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Haggis - all you ever wanted to know


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Haggis - all you ever wanted to know Haggis has an even bigger image problem than Black Pudding. Both are frequently superb but both are made from the "nasty bits" and many never give them a chance. This is great shame - hopefully this will inspire you to give it a try - why not have a Burns night supper on 25 January?

Whats it like?

A haggis is a large, pillow shaped pudding. It comes ready cooked in a casing which is traditionally made of a cleaned, sheep stomach. It is reheated and the contents consumed, the skin is thrown away.

Inside there is moist, peppery stuffing. Oats and pepper dominate, it is warming and filing. There are no lumps of gristle or lung. Anyone who enjoys black pudding, faggots or hogs pudding should rate haggis.

History

Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, it was immortalised as the 'Great chieftain o' the pudding race' by Robert Burns in his Address to a Haggis. Scotland is a small, proud country - I wonder which is more important to its sense of identity? Haggis has two big nights Burns Night on 25 January and Saint Andrews night on 30 November.

It is closely associated with the patron saint of Scotland and the national poet - no wonder it is thought of as the national dish. Despite this haggis is not an every day dish, even in its homeland.

Haggis comes from necessity where every part of the animal had to be eaten and there was no refrigeration. It is normally made with sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, barley, suet, spices, and salt. This is mixed with stock and traditionally boiled in an animal's stomach for approximately an hour and is among the largest of the sausage/pudding family. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach. A sign of the times is vegetarian haggis.

Behind these prosaic ingredients there is hundreds of years of skill and development, the different grades of oatmeal are used for texture, onions are 'kibbled' (dried and sliced) and many producers use bacon, beef and lamb to add taste. Each has a secret spice recipe (pepper, cloves, nutmeg, all spice).

Where can you buy haggis?

We have set out recent award winners and good producers a Haggis buying guide.

Cooking haggis

Haggis is cooked by the producer, you just need to remove the packaging, reheat it and only eat the stuffing.

Macsweens suggest the following cooking times for a medium (2 or 3 people) haggis: Wrap in foil and poach in boiling water for 45 minutes. Wrap in foil, place in a casserole with an inch of water and bake in a medium oven for around 1 hour. Cut into pieces and microwave for 6 minutes (not sure R Burns Esq would approve of this one!).

Eating haggis

The traditional way of eating haggis is to steam or bake it and serve the stuffing with "neeps and tatties" (mashed turnips and potatoes) and a dram (of whiskey).

There are lots of other uses of the savoury stuffing, it can be used to stuff a chicken and combines well with game. Sue Lawrence in her book "A Cooks Tour of Scotland" has recipes for Haggis Lasagne, Haggis Rolls and in Pitta Bread with Tzatsiki. I have enjoyed it topped with a slice of melted Stilton and a splash of whiskey.

Leftover haggis can be shaped into a patty and shallow fried (the crusty oats are the best part). And lastly, there is the chip shop specialty, a sliced, battered and deep fried (no doubt with a deep fried Mars bar and a heart attack for afters).

Have a look at our Burns Night page for more information on the tradition and history of Burns night.

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