Ah, haggis, signature Scottish foodstuff, official main player of a Burns Night Dinner and noshing nightmare of millions. Lets be honest, locals aside, most of us don’t want to eat haggis for the first time. Why? Because we know what is in it!
Yes your traditional haggis is a mix of sheep innards (heart, liver, lungs) mixed up with oats and suet and other tasty savouries then stuffed into a sheep’s stomach before being boiled for a very long time. Yummo!
It’s not a menu friendly description is it? If you’re a haggis virgin I’d bet good money that you’re not salivating at the possibility of stuffing that little lot down. And I felt exactly the same way. I really enjoy lamb and mutton. I’m also a big fan of liver and the first to get stuck into sorting out the turkey giblets for some proper gravy stock every Christmas. I’m not squeamish, I love food and this stuff has been eaten for hundreds of years, but still the thought of it, well, squeam.
I wonder if it’s the stomach bit that does it, the heart and lungs, it’s just a bit of an icky idea. Somehow we’d all feel much more comfortable chowing down on a more traditional cut of a cute little highland mammal, with long back legs to help it run away from predators up the highland mountains. Don’t laugh- 30% of American tourists believe this to be the natural state of a haggis!
But it’s not this coiffured little beastie at all. It is innards, wrapped up in innards, and despite my natural misgivings I was determined to sample some on a recent trip to Scotland. No self respecting foodie should turn down a taste of something new, right? Hmmm. My first opportunity arose in a chippy in Grantown on Spey in the form of a Haggis Supper- £4.50. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, ‘supper’ above Hadrian’s wall translates to ‘And Chips’. I managed to talk myself out of it fairly quickly in favour of a pastrami sandwich from the co-op and based on the grease swathed, oversalted lunch my friend got from the aforementioned establishment, I’m glad that I did. Next chance- a haggis and chicken pate starter the next day in Boat of Garten. No, no that’s not proper haggis so I was off the hook on that occasion also. But on our last day in a fine little eatery in Mallaig there was a diverse menu of lunchtime treats. Fresh fish, crispy chips, soup of the day, a jacket potato. I’ll take the haggis, thanks. Dear God, what have I done?
Traditionally served, haggis comes boiled with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) and some form of whiskey sauce. The proprietors here took to serving it hot (if I have to guess, griddled) with some thick oatcakes and, er, a salad.
So here we are then. I gathered my thoughts, ignored the wafting aroma of my co-diner’s fish supper, and I cut myself off an unenthusiastic taster. I can say only one thing. It’s bloody lovely. Hearty and fabulously savoury, it’s something akin to a very light black pudding or even a coarse luxury pate. It was delicious, moreish and easily smooshed over an oatcake. There is no mistaking the ferric tang of liver in there but what could be an overpowering richness is nicely balanced with the oats and suet (don’t even think about working it out, calorie counters) and the almost nutty texture sends away any nasty thoughts of the constituent parts. I have to say I think this particular specimen may have had a standard sausage skin casing, but I don’t know for sure and I wouldn’t hold this against it. It’s fantastic, I can’t say enough nice things about it, and I will be straight down to the butchers come Burn’s night when I may have some vague hope in hell of getting hold of some here in sunny Essex.
So are you going to eat haggis? It’s on the high side for fat and depending on the manufacturer the salt levels aren’t ideal either, but this doesn’t need to be an issue unless you intend to eat it fried in lard with a pint of whiskey for every meal. With so many recipes around it’s hard to predict nutrition levels at all but I’m sure there are much more devilish options around which are nowhere near as tasty nor as filling. Yes filling, it is worthy of note that I couldn’t finish my dinner that night. This happens less frequently than a visible passing of Hayley’s Comet, let me tell you.