If you are an intrepid traveler visiting Scotland, you will surely want to taste their famous national dish – Haggis. Apparently, lots of local folklore surrounds the Scottish dish. According to one story, haggis was a small rabbit-like animal that roamed the hillsides where the sheep grazed. Unfortunately, it became the favorite hunt for shepherds and farmers who found the poached haggis heavenly – it filled their stomachs easily and kept them warm while tending their flock in the harsh highland weather. The poor animal was probably so popular that it was hunted to extinction.
The more contemporary story is about the economical habits of the Scots that gave birth to the famed haggis. The Scots do not believe in wasting or throwing away anything. Apparently, the haggis was born as a butcher-shop breakfast prepared and cooked by the butcher’s wife most of the night and early morning. The butcher and his boys needed a hearty meal every morning to keep warm and to prepare for the hard work that awaited them. She could only start with the cuts and bits that were left unsold. The ingredients of haggis may turn a few stomachs, but I assure you the final results are certainly not unpleasant. Interestingly though, its recipe requires that the stomach does get turned inside out and washed thoroughly, the sheep’s stomach that is.
1 sheep’s stomach thoroughly washed turned inside out and soaked overnight in salt water
Heart, lungs and liver of one lamb
About 1 lb of suet, lamb trimming or other fatty offal
2 large onions finely chopped
8 oz. of oatmeal
Salt, ground black pepper
1 tsp each of ground dried coriander, mace, nutmeg
Sufficient water to cook
Stock from lungs and trimmings
Wash the lungs, heart and liver. Place in a large pan of cold water with the meat trimmings and suet and cook for 2 hours. When cooked, strain off the liquid and set aside. Mince the lungs, heart and liver. Put the minced mixture in a bowl, add the finely chopped onion, oatmeal and seasoning. Mix well and add enough stock to keep it moist. It should have a soft crumbly consistency. Then spoon the mixture into the sheep’s stomach so it’s just about half full. Sew up the stomach with strong thread. It’s a good idea to prick a few holes on the stomach to keep it from exploding and redecorating your kitchen ceiling! Put the haggis stomach in a large pan of boiling water and cook for at least 3 hours without a lid. Keep adding water if the pan dries up. Now the haggis should be ready. To serve, cut open the haggis, spoon out the filling. Serve with Neeps (mashed turnip) and Tatties (runny mashed potatoes). Voila, you have the Scottish dream.
It is a simple, nutritious, and very inexpensive meal really, and not bad tasting. But it’s Scottish poets like Robert Burns who made haggis into a national phenomenon. Robbie Burns Day is enthusiastically celebrated in most parts of Scotland with haggis brought to the table with great fanfare, accompanied by bagpipers. Goes down rather well with the ‘wee dram!’ Aye.
Feature photo courtesy of Biology Big Brother/Creative Commons
Haggis, Neeps and Tatties photo courtesy of Habib Sattar