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!)
Part Two, along with the verdict as to whether this is a worthy “Chieftan,” will have to wait till after dinner – I need a nap!
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.