At the Burns’ Night celebrations a traditional Scottish dish of haggis, neeps and tatties is usually served. Translation: Scottish oat sausage with mashed potatoes and turnips (or swede, or carrots).
Scottish or not?
What a disgrace! The nasty English now claim that haggis, this essence of Scottishness, originated in England! Apparently, there are English references to the food as old as 17th century, king Richard II’s reign.
Slander and calumny. Whatever next? Bagpipes an Anglo-Saxon invention and tartan native to Hampshire? And maybe East Anglia will lay a claim to having first distilling whisky. I am indignant and outraged.
It might be that this
‘Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!’
indeed became associated with Scotland through Robert Burns but how aptly! The
(Scots), whose tread
‘The trembling earth resounds’
are much more likely to appreciate
‘Painch, tripe, or thairm: […] As lang's my arm.’
It’s not for the likes of those who choose
‘his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,’
I should probably now stop torturing Burns and his famous poem and tackle the food itself.
So what IS haggis?
If you’re one of the lily-livered meat eaters who shudder over venison and won’t touch rabbit or other Disney animals, the less you know the better.
Haggis is the Scottish (yes, Scottish) way of eating an animal nose to tail, thus giving it full respect.
It contains minced lamb lungs, liver and heart (the trio is called ‘pluck’), seasoned with black pepper and nutmeg, bulked out with oats and stuffed into ox bung: the end piece of ox intestine.
It tastes like porridge with a meatball mashed in.
Neeps and tatties
It is usually available from butchers and some supermarkets around the Burns’ Night, Robert Burns’ birthday. As it became obvious earlier, the poet was a huge fan of the sausage so that’s what’s prepared for Burns’ supper. To be precise: haggis, neeps and tatties.
Tatties are obvious, at least to the English north of Watford Gap: potatoes.
Neeps are turnips, but confusingly enough swede is actually used more often (and still called neeps), probably as it is not quite as tough as turnip.
Both ingredients cooked, mashed and buttered, together with the haggis are supposed to be the perfect, wholesome, Scottish meal.
And guess what – they are.
My recipe takes a liberty of replacing swede with carrot. But I figured that it’s permitted: since neeps are not really turnips but swedes, I’m only taking it one little step further, right?
How to cook haggis?
The casing that haggis comes in, the ox bung, is inedible but it serves the purpose of keeping the meat inside moist and cooking evenly. Do not pierce it, haggis won’t explode unless microwaved (but who on earth would?).
It shouldn’t be boiled in lots of water though, but rather cooked gently in a water bath, on the hob or in the oven, additionally wrapped in foil.
It will take 45 minutes per pound of weight and the water bath should be made with boiling water to start with.
After it emerges from the oven/pot and foil, you should carefully cut the casing off, though a true Scot would
‘His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;'
I don’t recommend that, even if you were born in Edinburgh.
Putting the supper together
My recipe is as straightforward as it can be, thus allowing time and attention to be given to some whisky.
The tatties are baked in the oven, going in just about at the same time as a two-pound haggis.
Carrots are cooked on the hob till tender, then roughly mashed with butter and kept warm.
And the assembly is simple: a mound of carrots, potato scooped out of the skin and as generous a slice of haggis as you like. Slàinte Mhath!
More Scottish recipes
Wholemeal Scottish morning rolls with ale and honey, perfect rolls for breakfast. These Scottish morning rolls prove overnight and the long fermentation gives them good flavour.
Healthy oatcakes, and the best are homemade. These oatcakes are gluten-free and low in sugar. Oatmeal cookies are definitely the healthiest, and easy to make.
Arbroath smokie, small Scottish smoked haddock, flaked into a rice pilaf with Middle Eastern flavours. Arbroath smokie rice pilaf is similar to smoked fish kedgeree and great for lunch or brunch.
More offal recipes
Roasted bone marrow with salty, herby topping is the quintessence of umami. Marrow is ultra-nutritious and needs just 20 minutes’ roasting in a hot oven.
Pan-fried calves liver with red onions cooks in 5 minutes, it's tender, juicy and delicious. Plus, eating offal is a way to reduce waste and meat emissions.
Grilled mussels with breadcrumbs and black pudding, the best black pudding starter recipe. Mussels are served with savoury breadcrumbs and crumbled black pudding, blasted under the grill till the topping is crisp.