I have never been to Scotland. I am 1/4 Scottish on my father’s father’s side. My ancestors hail from Lanarkshire (which I’m told is “LAN-erk-shur” not “La-NARK-shur”), with surnames like Forsythe and Ferguson. I like a good single malt whiskey, but I’m no snob about it. I am culinary-curious and adventurous about trying “odd” foods, so long as I’m reasonably sure they can’t actually kill me. I’ve cooked tripe, and balut, but I draw the line at casu marzu, brain matter (because prions), and anything that’s endangered or still breathing when it’s plated.
For the last several years, I’ve meant to celebrate Burns Night. What self-respecting poet, descended of proud Scots, could resist? All I really know about it is that it involves haggis, bagpipes, and poetry. I’m all in.
Just one small problem: I have never tried haggis, let alone cooked it.
I have never made sausage, never touched a “casing.” I remember my parents using an antique sausage stuffer to make potatis korv, I think I announced, then, as a young child, that I had no intention, ever, of doing that. I didn’t even stick around to watch. I don’t know what’s become of that machine, but I could have used it this morning. Still, I don’t imagine the early makers of haggis had a crank-operated sausage stuffer in the field, so – wienies. Stuff those casings by hand. If I can manage it, so can you.
Back when I had my tripely adventures, my husband wisely had a “back up pizza” on hand, and ceremoniously brought it round from the living room as I served up the two-day concoction of tripe and dumplings in white wine that only my father-in-law thought was worth a second helping. I doubt he loved the dish, but he disliked waste. My husband and I had one, simple pre-nup when we got married, 35 years ago: Neither of us could ever cook and serve anything involving liver and expect the other to eat it. Well, you can’t make a proper haggis without liver, but he’s free to fend for himself. It’s Burns Night, after all.
Recipe for a Sassenach Haggis
Finding real haggis, or the ingredients to make an authentic haggis is all but impossible in the U.S.A., thanks to a ban on commercial sales of sheep’s lungs, coupled with Americans’ general squeamishness when it comes to offal. It’s a bit like a meat-themed scavenger hunt, and if you don’t know of a good butcher – if you’re stuck with chain grocery stores – you may have to improvise. I’ve improvised, altering the recipe I found at Chowhound to suit what I was able to find. Now, you wouldn’t expect the Tripe Marketing Board, Regional Director, US South East to skimp on the offal, so logically assuming that sweetbreads – which I’ve never tasted, nor cooked – would be a reasonable substitute for lungs, and chicken livers a reasonable substitute for lamb’s liver (not!), and beef heart a reasonable substitute for lamb’s heart (who knows?!), I assembled the following:
- Pig bung (2-3) – found at Hong Kong Market in Houston, or if the idea grosses you out too much and you plan ahead a little, you might try these:
Do note that the natural pig bung is only about $3 from Hong Kong Market, and you just cook in it – you don’t eat it.
- 1/2 lb steel-cut oats – easy to find at any chain grocery store
- 4 tbsp butter – if you can’t find butter, stop by the ophthalmologist’s office, first
- 1 large red onion, chopped – see “butter”
- 1.5 lbs ground lamb – most chain grocery stores carry this, thanks to the Paleo craze
- 1 lb sweetbreads (parboiled and picked clean of membranes) – found at H.E.B. in Houston (good luck)
- 1 beef heart (boiled and trimmed of fat) – found at H.E.B. in Houston
- 1.5 lb chicken liver – a staple of chain grocery stores everywhere
- 1 tbsp allspice – spice aisle, any grocery store
- 2.5 tbsp salt – see “butter”
- 1/2 tbsp ground white pepper – found at Hong Kong Market in Houston
- 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper – ours is from Costco, but this isn’t hard to find, is it?
- 1 tbsp mustard powder – I splurged on a nice tin of Coleman’s, but you don’t have to
- 1/2 tbsp dried thyme – spice aisle, any grocery store
- 1 lb lard (suet would be better, if available) – I could not find suet anywhere, and reasoned that the birdseed aisle at Ace Hardware was not the place; found “beef tallow” at Kroger’s, and that’s what I’v used here
- 1 cup beer – splurge on something Scottish, just for the hell of it. I found a nice “ale matured in whiskey casks” and probably should’ve just drunk it straight and used the cheap beer in the haggis, but there you have it.
Beginning the day before:
Rinse the pig bung thoroughly, inside and out. Soak in salt water, in the refrigerator, overnight. Rinse again in the morning, and soak some more for good measure.
On Day Two (Burns Night!):
- Rinse and soak the sweetbreads for about an hour.
- Toast the oats on a cookie sheet at 350º for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Simmer the beef heart until tender, about an hour. Cut into chunks and let cool.
Looking at the raw heart, this morning, it occurred to me where “plucking my heartstrings” comes from. Those stringy bits look like a musical instrument. Sort of. Okay, moving right long…
- Parboil and pick membranes from the sweetbreads. Let cool. It was around this step that I began inventing nasty nicknames for things like a proud Scot. Sweetbreads became, “ya membranous gobshite.” But I’ll admit, it made me a little nostalgic for 10th grade Biology class.
- Saute chopped onion in butter until translucent, and allow to cool.
- Mix the spices, onion, meat and offal, oats and lard in a large (2 gallon) ZipLock bag. Put in the freezer until quite cold (even stiff) but not frozen (about an hour).
- Pulse, using the food chopping blade, in a large food processor. Do this in small batches, leaving a few chunks.
- In a large, glass bowl, stir the meat mixture together with the beer. (Given how little of this is authentic, I looked for a good Scottish ale matured in a whiskey cask.)
It’s probably sacrilege to mix this into a haggis, but I wanted my first try at making haggis to be memorable. And hopefully not too awful.
- Using strong string, tie shut the small end of the bung. Most recipes say to “sew it shut,” but my sewing skills are poor and tying it tightly seems to work. We’ll find out!
- Stuff each bung bag with the meat mixture. Squeeze out all the air, but do not overfill, as the contents will expand. Tie (or sew) each bag shut. Hell, embroider it, if you’re feeling creative. Or have a shot of Scotch and move along.
- Place one or two haggises into a slow cooker, allowing enough room to cover with water. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 6-7. (Update: one of these burst after 3.5 hours on high; it’s thoroughly cooked, I think, and it’s actually quite tasty!)
I have no idea whether this will be edible, or – assuming it is edible, whether it will bear even a passing resemblance to a sonsie-faced haggis. I hope to find out – for curiosity and comparison – one of these days. Meanwhile, my husband is planning a vegan dinner, but cheering me on in my ridiculous little project. Even he admits that it’s starting to smell pretty good. I’m guessing that’s the oats.
Address to a Haggis (Robert Burns)
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s me arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.
Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind yer care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!
Ode to a Sassenach Haggis (Holly Jahangiri)
A stranger in a stranger land,
Formed by an inexpert hand,
Ale in whiskey, oats toasted sand;
Beef heart, fresh ground lamb – never canned –
Slowly simmer, e’er expanding
Savory, spicy scent’s outstanding!
Unassuming, ne’er demanding
But then – you burst!
Glistening innards, outwards landing
Och! Naughty wurst.
White chappit tatties, golden neeps
Grace the platter in steaming heaps –
(“Rutabaga?!” My dad, he weeps.)
Pepper, sea salt!
Warm, coursing through my veins, there seeps –
A single malt.
Thus fortified, I stab the thing!
Bagpipes? Poems? Imagining,
What will this foreign Burns Night bring?
A taste, a smile –
Dish fit for hunter, bard, or king.
Did you notice that my Scotch glasses are proper Scotch glasses, what with gold unicorns and all?
In all seriousness, it turned out imminently edible. For my Texas and Louisiana friends, think “Scottish Boudin,” and substitute oats for rice. I posted a hint, earlier, on Instagram of what I was up to, and forgot that the image was of a bottle of good Scottish ale.https://www.instagram.com/p/B7wR1-bJiYO
When my friends Allen and Zerrick at Brown Bag BBQ asked me to bring them some, I assumed they meant the haggis!
How could I refuse? I wrapped some up in foil (the haggis, not the ale – since the ale was already in the haggis!) and drove it around the corner, where I traded it in for some brisket for J.J. so he could enjoy a hearty dinner with me. My husband and I have a pre-nup: neither of us will ever cook liver and expect the other to eat it or a meal! He did try it, I’ll give him that – he’d even eat it, willingly, if he were hungry. That’s as high as the praise will go, for anything with offal in it!
The Offal-ficial Verdict?
I gave some to my coworker – the one who taught me how to properly pronounce “Lankarkshire,” – and he (not being a huge fan of ol’ sonsie faced haggis) shared with his wife and their two children. Although the casing split in the slow-cooker, making it a bit “more moist than usual,” I’m told that the taste is authentic and it was a “good effort for a complex dish.” The family ate it all up, along with the pizza I presume was their “backup plan,” and that’s good enough for me!