Scottish Cuisine — Haggis, Part One

When most people think of Scottish cuisine, they don’t imagine Orkney Cheddar cheese, Ayrshire pork, Loch Fine oysters, or Aberdeen Angus beef.  No, one Scottish food product captivates the imagination like no other: the haggis.

Other posts from our Scottish meal:

Haggis owes its status as Scottish national dish to the great Scottish poet Robert Burns and his 1787 work, Address to a Haggis.  So beloved was Burns and his work, Scotsmen (and Scots at heart) around the world celebrate the anniversary of his birth every January 25 with the Burns Dinner, a meal of Haggis, neeps & tatties, and plenty of Scotch whiskey.  Burns’ poetic ode to the lowly haggis is read and toasted, and general boisterous revelry occurs.  Haggis also is utilized by some in Scotland as a burger patty and even a pizza topping.  The auxiliary haggis use we’d most like to see in person, though, is the sport of haggis hurling, where haggises are thrown competitively for both distance and intact condition after landing.

Preparing a haggis in our Olympia, Washington kitchen was no small task.  A traditional Scottish haggis is a pudding of a minced sheep’s pluck (its lungs, heart, and liver) cased with onions, suet, oats, and spices in the stomach of the animal.  Firstly, the USDA has deemed sheep and lamb’s lung to be unfit for human consumption since 1971 and therefore illegal to sell anywhere in the United States.  Since we knew right off the bat that anything we made at home couldn’t be considered a “true” haggis, we decided to make the best approximation we could out of products available on the shelf at local outlets.

Several approaches to haggis making have been published.  Our thrift store copy of Variety Meats (The Good Cook Techniques & Recipes Series) has a detailed description of how to prepare a haggis (among ever gorier things). Alton Brown’s recipe calls for sheep tongue in place of lungs.  Columbus Food Adventures used lamb heart and liver and beef tripe stuffed in beef intestine.  The BBC’s recipe calls for the heart and lungs but not the liver of the animal.  We decided to set our sights on the flavor profile of a true haggis and worry less about texture.

Starting (without much optimism, honestly) at local supermarkets, we found a package of lamb necks in the markdown rack at Safeway.  This gave our meats some gamy lamb flavor, and the bones helped create a rich cooking broth.  Marrow bones (a recommendation in Variety Meats) from Fred Meyer were used instead of suet.  Michaels Meats in Lacey was our next stop and ended up being where we got everything else.  Drawing inspiration from the recipe for pig’s stomach stuffed with pork, again from Variety Meats, we picked up two pig’s stomachs to be sewn together to make the casing.  Veal liver was chosen, on recommendation of Cook’s Thesaurus, to replace the sheep liver and chicken hearts (also from Fred Meyer) were used instead of the sheep’s heart.  We were hopeful that the flavor gains from the lamb necks would offset some of the losses from the chicken hearts.

Haggis à la Caldwell

SERVES AT LEAST A DOZEN

  • 2 lb veal liver
  • 1 lb chicken hearts
  • 1 lb lamb neck
  • 4 beef marrow bones
  • 1 1/4 cups steel-cut oats
  • 1 medium red onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 pig’s stomachs

Phase One: Preparing the Stuffing

The liver, hearts, and neck were put into a stockpot and covered with cold water:

Innardsinpot

Brought to a gentle boil and then allowed to simmer at medium-low, the meats were cooked for two hours until completely tender:

innardsinpotcooked

By this point the broth had turned an enticing pale green color and our apartment was bathed in an innardy, lamby aroma.  The meat bits were removed and the broth drained and reserved:

innardsdraining

The reserved broth was fragrant and had an appealing color not at all unlike the sauce in Chris’s mother’s famous chile verde:

innardsdrainedliquid

The meat and broth were allowed to cool somewhat.  Once cool enough to handle, the neck meat was removed from the bones and put back with the liver and hearts.  The bones were discarded:

lambneck

Once the meats and broth had cooled enough they were refrigerated to continue the next day.

The following day, the oats were spread out on a large baking sheet:

oatsonsheet

…and put in a 325 degree preheated oven to toast slowly.  Every five minutes or so they were stirred and redistributed to toast evenly.  After about 35 minutes they had picked up a nice, golden color:

oatstoasted

Here are some toasted and untoasted oats side-by-side for comparison:

oatscomparison

While the oats were toasting we prepared the marrow bones:

marrowbones

The marrow was extracted with a table knife, mostly in one solid plug when done correctly:

marrowscooping

We, unfortunately, performed this task mostly incorrectly.  The marrow chunks and shavings were collected in a bowl and the bones discarded:

marrowinbowl

The collected marrow (about 1/3 cup total) was added to the neck meat, hearts, and liver:

innardscookedtogether

Next we next set up the mixer’s meat grinding attachment and ground the marrow with the prior day’s livers, hearts, and neck meat:

meatgrinding

When the grinding was done we prepared the rest of the stuffing.  First, the onion, garlic, and spices were put into our largest mixing bowl:

stuffingonionsspices

Then, the meat was added:

stuffingmeat

Next it was the oats’ turn to join the fun:

stuffingoats

Everything was mixed with a spatula until thoroughly combined.  Care was taken to not mash the ground bits of meat and to keep the granules intact as much as possible.  After combining, some of the reserved liver, neck, and heart broth was added:

stuffingliverbroth

…and mixed gently until the stuffing had a moist but not runny consistency:

stuffingmoistened

In total, slightly less than one pint of broth was used.  The remaining liver, heart, and neck broth was discarded.  The stuffing was covered and refrigerated until we were ready to stuff the stomachs.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO PART 2

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