What The Heck Is Haggis?
Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is a type of sausage, and a by-product of the need to be as efficient as possible when butchering meat. Read the history of this unusual dish - recipe included!
For dinner tonight, how about a sheep’s heart, lungs, and liver, minced together with onions, oats, and suet, seasoned with salts and spices?
While the ingredients may sound less than appealing to most North American palates, that’s the basic recipe for haggis, the national dish of Scotland. Haggis is really just a type of sausage, and, as such, not so different in composition from salami, hot dogs, pepperoni, or other foods many people on this side of the pond routinely enjoy.
Like most sausages, haggis was a byproduct of the need to be as efficient as possible when butchering meat. At a time in history when food was not easily produced, transported, or preserved, wasting potential sources of nutrients was simply not done. When an animal was slaughtered, great care was taken to capture every possible cut of meat, and whatever was left over was ground into sausage or, in this case, haggis.
Though today it is a celebrated dish, elegized in the poem Address to a Haggis by Scottish poet Robert Burns, haggis, like chitterlings and other foods comprised of offal, was once the provenance of peasants. Those of means enjoyed the choicer cuts of meat, while the less desirable parts were left to the servants.
Because these parts were tougher and less appealing, they were combined with other ingredients and prepared using a slow-cook method. A haggis is traditionally simmered in water for at least three hours before serving.
Haggis is widely available is Scotland, where you can buy one right off the shelf, but not in the United States, where it has been illegal to import since 1971 due to a ban on food containing sheep lung. Alternate recipes do exist, though, usually substituting tongue for the lungs and a sausage casing for the stomach. It’s even possible to find vegetarian variants.
Haggis is traditionally served with mashed turnips and potatoes, or “neeps and tatties,” and a glass of whiskey. January 25th, the birthday of Robert Burns, is the most popular time to eat the dish, but for a true connoisseur, any day will do.
Whether you’re an expat Scot longing for the flavors of home, or simply an adventurous epicurean looking for a new thrill, here’s a legal recipe for haggis you can make right at home (you may need to consult with your local butcher about where to obtain some of these ingredients):
Haggis at Home
- 1 beef bung sausage casing
- 1 sheep liver
- 1 sheep heart
- 1 sheep tongue
- 1/2 pound suet, mashed
- 3 medium onions, minced
- 1/2 pound steel cut oats
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Soak the sausage casing in salt water overnight.
- Rinse the liver, heart, and tongue, and cook them over medium heat in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 2 hours.
- Remove any gristle, skin, or blood vessels, then mince these organs into 1/2 inch pieces.
- In a large bowl, combine the minced parts with the suet, onions, oats, and dry seasonings.
- Remove the sausage casing from the water and fill with the mixture.
- Tie the casing closed with butcher’s twine, trim off any extra length from both sides, then pierce it several times with a fork.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then gently lower the haggis into the pot.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours.
Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.
I had haggis in Scotland. I liked it, it reminded me of stuffing or dressing made with giblets. I also had boudan in Louisiana. Boudan didn’t taste as strong as haggis, but it was good.
I too make a version of haggis. As Mr. Geoff Brown mentions, grinding the meats improves both the tenderness as well as spice distribution. I am blessed to have a friend who raises lamb, and am able to occasionally create a traditional version using the lungs. Otherwise, I will use three extra hearts to make up the difference in volume from the lack of lungs. I will try it in the future with the tongue if able to obtain.
Haggis sounds a Lot like BoUdan, we eat here in the South! It’s mixed with rice instead of oats& it’s pork instead of sheep. Bet it wouldn’t be that different. Anyone try both? If so, what were the differences?
Don’t know about any1 else but with all the GMO foods, chemicals, additives and other things that are allowed in our food supply I find it ludicrous that you can’t import sheep lungs.I love Lamb.
This is pretty much the same as what we in the Deep South call pork “pudding”. Use pork head, organ meat, spices & cooked rice. Then stuffed in casings. Yummy!
I was visiting Scotland, and in a four star hotel I asked the waiter to see the chef, on account all the menu items were American, I could have gotten at any restaurant (at home). So he went back and created a Haggis plate for me; I tasted it before he told me what it was… It was wonderful… but he would not give me recipe, But a signed Book of all Europe’s four-star hotels … Great memories… now lets recreate!! Thank you!
I’ve never had Haggis but I do hunt and process game. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to run it through a meat grinder and then pack the casing? It would tenderize the meat and mix in the seasoning better.