Sunday 22 January 2012

Haggis or Things To Do With An Inside Out Sheep

I love haggis.

People have a tendency to be a bit scathing about it - 'ugh, isn't that just all the bits that you're not supposed to eat?' and you get some funny looks from all your (weird) offal haters and all that.

And I guess they're kind of right - haggis is proper peasant food - made from, amongst other things, the sheep's "pluck" (which is his heart, lungs and liver) and a load of oatmeal, it is quite offally and cheap. It's not just bits of ears, gristle and anything, though, not by any means - it's a very specific set of innards.

It's also highly spiced, nutritious and delicious and something I honestly defy anyone to try it and dislike it.

And there's not much more impressive than a great steaming haggis. Any foodstuff which has its own address has to be something pretty noteworthy, I'd say.

Anyway, I've eaten quite a bit of haggis in my time, but never tried actually formulating one from scratch before, and was keen to give it a go, so the run up to this Burns night seemed like a pretty good time to experiment.

I basically used Tim Hayward's (helpfully photographed) method, published in the Guardian a few years ago, with a bit of my own spicing variation, so I'm not going to tell you the whole thing again, but here are some illustrative photographs.

Simmering the sheep's pluck - traditionally, you hang the windpipe over the edge of the pan to 'remove impurities'. Happily, my sheep had already had his removed, so I didn't have to get involved in this.
People had warned me that this stage would be utterly horrible and stink out the house. It wasn't and didn't. It was just like making stock or similar and smelled nice and meaty.

The lungs, after having simmered for a couple of hours, then rested in the cooking liquid overnight, ready for mincing.

Mincing the lungs. I evidently didn't do much biology at school, as I was kind of expecting them to be balloony and inflatable. They're not - they're just like a slightly spongier liver or similar, with added bits of what I vaguely recall are called bronchioles, the chunkier of which I endeavoured to remove.

The hacking of the heart. This was clearly not a very health conscious sheep - he had a LOT of fat around his heart. I chucked that in too. Obviously.

Minced heart and lungs - not bad knife skills, eh?

Pinhead oatmeal ready to toast in the oven.

The addition of the grated onions and liver, which I did in the food processor, for fear of also grating my fingers, which is never nice.

All mixed up.

And now with the addition of the suet, oatmeal and multitudinous seasonings. I went for a mix of dried herbs, including savory, and generous splodges of white pepper and allspice, which I'm pretty sure is what haggis usually tastes of. I guess you could use whatever you wanted though.

All mixed and ready to go. I sampled it at this point, to see what the seasoning was like (trying to ignore the suety bits and the scrunchy uncooked oatmeal). It was VERY spicy. Husband was a bit worried. That white pepper is hot stuff.

Rinsed and dried ox bung. Mr Hayward was absolutely right about the imagery here.

Stuffed bung. I had a good third of my mixture left over. I haven't yet been able to bring myself to throw it away. It's in a plastic bag in the freezer, hoping that I might buy more bung to stuff.

Simmering away.

The finished product. Not a great picture, but it honestly looked extremely convincing. Just like a proper Macsween's.

We ate it at a preliminary Burns Night.

I bought two large backup haggises in case it didn't work or tasted awful.

We didn't use them, so it can't have been too bad (if anyone wants any haggis-based meals in the next few weeks, you know where to come - there's a LOT).

In fact, it went down pretty well. The spicing mellowed with cooking (as expected) and it ended up tasting really quite close to the 'real thing'.

Husband thought that it might have been a bit less meaty tasting than your average bought haggis. I don't know whether that was down to the quality of my innards, the proportions or just the recipe - I wonder whether commercial products put in additional meat or meat extract or similar.

I was really pleased overall. I thought it tasted great and it turned out to be pretty straightforward to make.

I reckon, now that I've tried it once, I'd probably do it again...


  1. Okaaay... I know realise precisely why I buy my haggis from Waitrose. Bravo though, you're a braver woman than me!!!

  2. This reminds a bit of my university times when we learned how to cut a human heart so that you can diagnose what the poor fellow died of. I won't be making any haggis soon with this memory, but I love eating it. thanks for this educational post!