The National Dish of Scotland

Haggis is one of those national dishes that is both beloved and reviled by natives, and sometimes horrifies people who hear it described for the first time. It even horrifies native Scots -- my old friend, teacher and graduate advisor Ian Conner, a native of Glasgow, was appalled that I had actually eaten this stuff whilst in Scotland. "I hope you had lots of whisky with it, at least!" he said.

I had my haggis in Edinburgh at a lovely little restaurant near the train station off of Princes Street. It was not unlike a Scottish version of boudin, with oats instead of rice, or perhaps more like a Cajun dish called paunce, which is stuffed pork stomach. It was actually pretty tasty, particularly when I zinged it up with a little Tabasco (I always carry a little bottle when I travel), and washed down with a pint of McEwan's Export and a wee dram of single malt Scots whisky.

So, for your Robbie Burns Day celebration, you might have a hard time finding a haggis here in the States (it's difficult to get them imported too; I understand that the USDA has declared them "unfit for human consumption" ...). Now you can make haggis yourself! Here's a recipe I picked up, as posted to the Usenet newsgroup rec.food.recipes by Don Reid, and reproduced with his kind permission. You can guess how long ago I did this by the mention of Don's dial-up BBS! ('Member those?)

Don said, "I run the Clan Donnachaidh BBS (Robertson Clan) in Walnut Creek, California, (510) 937-6570, and have various files of interest to those of a Scottish bent. Here are a couple of recipes; one which I am told is quite original and the other for the more bashful American taste buds ...

"I've enjoyed Haggis at our Clan Gathering in the Highlands of Scotland, piped in by a piper, as required, and can vouch for it being one of the tastiest dishes ever.

"Here's a recipe for the beloved Haggis of Scotland. In addition to the other naughty (read 'delectable') bits, the lungs are traditionally included in Scotland, but are omitted here as it's illegal to sell lungs in the U.S. (Any clues as to why, anybody?). Some folks also think that liver shouldn't be used ..."

Wash lungs and stomach well, rub with salt and rinse. Remove membranes and excess fat. Soak in cold salted water for several hours. Turn stomach inside out for stuffing.

Cover heart and liver with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Chop heart and coarsely grate liver. Toast oatmeal in a skillet on top of the stove, stirring frequently, until golden. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Loosely pack mixture into stomach, about two-thirds full. Remember, oatmeal expands in cooking.

Press any air out of stomach and truss securely. Put into boiling water to cover. Simmer for 3 hours, uncovered, adding more water as needed to maintain water level. Prick stomach several times with a sharp needle when it begins to swell; this keeps the bag from bursting. Place on a hot platter, removing trussing strings. Serve with a spoon. Ceremoniously served with "neeps, tatties and nips" -- mashed turnips, mashed potatoes, nips of whiskey.


From Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors:

Traditionally, a Haggis is made from the lung, liver, and heart of the sheep. These are mixed with oatmeal and a few spices and stuffed into the sheep's stomach. After being boiled, the Haggis is brought to the table with a great deal of ceremony. A piper ushers in the Haggis and all raise a glass of Scotch whiskey and "brrreath a prrayerr for the soul of Rrrobbie Burrrns!" It is then served with "neeps and nips," mashed turnips and nips of whiskey. I think you have to drink a lot of Scotch before you can truly enjoy this dish, but a party of Scots without a Haggis is simply not heard of.

I prepared this recipe for the Medinah Highlander Pipe and Drum Band of Chicago. They piped the Haggis into the dining room, the boiled sheep's stomach being carried on a silver tray by Craig, my assistant. The Pipe and Drum Major cut the Haggis in the sign of the Cross and the party began. These pipers ate everything in sight ... so I am willing to offer you *MY* version of Haggis.




Place the beef heart in a 4-quart covered pot and just cover with cold water. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Add the beef liver and lamb stew meat, and cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the contents of the pot and cool. Reserve 1 cup of the liquid. Grind everything coarsely.

In a large bowl mix all of the ingredients, except for the beef caps, vinegar, and salt for soaking. Mix well and set aside.

Rinse the beef caps in cold water. Turn them inside out and soak them in 2 quarts of cold water with the salt and vinegar for 1/2 hour. Drain them and rinse very well, inside and out.

Divide the meat mixture into three parts. Fill the beef caps with the meat mixture and tie the ends off with string. Two will have to be tied on just one end, but the third piece will be tied on both ends. Prick the Haggis all over with corn holders or a sharp fork. Place in a steamer and steam for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Serve the Haggis, sliced, with beef or lamb gravy.


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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)