Anthony Bourdain loved haggis. But even the late, great American chef, author and television host acknowledged that Scotland’s national dish, with its “frightening lamb halves” wrapped in a shroud of mystery and half-baked history, can be a tough sell.
“Don’t let them tell you otherwise, it really is one of life’s great pleasures,” Bourdain said on one of his gastro-curious pilgrimages to Glasgow. “There is no food on earth more unreasonably reprehensible than haggis.”
A mixture of chopped lungs, liver and heart seasoned with oatmeal, beef suet, onions and mixed spices, haggis was traditionally made by stuffing these raw ingredients into the stomach of a recently killed sheep and simmering it to the point of delicacy.
instagrammable This is not the word that immediately comes to mind. In our 21st century world, where “clean” food and processed pap overlap, haggis may seem like “Outlander” style from another era.
Yet, by some alchemy, once it is cooked to the required “warm-reekin’ (steaming)” state, it becomes much more than the sum of its meager parts. Its outdoor appeal has kept nose-to-tail eating alive among a younger generation of Scots, who have largely turned their backs on the tripe, liver and kidneys that their predecessors enjoyed (or tolerated).
Carefully prepared, haggis tastes both oatmealy and meaty; It’s dark and crumbly, a little crisp on the edges but still moist; Earthy but also delicious and spicy; Deeply flavored and very warming, the perfect foil for the traditional garnish of floury mashed potatoes and orange-rinded turnips.
“It’s like a hug to the stomach,” says Nicola Turner, a 35-year-old office administrator in the town of Helensburgh, on the Firth of Clyde in western Scotland.
Seasoning and texture
For children of the 1960s and 70s, like the crime novelist Ian Rankin, the haggis meal was a choice between the classic meat-and-two-veg platter and the pita and deep-fried, chip-shop iteration that both his friend Bourdain and Was. His quintessential Scottish detective character, Inspector John Rebus.
Countless other treatments have now been developed.
Rankin recalled, “I’m pretty sure the first time I dined with Abby in Edinburgh we ate haggis in filo pastry with jam-style – probably blackcurrant – sauce.” “He was a big fan of haggis and chip shops. Rebus may have enjoyed the occasional haggis dinner from his local chip shop. He was definitely a fan, as am I too.”
“It’s all about spice and texture,” says Scottish food writer, novelist and chef Sue Lawrence, who champions haggis’s adaptability for use in other dishes. “If you didn’t know what was in it, you wouldn’t think ‘Oh, it tastes like liver or something.’ It’s all chopped well and the oatmeal gives it a lovely texture. This could easily be a nice, big mincemeat dish.
Lawrence uses haggis as a substitute for beef and pork ragu in lasagna and her pastilla, a version of North African cuisine in which hand-made haggis from the Isle of Mull replaces the traditional poultry or seafood filling. The filo pastry savory is flavored with the spice blend ras el hanout, apricots, chilli, orange peel and almonds before being sprinkled with cinnamon and icing sugar.
Such cultural crossovers serve as a reminder that haggis can easily be a dish that has nothing particularly Scottish about it. Records of similar quick and portable preparations of sheep and other rapidly perishable animals date back to ancient Rome and Greece.
The haggis-like combination of offal and grains is part of the culinary history of many countries. Spain has chireta, Romania drob, and Sweden polsa, while chaudin, or ponce, is a rice and meat-filled pig’s belly that is a staple of Cajun cooking.
In neighboring England, recipes for “haggese,” “haggs of a shape,” “haggas” or “haggus” appear in recipe books published between the 15th and 17th centuries, which probably predate written records north of the border. .
Etymological evidence points to the word “haggis” having roots in Old Norse, suggesting that an early version of the oat-and-offal sausage may have come to Britain and Ireland on Viking longboats.
But ever since it was first coined by the poet Robert Burns in the late 1700s, the haggis backstory has been monopolized by Scotland and Scots, sometimes mischievously.
According to the kind of lore that Burns gave birth to, this is the dish that a tasteful highlander would take with him as he drove cattle through the lanes to the markets of the central belt or as he plyed his trade on moonlit nights. It was the perfect picnic for a whiskey smuggler. ,
From such romantic notions it was a small step towards turning Haggis into a small wild animal with a long leg on one side and thus doomed to wander around whatever hill he lived on. In 2003, a survey of American tourists to Scotland found that one in three of them believed they could encounter such a confused creature on Caledonian holidays.
Bourdain, a New York native, may qualify as the biggest fan of haggis since Burns, but his compatriots at the U.S. Department of Agriculture remain unchanged in their insult-laden sarcasm. The import of haggis into the United States was banned in 1971 as part of a ban on the consumption of all livestock lungs. Authentic versions of old-fashioned haggis remain a culinary taboo in America, as difficult to get your hands on as Cuban cigars.
In the rest of the world, it’s a different story. According to prominent producer Simon Howie, haggis is now more widely appreciated and eaten than before, because Burns improvised his “Address to a Haggis” for the entertainment of Edinburgh’s affluent acquaintances.
Strongly tongue-in-cheek, the poem praises “the great chieftain o’ the pudding race”, exactly the kind of simple, hearty fare that is needed to nourish a nation of brave warriors.
Compared to the weak foreign mess enjoyed by the capital’s claret-quaffing elite at the time – olio, fricassee or ragout that would “make a pig sick” – Burns asks his readers to marvel at the magical effect of haggis on his fellow sons. requested. The land of Scotland.
As the English translation of the original Scots language version says:
But mark the rustic, haggis-fed/
The trembling earth echoes his steps.
Clapping a blade in his ample fist/
He will whistle it/
And the feet and hands and head will be cut off/
closed like the head of a thistle
Anthony Bourdain and Anderson Cooper talk about Scottish food
These days synthetic casings have largely replaced the stomach, but ovine and porcine insides remain the core of most haggis produced in his homeland, said Howie, who estimates that his company, Simon Howie Butchers, makes about two million haggis. accounts for about 60%. are produced every year.
For Howie, versatility, value for money and convenience explain why this staple of the Scottish larder is thriving. Haggis typically retails in Scotland, which accounts for half of global consumption by volume, for about £6, or $7.70 per kilogram ($3.36/pound). This is approximately half the price of a less expensive piece of beef or a third of the price of Scotch lamb, while enjoying quite a similar nutritional and calorie profile.
Howie said, “You can give your kids a meal that’s not loaded with things you don’t want to feed them – for a few pounds you can feed three strapping boys.”
“From a kitchen point of view, it is very simple because when it leaves our factory it is already cooked. So when you or a restaurant owner brings it to the kitchen all you have to do is heat it. It couldn’t be more basic than this: a student with no cooking skills or a Michelin-starred chef doing exactly the same thing to put it on a plate.”
Its texture means that haggis can also be usefully used in fine dining with lean meats such as venison or as a filling for poultry and game birds. Its spicy intensity means it is also being used as a crouton-borne garnish for canapés and soups.
The buoyant sales have also been fueled by increased consumption of haggis in variations inspired by Scotland’s ethnic minorities.
Glasgow’s Sikh community pioneered the creation of haggis pakodas in the 1990s, and samosas, spring rolls and quesadillas followed, often using vegetarian versions of the protein by combining offal with vegetables, pulses and mushrooms. is changed.
Such dishes are more than culinary art. They are a symbol of belonging, and a sign that, two centuries after Burns appropriated it for the nation, haggis is as deeply linked to Scots identity as ever.
Just ask Ross O’Sinnide, a promising 14-year-old fly-half in Stirling County Rugby Club’s junior class.
“Me and most of my friends love haggis,” he says. “Mum makes it for us sometimes after rugby and it’s a really nice warming sensation. And it’s good because it’s completely Scottish.
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