European Peasant Cookery
by Elisabeth Luard
A very romantic dish, Scotland's finest, eaten with equal relish by the laird in his castle and the shepherd in his croft. Even Queen Victoria declared herself fond of it. The haggis, however, is not a dainty dish. It's not open to complication or amendment, being quite simply a large boiling sausage made by stuffing a sheep's stomach with roughly-ground oatmeal and what's elegantly know as variety meats peppered, onioned and flavoured with thyme. Deer offal is also possible, as is pig's offal. The stuffing can be cooked without recourse to a stomach bag — a dish known as a pan haggis - simply cook the stuffing mixture in a closed pan for an hour or two, stirring regularly, till perfectly tender. It will be good, but not so authentically barbaric.
In the 1890s, historian T.F. Henderson, writing in Old World Scotland, described the enthusiasm with which the dish was greeted by those who could afford little else: "In the peasant's home, the haggis was set in the centre of the table, all gathering round with their horn spoons, and it was devil take the hindmost."
Quantity: Serves 6 crofters, a dozen daintier appetites
Time: Preparation: 1 hour
Cooking: 3-4 hours
• 1 lamb or mutton stomach bag, thoroughly scrubbed and rinsed
• Heart, liver and lungs - the pluck; if you can't get lungs, tongue and kidneys will do
• 175g (6 oz) coarse or pinhead oatmeal (not porridge or rolled oats, or you will have a soup mixture and not the light, grainy texture of a good haggis)
• 500g (1 Ib) suet (the fat which surrounds the kidneys)
• 500g (1 Ib) onions
• 1 tablespoon crumbled dried thyme
• White pepper
• Utensils: Plenty of elbow room, a baking tray, a roomy saucepan, a draining spoon, a saucer and a large boiling pot
Tackle the stomach bag first. Turn it inside out, men scrub and scrape it in several changes of cold water. Scald it with a kettleful of boiling water and leave it to soak for a few hours in heavily salted water.
Prepare the pluck: drain me liver and heart of any residual blood (your butcher will probably have done this for you) and give the lungs a good rinse. Put everything in the roomy saucepan with enough cold salted water to cover, allowing the lung tubes to hang over the side of me pan so the air can escape as it heats. Bring all to the boil, skim, turn down the heat and simmer for at least an hour.
Meanwhile prepare the rest of the ingredients. Spread out the oatmeal on the baking tray and toast it golden brown in a hot oven, allowing 10 minutes at 400°F/200°C/Gas 6, tossing it halfway through. Chop the suet and rub out the connecting scraps of membrane with well- floured fingers. Skin the onions and grate or chop very finely
Drain the pluck and pick it over, removing black bits and veins. Grate the liver and chop the rest of the meats very small (You won't need all the liver - half should be enough). Mix the meats with the suet and onion and spread the mixture out on the table. Sprinkle with the oatmeal and thyme, and season well with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper. Some cooks include lemon juice, cayenne pepper and various other flavourings — sage, marjoram, allspice, nutmeg. The secret lies in the proportions - you'll soon establish your own preference. Mix everything together
Drain the stomach bag and give it a final rinse. Stuff it with the oatmeal and meat mixture — it should be a little over half-full to allow the oatmeal room to swell. Moisten with stock from the pluck -- enough to make the mixture look juicy. Press out the air and sew up the bag. This is the haggis
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Slip in an upturned metal saucer to protect the haggis from direct heat, and lower the haggis into the water — if you prefer, you can tie it up in clean muslin and suspend it from a wooden spoon placed over the pot's mouth. As soon as the haggis swells, prick it in a few places with a needle to allow the hot air to escape. Simmer for 3 hours or so. To store, allow to cool and keep in a cool place till needed. To reheat, bring back to the boil and simmer for an hour
Serve with clapshot, a puree of swede - yellow turnips - beaten with its own volume of ' mashed potato, well-seasoned and buttered. Keep the fire blazing in the hearth and restrain yourself from pouring whisky on the haggis — far better pour it into yourself
• Beef or pork suet can replace the lamb suet. The innards can be replaced with stewing lamb, thoroughly minced
• Instead of a stomach, commercial haggis makers use ox gut or a non-edible plastic skin, accounting for the small size of the modern haggis
• Pan haggis the mixture can equally well be cooked in a bowl, like a steamed pudding. Or cooked like a risotto in a heavy casserole on the stove or in the oven. The pinhead oatmeal is important - you can't get the same result with ground or porridge oats. If you can't find pinhead, give whole-grain oats a quick whiz in the coffee grinder
• To prepare a vegetarian pan haggis, replace the suet with vegetable fat and the meat with wild mushrooms
• The Greeks make an Easter soup with lamb's pluck - prepare as above but replace the oatmeal with rice, the thyme with dill and make it into a soup rather than a sausage, the finishing touch is a light, last-minute thickening of avgolemono - eggs whisked with lemon juice.
• Haggis is delicious refried — decant it from its container, spread it in a wide frying pan, toss it over the heat and let it crisp a little on the base. Delicious for breakfast with eggs and bacon.