Robert Burns Club of Milwaukee

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The Haggis

David M. and Susie M. Arnold

    What is a Haggis? [ Top ]

    The centerpiece of a Burns Supper is the Haggis, the Scots National Dish. It is traditionally served accompanied by Chappit Tatties (mashed potatoes) and Bashed Neeps (mashed turnip or rutabaga). The Haggis has been called a testament to the Scots' ability to make almost anything out of practically nothing. The traditional Haggis is a sort of paleolithic sausage suffed with a mixture of minced sheep offal, suet, oats and water, heavy on the spices.

    Sheep farming was important to the Scots (it still is). After the slaughter, the finer cuts of meat went to market and the Scots made Haggis with what was left over. The traditional Haggis recipe calls for the sheep's pluck (heart, lungs and liver) to be boiled, minced, and mixed with chopped onion, toasted oatmeal, and spices. This mixture was steamed in the sheep's paunch (stomach) as a casing.

    Robert Burns immortalized the Haggis with his mock heroic Address To A Haggis. To Burns, the Haggis represented the character of the Scots overcoming adversity. But, even without this poetic tribute, Haggis would have been an important element of Scottish culture. Today, the Haggis is still very much a part of the Scottish tradition and diet. During our stay in Scotland we had Haggis every morning as part of the hotel's breakfast buffet. Haggis, fresh, frozen, and canned is available in every grocery there. We wished we could bring it all home with us.

    Where Do I Get One? [ Top ]

    A true, traditional Haggis cannot legally be sold in the United States because the Food and Drug Administration has declared that products made with lung tissue are unfit for human consumption. This ruling probably derives from earlier in this century when tuberculosis was rampant on farms, and the fear was that TB would be contracted as a result of consuming improperly prepared, infected lung tissue.

    We have recently seen imported Haggis in a can at our local British import shop [sadly, now out of business.] The cans contain approx. 14oz of Haggis, enough for an intimate, private Burns Supper. We were a little surprised to see this item, and asked the shop's landlady how it came in past Customs. "Well," she said, "as long as it doesn't contain any beef..." Their shop does fulfill mail orders.

    For our January, 2000 home Burns Supper, we decided to forgo making the haggis and opened a tin of the imported stuff.

    Inside the can was a softball sized haggis formed in a clear plastic casing. We boiled the haggis and served it with our Burns Supper. We found the haggis to be quite tasty, with good consistency and a little mild on the spices. We would recommend it to someone looking for an easy way to serve this traditional Scots dish at a private or family Burns Supper.

    OK, Then, How Do I Make One? [ Top ]

    Our Club relies on a Club member to prepare the Haggis for our Burns suppers. We have held Haggis making seminars (If you have the guts for it, we have the stomach for it) in the past. Haggis is not difficult to prepare, but obtaining the proper ingredients can be a problem. A mixture of lamb or mutton with other variety meats will produce a Haggis that is very close to the Real Thing.

    By far, the biggest difficulty is in obtaining a sheep's stomach for use as the casing. You will probably have to locate a sheep farmer or a butcher specializing in lamb and mutton in order to obtain one. An alternative that may be satisfactory for a less formal, or private Burns Supper would be to make a Bowl Haggis: This is Haggis prepared without the traditional casing and steamed in a bowl. We make bowl Haggis for our private, home Burns Suppers. It tastes the same. Other alternatives worth trying are to ask a butcher or sausage maker for some of the largest sausage casing available -- the size used for salami or bologna might be suitable. Some British import shops have or can obtain pudding skins, which also might work.

    But, for a formal, public Burns supper only the Genuine Article will suffice, and the traditional stomach casing must be hunted down and obtained.

    Haggis has an undeserved reputation, probably because of all the scary things people have heard about it. Properly made Haggis is delightful, with a flavor reminiscent of liver and onions but with more spices. A good Haggis has a loose but dry consistency. The proper way to enjoy Haggis is to put a heap on your plate, then douse it with a dram of your favorite Whisky. Ours is Laphroaig.

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Page last updated 2-NOV-2000