you really want to know what goes into a haggis, you can consult the US-Scotland pages for a recipe (they have both traditional and easy).