Delightful parcels of sheep innards on a stick!
It's that time of the year again. We've put up with the misery of having to eat turkey and potatoes and chocolate and candy throughout the winter holidays, but now we can finally breathe a sigh of relief and tuck into that one meal we wait all year for: haggis.
Yes, with Burns Night fast approaching you'll no doubt be wanting to boil up some delicious haggis for your loved ones. If you're a traditionalist, you'll obviously want to catch and cook your own wild haggis, but here I'll provide the complete recipe for making mini-haggises from scratch at home. Of course, you can also use this same recipe to make a full-sized adult haggis by changing the serving size in the last step.
So grab your offal, don your Tam O' Shanter and get ready to stuff yourself till a' your weel-swall'd kytes belyve* are bent like drums.
*Your well-swollen bellies, by and by.
Step 1: Ingredients
Here's what you'll need to make your haggisicles:
- The heart, lungs and liver of a sheep (also known as the sheep's pluck)
- 200g of suet (chilled lard or vegetable shortening will also work)
- 300g oats
- 2 onions (some people might argue with the authenticity of having vegetables inside a haggis, but no true Scotsman is afraid of a wee onion)
- 1 tbsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp dried crushed coriander seed
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp crushed black pepper
- 1 tbsp salt
- Sheep stomach to hold it all (see below).
I'm sure you'll be able to find all of these things at your local supermarket/butcher/abbatoir. If you're making a single haggis, a single stomach will suffice to hold all of the ingredients; just make sure it doesn't have any holes. If you're making haggis pops, you'll have an offal lot more surface area to cover so you'll need three or four stomachs.
- String / thread
- Ping pong ball or boiled egg for forming the haggis pop shapes
- Ribbon for decoration
- Little sticks for mounting the haggis pops on and brandishing in the faces of your foes
Step 2: Prepare the Stomach
First of all, you need to prepare your stomach. In many senses of the phrase. Get ready to make a mess.
You'll soon notice that the inside of a sheep's stomach is a bit dirty, covered with sticky tufts of partially digested grass. As the contents of digestive tracts go, this is actually reasonably edible. It's still something of an acquired taste, so you'll probably want to remove as much of it as possible. Scrape it off with a sharp knife, taking the inner layer of the stomach off with it. Be careful not to rip through the entire wall of the stomach.
Clean the stomach as thoroughly as possible, scald it in boiling water for a few minutes, then leave it in a pot of cold brine overnight.
Step 3: Ready the Pluck
Mmmm, pluck. This is one of the prettiest cuts of offal you're likely to come across. Take a moment to admire its beauty. If the lungs are intact, try inflating them by using a drinking straw to blow into the bronchi. I promise you it's worth it. By inflating and deflating the lungs, you'll really get an appreciation for the elegant fractal nature of these delicate structures.
Anyway, cut them up into tiny bits. Remove any large lumps of hard fat around the heart.
Step 4: A Note on Cartilage Tubes
While you're cutting up the lungs, try to remove the larger, tougher airways. These will become little bits of gristle if you leave them in the haggis.
Step 5: Boil It Up
Put the sliced pluck in a large pot of cold water. Don't worry about the lung floating to the surface - the chunks should be small enough that they'll still cook thoroughly.
Cover, bring to the boil and let simmer for about an hour. That may seem like a long time, but traditional haggis recipes call for the pluck to be boiled whole for several hours; by dicing it first we've shaved hours off the cooking time. However Scotland's relationship to the United Kingdom might change, never let it be said that Scotland and England don't share a proud culinary tradition of boiling everything into rubbery oblivion.
Drain the liquid from the cooked pluck, setting it aside to use as stock later. Rinse the pluck under cold water in a sieve.
Step 6: More Cutting and Mixing
Cut the pluck into even finer pieces, then mix it with the oats, suet and spices. Work these together with your hands as you gradually add stock back into the mixture. Keep adding stock until the mixture takes on a malleable, doughy consistency.
Step 7: Fill Your Stomach!
Now it's time to wrap up your meaty mixture inside a layer of stomach. If you're making a single haggis, stuff all of the mixture into one stomach and sew it up.
If you're making haggis pops, take a ping pong ball or a boiled egg and wrap a section of stomach lining tight around it. Tie a piece of string around it to mark off how much stomach you'll need, then cut the stomach a couple of inches below the string. Err on the side of too much stomach rather than too little.
Untie the string, remove the ball/egg and re-stuff the little parcel with the cooked offal/oat mixture. Squeeze the parcel shut again with one hand and re-tie the string with the other. Ask someone for help here, as this is rather tricky to do single-handedly. I ended up with a mouth full of slimy string and bits of stomach as I tried to tie the knots while holding the parcel together.
Make sure the string is tight and allow for some slippage around the knot. Be sure not to pack the parcels too full, or they'll burst as the oats swell.
Step 8: Raw Pops
At this point, if you're making haggis pops, you should have created a small pile of tiny raw haggises. You will probably be able to form nine or ten haggis pops from the lining of a single sheep stomach. Look at how the texture varies from pop to pop - that change in structure reflects the difference in function between the various chambers of the ruminant stomach. Neat, isn't it?
To finish cooking the haggis pops, boil them in water for another 90 minutes, or until the oats are fully swollen and you're happy with the squishiness of the stomach linings.
If you're cooking a single large haggis, let it simmer for three hours rather than 90 minutes.
Step 9: Gie Her a Haggis!
Drain and rinse your haggis pops, decorate them as you see fit and present them to your guests steaming hot. If possible, serve them up with a traditional peaty haggis wine, such as a Laphroaig or an Ardbeg.