My Haggis Adventures for a Belated Burns Night

Our oh so very daring Daring Cooks' challenge this month was to make Haggis.  Yes, this had to be from a Scots person, and so it was, Ruth of Cakey-Makey.  And, being at least half Scotch myself, it was something I had always harbored way in the back of my mind.  Like what is this strange ancestral food?

Here you can see our clan tartan.

True haggis calls for using the "pluck", of a sheep or lamb, which should include the heart, the lights (aka the lungs), the liver and the stomach, which is the casing for it all.    Really dears, we're just making a large sausage. 

Not too hard to make if you happen to know of or can find anyone butchering a sheep or lamb.  Usually they do not want the innards  and will possibly off load it to you upon request.  Or, at least as in my case, the friendly meat specialty person at your regular grocery might help to secure one.  He had just purchased a whole lamb, and when I asked, called the grower to see if he could get the pluck as well, which had not been included.  

Well, when I got the bag of innards de-frosted, and a good look taken, there was some lamb's skin, some cleaned intestines, heart, and liver, but no stomach or lungs.  Great, it was back to sourcing.

Just for those of you interested in Scottish tradition, and food lore in general, I am giein' forth the real thing recipe here.  It seems to be one of the less complicated methods around as well.  Further. you might enjoy, as I did, the Guardian's pictorial by Tim Hayward, a step-by-step guide to making Haggis at home, with background info.  I incorporated a few of their additions to the following recipe, i.e. rosemary, sage, thyme (could use even more of that), and beef suet for extra flavor and texture.

Lady Login's Traditional Haggis (1856)
                 (With my notes, additions in brackets)

1 cleaned sheep or lamb's paunch (stomach)
1 lb (450g) dry oats (should be pinhead or steel-cut)
1 Lamb's liver
1 lamb's heart
1 lamb's lights (lungs)
1 large finely chopped onion
(1/2 cup beef suet)
½ teaspoon each: cayenne pepper, ground allspice,
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon pepper
(1 tablespoon each of, rosemary, sage, thyme, or parsley)
1/2 pint stock

Cook the liver, heart (trimmed) and lights in salted water to cover and cook for about 1½ hours. (Leave to cool overnight in the stock).  Strain, but reserve the broth, and chop the meats up finely, or mince.

See that the paunch is well cleaned, then soak it in salt and cold water overnight as well.  Take out and let it dry. (I used cheesecloth, lined with tripe on sides and bottom, as was not successful in procuring a sheep's stomach, but you might also use ox bung.)

 Put the oats on a baking tray in a low oven and let it dry out and crisp up a little.  (I did 10 min. at 350F)
Mix all ingredients (except the paunch) together and season well. Then add the stock. Put into the cleaned paunch (fill to about half) and sew up loosely, but securely. (or tie off with butcher's string)

Have ready a large pot of boiling water mixed with the rest of the liver stock, prick the haggis all over with a small knitting needle to prevent bursting, then cook in the water and stock, at a slow simmer uncovered, but keep up water level, for about three hours. Serves about sixteen.

Since my stomach search narrowly missed two, I went with cheesecloth, as recommended by a local chef, who also suggested tripe, so lined the bottom and sides of my cheesecloth with that, then filled with the haggis mixture, tied it up with string, and proceeded as above.

Uploaded onto a plate, and garnished with parsley, it doesn't present too badly. 

As Tim Hayward says after making it:

"I've never been to a Burns Night dinner so I've never had the full experience of the piped in pudding, the declaiming, the toasts, but having cooked a full-sized battle haggis I'm beginning to understand it. This is a genuinely monumental piece of food. There's something about the steaming, bulging shape of it, the astonishingly welcoming smell that could easily inspire ritual and poetry in a nation less emotionally constipated than the English. And the taste…. oh the taste. I can't remember ever eating anything quite so rich. The grains absorb the fats and flavors, the powerful aromas of the meat are dispersed throughout; the velvet liver is offset by a slight nutty texture - it's a comprehensive and completely astonishing sensory assault. With the combination of fat richness and slight livery aftertaste I found myself thinking of foie gras - but more fun.
Am I converted? Absolutely. I was led astray by cheap ersatz haggis, by fear of guts and generations of bad jokes but now I see the light. I'm completely sold on haggis ... so string me up."

Don't know that I would go so far, but did enjoy me giant haggis experience, and no one could now accuse me of being a Sassenach.

Served it up with the traditional mashed tatties (potatoes) and neeps (turnips) alongside steamed kale.  To make your Burns Night complete, have whisky for toasts whilst someone reads aloud:

Address to a Haggis
            by Robert Burns             

 Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my 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 slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

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;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody 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 make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your 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.

There was a tremendous amount of it, so I made up some sausage patties for breakfast with eggs, and will be bringing some to a party for everyone there to have the experience.  Actually the whole amount could be made into patties and frozen in separate zip lock bags.

 Thanks for the truly challenging challenge Ruth!


Lamb in Pomegranate-Cardamom Sauce

Our latest project at Cook the Books Club was Funny in Farsi, A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, by Firoozeh Dumas.  It was indeed funny, lively and insightful as well. 

Moving to America at the age of 7, back in 1972, and popped right into public school, was an eye-opening experience for a small girl, especially for one who did not speak English.   What she remembers from that first day - "The bathrooms were clean and the people were very, very kind."  But you have to read the whole story to appreciate.

Dumas sprinkles mentions of delicious sounding Persian foods throughout her memoir, and I was tempted by many.  However the lamb roast in my freezer did the final selection.  That and my copy of an earlier Cook the Books Club selection: The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley.  The section on Iran to be exact, with a fabulous sounding recipe for Lamb in a Pomegranate-Cardamom Sauce (Fesenjan).  Oh boy.  That sounded like something I'd like to try.