Scottish Food - The Haggis
The Humble Haggis - A Misunderstood Food
Haggis is one of those foods that people really don't seem to get. It's often berated by people who haven't even tried it. So what is haggis, and why is it important to Scottish culture?
Well, contrary to popular belief, the haggis is not a small animal that roams around the Scottish countryside (in a recent survey of tourists, an incredible 30% of respondents thought that it was). In fact, the haggis is made up of sheep offal. It's a sort of savoury pudding made up of sheep's heart, lungs and liver, minced together with onion, suet, oatmeal and spices. Traditionally it is encased in a sheep's stomach and boiled, but usually these days, people buy it in artificial casings and either boil in the bag or microwave it.
The History of Haggis
Although now inextricably linked with Scottish culture, there is no real evidence to suggest where the dish originated. There are similar dishes known to have existed in Ancient Rome and something very like it is mentioned in Homer's Odyssey which dates back to the eighth century BC.
The first known recorded recipe for haggis can be found in a book written in 1430 in the North of England. Its first recognised mention in a Scottish context is in a poem, The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy which was written in 1520.
Whenever and however, the haggis arrived in Scotland, it has long been a popular dish as it allows for the use of offal which is less expensive than a good cut of meat.
Haggis and Burns Night
Traditionally, haggis is served at Burns suppers on January 25th. These events are held annually to commemorate Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet who died in 1796, aged just 37. Burns' poem, Address to a Haggis is commonly recited at these suppers after the dish is carried in, accompanied by the sounds of the bagpipes. The haggis is traditionally sliced open with a ceremonial knife or even a sword on occasion. At the end of the poem, a whisky toast is proposed to the haggis and the meal begins.
Ways to Eat Haggis
The traditional way to eat haggis is accompanies by neeps (mashed turnip or swede) and tatties (mashed potatoes) but there are many other ways to enjoy it. Here are some of the examples I've come across in my adventures in Scottish cuisine:
- Chicken Balmoral (chicken stuffed with haggis, served with a creamy peppercorn sauce)
- Pork with haggis and a whisky sauce
- Haggis en croute (haggis wrapped in puff pastry)
- Tempura haggis (haggis deep fried in tempura batter and served with a spicy sauce - sweet and sour works well)
- Deep fried haggis (it's Scotland, home of the deep fried Mars Bar, after all!)
- Haggis pizza
Despite the slightly off-putting list of ingredients that go into a haggis, it really is worth a try. And, if you really can't bring yourself to have a go, there's always vegetarian haggis!