Haggis

haggis.jpg

 

Haggis is the original "boil in bag" dinner, first served on Scottish farms and on the hunt in order to use up the most perishable meats from harvested animals.  It is an ancient dish, and is the national dish of Scotland, served around the world for Burns Night dinners, complete with bagpipes, poetry, and single-malt whisky toasts.  It is traditionally made with organ meats from sheep, although can authentically be made using organ meat from any animal that can be harvested in Scotland (lamb, beef, veal, red deer/elk, even pork).

Relatively few people ever have an opportunity to try haggis, and those few who do are often squeamish about it... until they try their first bite.  It has an incredible, rich, nutty flavor, with a silky mouth feel that can't be duplicated.  Haggis has been described as "monumental food", and I wholeheartedly agree.  There is nothing else like it.

Here in the United States, the ingredients for a traditional haggis are all but impossible to source, and so haggis is generally made with the heart, liver and kidneys from lamb or beef.  This haggis recipe uses lamb organ meat from our neighbors at Bottari Family Creamery, and tallow made from Kennedy Ranch beef.  Since there are *very* few ingredients in haggis, quality really matters.  If you'd prefer a milder flavored haggis, substitute beef heart/liver/kidney for the lamb.

Sourcing ingredients is, far and away, the most difficult part of making haggis.  In addition to sourcing lamb or beef organ meat, you'll also need to source the "bag" it's boiled in.  In the United States, it is illegal to sell sheep's rumen, the casing traditionally used in Scotland.  There are some great alternatives, though, that are easy enough to find.

If you plan ahead, you can buy natural sausage casing from Sausagemaker.com.  You're looking for beef bung, which will allow you to make a haggis about 4.5" in diameter.  If, however, you don't plan ahead, or are not piping the haggis in at a Burns Dinner, or don't feel like fussing with beef bung, you can make it in a regular oven bag from the grocery store.  It won't look the same on a platter but the flavor will be just as good.

This haggis uses garden herbs, rather than the nutmeg and mace you sometimes find.  I figured that a Scottish farm wife was more likely to have herbs on hand than spices off of a ship.  It was a good call.

This takes a few hours to make so start in the morning, but most of the time is stuff boiling or cooling on the stovetop, you won't be actively cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 lbs lamb organ meat (kidney, heart, liver, NOT tongue)
  • 1 lb ground lamb (if needed)
  • 1 lb steel cut oats*
  • 1 lb beef tallow, or 1 lb frozen suet**
  • 2 onions, cut into small dice
  • 2 T chicken schmaltz or butter
  • 1 T salt
  • 2 t black pepper
  • 2 t dried parsley
  • 2 t dried thyme
  • 2 t dried rosemary
  • 2 t dried sage
  • 1 beef bung or oven bag
  • Butchers twine

Method:

Rinse the organ meats thoroughly.  With a sharp knife, remove all of the silver skin and inedible bits and cut into 1" chunks.  If you've not cleaned lamb heart, liver or kidney before, there are plenty of good how-to videos on YouTube.*** 

Weigh the prepared organ meats.  You want 3-4 lbs of meat total.  If you're short, add ground lamb to make up the difference.

Bring water to boil in a 4-6 quart stock pot.  Add the meat and return to a boil.  With a slotted spoon, remove the scum that forms on the surface (relax, ALL lamb does this!)  Once the scum stops forming, reduce heat and simmer for about an hour, or until the lamb is cooked through.  Turn off the heat and let the lamb sit in the stock until it cools completely.

While the lamb is cooling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, spread the oatmeal on a rimmed cookie sheet, and bake until it is fragrant, stirring occasionally.  Don't let it get too brown, just a tiny bit toasty.

Sautee the onions in the schmaltz/butter until they are translucent, but not brown.

Prep the beef bung according to directions (if using).

Start a large stock pot of water heating, at least 12 quarts, bigger if you have it.  Bring it to a nice simmer.

Once the lamb is completely cooled, remove it from the stock (save the stock) and mince it fine.  You can mince it using a sharp chef's knife or gently pulsed food processor.  DO NOT over process, you're looking for a fine gravelly texture.

Grate the frozen suet.  If you're using tallow, gently melt it in the microwave.  You don't want it hot, just liquid.

In a large bowl, mix the meat, oatmeal, herbs, suet/tallow, salt and pepper, until all is thoroughly mixed.  This is easiest with your hands. Add enough of the broth to the mixture to make it softly malleable, like cooked steel-cut oats.  You want it to gently heap on a spoon.  Stuff the mixture into the beef bung or oven bag, until the bag/bung are about 2/3 full.  Be sure and leave the extra space.  Press out as much air as you can, and tie the package closed with the butcher's twine. 

Drop the haggis into the simmering water. Check as it's cooking, and poke a couple of small air holes with a toothpick if needed to vent steam.

Simmer for a couple of hours or so, until the haggis reaches an internal temperature of at least 165-degrees.  Remove from the water and pat dry.

To serve, cut open the bag/bung with a sharp knife, and scoop the meat mixture out from the casing.

 

*NOTE:  Do NOT think that you can substitute rolled oats for steel cut oats, or even "instant" steel cut oats for regular ones.  You'll ruin your haggis if you try it.  When in doubt, get McCann's Irish Steel Cut Oats in the can.  Look on the side - if it doesn't take at least a half hour to cook, then you have the wrong package of oats.

** Here is a great write-up on prepping and using beef suet, and here is a great write-up on prepping and using tallow.  Tallow is easily enough collected from making beef bone broth and other beef cooking projects.

*** Lamb and beef organ meats are prepped differently, so if you're using beef look for beef videos.  This is the best video I've seen on cleaning beef heart.  

 


Haggis is traditionally served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed turnips (neeps).  I like to serve my neeps and tatties as roasted root vegetables, and serve the haggis, neeps and tatties with leeks sauteed in chicken schmaltz.  Scotch broth or cullen skink complete the meal.

Haggis makes fantastic leftovers.  Scramble it with eggs, mix it up with fried potatoes, throw it in a tortilla with some melted cheese and lettuce, bake it with a leftover mashed potato crust and some veggies for a shepherd's pie.  It also freezes well, so you can set some aside in Tupperware freezer portions for enjoyment in a month or two.

In case you're wondering, here's the original Scots and the English translation of the Robert Burns poem, "Address To A Haggis."  Slainte!