It’s Burns Night – and you’re wearing a touch of tartan. You press ‘play’, and the sound of bagpipes cuts through the dinner party chatter. As the haggis is piped to the table, and addressed with Robert Burns’ Ode to A Haggis, you’re bursting with pride, because this isn’t any old haggis – nay, this is the haggis of all haggises.
Making your own haggis is not for the faint-hearted. But if you’ve got the stomach to cook it from scratch, then you’ll be rewarded with the most delicious flavours and textures which far surpass any shop-bought variety. Plus if you’re a meat eater, it’s good to know how to cook with the whole animal.
There are three unusual ingredients in a haggis. Firstly, the ox bung, which is the last metre of an ox’s intestine and like a very large sausage casing, is for stuffing the haggis into. Secondly, coarse oatmeal or pinhead oats. These look very different to traditional porridge oats, and provide texture without going mushy. Finally, there’s the ‘pluck’, or the heart, lungs, and liver of a lamb, often with a piece of windpipe intact, which gives the haggis its intense rich meaty flavour.
Sous Chef can provide the ox bung, and oats. But you might need to call around a few butchers before finding one who will sell pluck. If a whole pluck isn’t available, the constituent parts should be easier to get hold of. A typical 1.4kg lamb pluck is roughly 550g liver, 550g lungs, and 250g of heart (plus a few other bits trimmed off). The lungs and heart could be substituted for 50:50 liver and stewing meat.
Pluck can also vary wildly in weight – we’ve had them from just over a kilo up to 2.5kg. Weigh your pluck, and scale the recipe accordingly.
The main spice in haggis is black pepper. We’ve used Sarawak black pepper – if you can, grind the pepper fresh so it is most intense. Other than pepper, season the haggis as you wish! We’ve used coriander, and mace. Before stuffing the haggis, fry a little of the mixture, taste, and then decide.
Recipe: Traditional Burns Night Haggis
Makes one enormous 3kg haggis (enough to serve 15-20 haggis lovers) or several standard-size ones
1 ox bung, soaked for 4 hours (or overnight) and well rinsed
1 lamb’s pluck (heart, lungs & liver), approx 1.4kg
500g beef or lamb trimmings, or stewing meat (you can make a haggis without the trimmings, but replace with 200g-300g suet)
200g suet (Atora is fine, and widely available)
500g coarse oatmeal (the same as pinhead oats)
2 tbsp freshly ground Sarawak pepper
1 tsp freshly ground mace
4 tsp freshly ground coriander
4 tsp fine sea salt
Advance preparation – cooking the meat
1. Rinse whole pluck in cold water. Trim off any large pieces of fat. If the windpipe is still intact, cut it away and put straight in the bin.
2. Place the pluck into a good sized stock pot, and cover with cold water. The lungs float, so you will need to fill the pot such that using a lid keeps the pluck mostly submerged; or cover with a plate, and something heavy.
3. Bring to the boil, skimming the surface regularly. Gently simmer for 2 hours.
4. Lift all the meat from the pot with tongs or a slotted spoon, and rinse each piece in cold water to remove any scum. Place in a bowl and leave to cool.
5. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve, and put back on the stove to reduce. Reduce until you are left with just under a litre of liquid. Leave to cool.
Mixing the haggis
1. Finely dice the cooked heart and lungs. Grate the liver using the coarse side of the grater. Finely dice the trimmings.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the diced heart, lungs, liver, trimmings, suet, oats and spices.
3. Measure how much reduced stock you have remaining from cooking the pluck, and make up to 1l with cold water. Add the stock to the mixture.
4. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, and add a tablespoon of the mixture. Cook through for 2-3 minutes, and taste for seasoning. Add more salt / pepper / spice as you require. The oats will be crunchy, but will soften when cooked later.
5. Rinse the ox bung thoroughly in plenty of cold water. Turn it inside out and rinse again. Spoon the mixture into the haggis. Make sure there is space for expansion – they are liable to split as the oats absorb the liquid and meat juices during cooking and expand, plus the casing contracts as it is cooked.
6. When the haggis is the size required, expel any extra air (again making sure there is a little extra casing), pinch, tie with string, and cut away from the rest of the bung. Tie the new end of the bung with string, and continue stuffing. Once the haggis are all neatly tied, any spare can be frozen and kept for another day.
7. Pierce a few times with a needle (or tip of kitchen thermometer, etc), and place in a pan of cold water, and slowly bring to the boil. Simmer for 1.5-2 hours depending on the thickness of the haggis. When you are ready to eat, insert a thermometer into the centre, and check it reads at least 74°C.
8. Pipe to the table with bagpipes. Address it with a rendition of Ode To A Haggis, and then dramatically stab and rip open the haggis with a sgian dubh.
If the haggis skin does split. you can very quickly remove from the whole haggis from the pan, and wrap tightly in foil. Simmer the carefully wrapped parcel in an inch or two of water to continue cooking.
The happiness of a 3kg home-made haggis