In the 1986 film ‘Highlander’ the character Conor MacLeod (played by Christopher Lambert) has a bizarre conversation with Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (played by Sean Connery).
Ramirez: Haggis? What is haggis?
Connor MacLeod: Sheep’s stomach, stuffed with meat and barley.
Ramirez: And what do you do with it?
Connor MacLeod: You eat it.
Ramirez: How revolting!
This is one of those occasions when discretion over the contents of food is probably the safer option, few of us would ever eat a pork sausage if we stopped to consider that the only part of the pig isn’t processed for food is the oink!
Haggis is a Scottish ‘delicacy’ described by the Scottish poet Robert Burns as ‘great chieftain of the pudding race’. It is, as Conor MacLeod observes, traditionally made using the heart and lungs of either a pig or a lamb, minced and mixed with oatmeal, onion and spices and then stuffed into a sheep’s stomach. Although these days most are wrapped in more modern materials like some form of plastic.
While the ingredients of Haggis sound alarming, the final result, which is an effective way of utilising meat products that would otherwise be wasted. It’s often spicy and peppery and forms an important part of the ‘Full Scottish Breakfast’.
Haggis is widely available these days in supermarkets around Britain, and even by mail order, but if you can’t find readymade Haggis, or want the authentic Haggis experience, the basic recipe follows.
First you’ll need to find a butcher who can supply sheep’s heart, lungs, stomach and liver. The sheep’s stomach can be tricky, but beef bung (intestine) is more widely available and often used instead of sheep’s stomach.
Set of sheep’s heart, lungs and liver (cleaned by a butcher)
One beef bung or sheep’s stomach.
3 cups finely chopped suet
One cup medium ground oatmeal
Two medium onions, finely chopped
One cup beef stock
Salt and pepper
One teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon mace
Trim off any excess fat and sinew from the intestine and, if present, discard the windpipe. Place in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or possibly longer to ensure that they are tender. Drain and cool.
Some chefs toast the oatmeal in an oven until it is thoroughly dried out (but not browned or burnt!)
Finely chop the meat and combine in a large bowl with the suet, oatmeal, finely chopped onions, beef stock, salt, pepper, nutmeg and mace. Make sure the ingredients are mixed well. Stuff the meat and spices mixture into the intestine until it’s just over half full. Then press to expel any air and tie the open ends tightly with string. Make sure that you leave room for the mixture to expand or else it may burst while cooking. If that looks likely then prick the haggis with a sharp needle to reduce the pressure.
Place in a pot and cover with water; bring to the boil then immediately reduce the heat and simmer gently, covered, for about three hours.
Maybe it’s easier to buy one ready made!
Traditionally the haggis is served with ‘Neeps and Tatties’ – that is turnips and mashed potatoes; and if you want to really make your haggis special, pour a large measure of scotch whisky into the haggis after it’s been cut open.