As Burns’ Night comes round again, the wheels of the Haggis industry turn fast and furious. Orders at home and from around the world need to be met. Burns Suppers are held from Bergen to Sau Paulo and the ‘ great chieftan o’ the puddin’ race’ is after all the most important guest.Where normally the mere mention of offal rings fear into the hearts of all but the most stalwart foodies, we take pride in our national dish. And not just us. Many of the food cultures we most admire, use the ‘nasty bits’in their most delicious dishes. Tripe, sweetbreads, heart and trotters feature large in France, Italy and Spain.
Fergus Henderson is the chef proprietor of the immensely popular St John restaurants in London. His motto is ‘from nose to tail’, which means that you are likely to be eating innards, ears or feet. He describes being disheartened at the consumer desire for pink meat in plastic packaging. And he believes we should be proud of our haggis as with all of our puddings. White, red and black.
One of Henderson’s favourite butchers is Joe Findlay, the redoubtable ‘food hero’ from Rick Stein’s television series. From his butcher’s shop in Portobello, Joe sells haggis to customers across the planet, from the Philippines to Berlin. And the two men raised the problem of getting hold of the sheep stomach. A combination of hygiene regulations and the cost of removing and cleaning them became prohibitive. It transpires that Findlay now uses ox intestines which do exactly the same job.
When I met him he gave me some ideas about making haggis at home. Even the most competent and adventurous cooks visit their local butcher or dive to the supermarket shelves for one of the named brands. But for Scotland’s national dish, Joe agrees with Henderson that every self-respecting cook should really have a go. Even if it’s only to appreciate it the more.
He isn’t going to impart his recipe, passed down for generations. But for him, it’s the special spices that make the difference. He thinks the rest speaks for itself. And he’ll be happy enough to supply what you need to make your own haggis. Because in the end, he thinks you’ll come back, for his.
The earliest Scottish recipes were printed in the early 15th century. Since then recipes hardly differ, including that which Henderson published in his first book, Nose to Tail Eating. There is one caution. Start with a well ventilated kitchen. The cooking smells can become a little musty for your hermetically sealed, open plan, city apartment.
Next you’ll need get hold of the lambs ‘lights’. This comprises the heart, lungs and liver. These will have been completely cleaned before leaving the abbatoir. Ask for the windpipe to be removed. You’ll need two lots of lights for a haggis to serve six people. Add to the shopping list a length of ox intestine, some suet, pinhead oatmeal, onions and spices. Then the fun starts.
In a large pan of salted water, simmer the offal for a couple of hours. While that’s happening you’ll want to toast up the oatmeal and fry the onions in butter. Then decide what spices you want to use. Allspice is the standard but you could do anything. Mix and mince rough the cooked meat, oatmeal, onions, suetyou’re your seasonings. Add a little stock for the right consistency.
Now take the intestine and a bit like mending a stocking, roll it over your hand and arm. Stuff it carefully with your mixture, tying it at both ends, leaving plenty of room for the oats to expand. Henderson recommends covering this ‘little orb of joy’ in tinfoil. Cook for 3 hours in water and serve with the requisite accompaniments and ceremony. If you have got this far, then be justly proud of your self-sufficiency. Wha’s like us?Articles, Cooking Fergus Henderson, Findlays of Portobello, haggis