Monday, 22 March 2021

This weekend, we were mostly...

 ...making haggis. Or at least, a variation of it, as sheep’s stomachs aren’t the easiest things to come by, even when you HAVE just bought a whole, butchered lamb, as we have. You might recall that we have done this before - this time round it came from Highbury Farm who we regularly buy from at the farmer’s market, meaning that the food miles involved were extremely low! 

So - what made us decide that it might be fun to have a go at haggis? Well, first off, it tastes REALLY good. Secondly, we’re big fans of the idea that if you’re going to eat meat, then you should eat the best quality meat you can afford. It should have been well raised and looked after, treated with respect,  and you should look to make use of as much of the creature as possible, too. We’d routinely eat liver anyway, but when you buy the full animal you also get offered the heart and kidneys too, which is great except there is a limited amount you can do with 1 lambs heart and it’s (pretty small) we decided to go one step further and ask for the lungs too, and experiment with haggis making. 

Jumping ahead for a moment - this is what we ended up with:

The jumping ahead bit is because the first photo you use in a blog post becomes it’s “snapshot” photo, and the REAL starting point photo possibly isn’t ideal as the snapshot photo, because it’s this... (squeamish types might need to scroll on by, while those of a sturdier and more curious disposition may wish to click on the photo for a slightly larger version)

The “full pluck” as it is known - lungs at the top, kidneys in the bag to the left, heart in the middle and the liver peeking out in the bottom right. Stage one is to rinse this lot in cold water, then pop them into a large pan, cover them in water and bring to the boil. 

(“Cover with water” by the way is not as simple as it sounds - lungs, by their nature, float. No need to worry too much though - the pan is covered during the cooking and in the 45 minutes of simmering everything cooks through just fine). Once the simmer is complete, the pluck was removed from the hot stock to a bowl to fully cool overnight.

Next step is to get everything chopped up - half the liver into dice, the rest, plus everything else gets chopped very finely or you can mince it coarsely. We couldn’t be bothered to get the mincer out, but have lethally sharp knives that did a decent job...

Meanwhile MrEH set to grinding the spices - plenty of black peppercorns, mace, nutmeg and, to add a personal touch to the whole thing, allspice, my favourite of all spices. 

Time to assemble all the dry ingredients - so into the bowl with the chopped offal go finely chopped onion, oatmeal, suet, the spices, salt and some chopped herbs too - savoury and sage, along with a little dried thyme as we have no fresh. 

Everything gets thoroughly mixed together, and then stock from the cooking of the pluck added to give a moist but not sloppy consistency. 

Now, this is where things start diverging from the traditional. If making a fully authentic haggis, this is the point at which the cleaned sheep’s stomach comes into play, with the rich, spicy mix being packed in, and the whole thing then tied tightly at make sure everything is retained. As I said at the start, we didn’t have access to the stomach, nor did we want to end up with as big a Haggis as that or any of the usually suggested alternatives would give. Instead we researched possibilities for baking it in the oven, first lining our large square cake tin with foil, then piling the mixture in, well packed down into every nook and cranny. 

We then wrapped more foil tightly around the whole thing, trying to ensure a seal that would mean the haggis would partly steam slightly, and also retain some of the moisture from that stock we’d stirred in. Once it was well wrapped, we popped a dish full of baking beans on the top to weight it down a bit - otherwise there was a risk it would rise and expand in the baking and give a less solid texture than we were hoping for...

Then into the oven - gas 4, for initially 1 hour 30 minutes. At that stage we removed the foil to allow it to dry out and the top to crisp just a little, and put it back in for a further 20 minutes. The picture at the top of the post was taken when it came out of the oven - at this stage still feeling quite soft, but we trusted that it would firm up as it cooled, so set it aside and then once cold, into the fridge overnight. 

This morning it was turned out of the tin - a wonderful solid lump smelling of spices and a rich fact, exactly like haggis! Carefully cut into six pieces - each one will provide a meal for the two of us...

Even a small shop bought haggis is often really larger than needed for two people - don’t get me wrong, none gets wasted, but it usually feels like truly there is more on the plate than we actually need in one meal - so we were aiming for a size for each piece slightly smaller than that which we would usually buy. 
The texture is pretty much spot on - ideally it would be slightly more “oatmeally” - although we used the quantity suggested by the recipe ours was fine oatmeal where tradition would use coarse. 

The whole experiment was really interesting - from the initial wondering whether it was really possible to produce something that would even come close to replicating the usual haggis flavour and texture, to researching recipes and finding a combination of methods that would work. For any Scots reading and shaking your heads - please bear in mind we are absolutely not viewing this as a “proper” haggis, but the initial tasters we’ve had (yes, of course we have!) suggest that in flavour it’s pretty close to the real thing, and realistically, as close as we can get allowing for limitations in the ability to cook it authentically. In terms of ingredients it is pretty authentic, plenty of high street supermarket haggis these days doesn’t contain the lungs, for example, using ground lamb or even pork instead. It’s also proved a great way of making use of some of the bits of the beast which would often be discarded, and will give us several tasty and economical meals too. A success then, and something we’d certainly consider doing again! To add to the economy, the remainder of the stock that the pluck was poached in has been frozen ready for use in a future stew or casserole.


With thanks to the “Caroline’s Cooking” website for inspiration on the baking method, Tim Hayward writing for Guardian Food for recipe inspiration and plentiful photos, and the Oakden Cookware website for the recipe with quantities. For our own future reference we used 750ml stock not the 850ml suggested. 

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