I’ve never made a food that inspires such a wide variety of responses as haggis. When you ask for a haggis, some people gag a little, others laugh, a few will ask whether or not you know what you’re making, and then you get that occasional individual who gets excited, and asks if they can have some.
A good friend of mine asked me to make her a haggis a few years ago. I politely declined, and told her that boiling isn’t actual cooking. After declining a few more times, and agreeing, to make her stop asking, she finally caught me at a moment when I was inebriated enough to hammer down a date. Initially, I was going to get her a haggis from my local super duper market, and boil that for her. But then I started reading up on how to make haggis, research led to so many questions, and I decided to make it myself. For those of you who don’t know, haggis is the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep, stuffed into it’s own stomach with oats, herbs, and spices. Here in the states lung meat is considered unfit for human consumption, but pretty much everywhere else its fair game. There are any number of replacement meats you can use in place of the lung,s such as tongue or the kidneys. However, I was lucky enough to find someone to give me all the parts I needed.
Don’t even try to go to your local grocery, or even your local super market to get a haggis. They are the ones that laugh and tell you no. You can acquire a ready made haggis off Amazon fresh. Or you can start the lengthy search to find your meat. One option is halal markets, they can refer you to their butcher. Most of their lamb meat is cheap, and I’ve found that it has less of a gamey flavor. You can go to a USDA farm, and they can do the slaughtering for you there and sell you the parts you need (USDA certified farms are few and far between). Another place you could go is your local butcher. Eventually they will go out to slaughter a lamb, and if you make nice enough, he may just save them for you. If you get the response that I did from them, your next step is to call the farm direct. This was the route I took and it was by far the most fruitful, but also the most trying. There is a really lame law in place that basically makes it illegal to do a 3rd party sale of just the garbage parts, or single cuts of meats from the farm itself . So Butcher can have some, farmer can have some, but Bri who just wants the guts for a nominal fee cant have any. She has to buy an entire lamb, which will run you around 200 – 300$. Or the person gets the meat for free because they are a guest on the farm. Keep trying. Eventually you will find someone who is willing to cut you a little slack. If all else fails, apparently you can call the FFA, and a future farmer might butcher a lamb for you, for learning purposes.
Now for those of you who are still disgusted, whats the difference between my haggis and your sausage. Thats all haggis really is.. A sausage made out of lamb. It actually tastes like more of a lamb meatloaf. Keep saying you know exactly whats in yours. The only way you know that is if you make it yourself. For all you know you could be eating ground up pork shins, guts, and hooves. I know exactly what is going into mine. I also know where it came from, and how happy it looked on its farm. It was a pretty happy looking sheep.
I do recommend going to a farm and seeing how this whole process takes place. I was lucky enough that Island Crossing Farm allowed me to come down and collect my organs while the butchering took place. I was able to talk to the butcher and get the exact cuts of meat that I wanted, I saw how the sheep and animals were treated, and got to see their border collies expertly work with the sheep on the land. I was quite impressed with the whole operation. I may go halfsies on a lamb in the future from them. They really made my haggis experience. Plus they had puppies, adorable ones that looked like tiny pandas.
My haggis will be used for a burns night celebration. I’ve also made a second baby haggis to test before then, to ensure that I’m not feeding my guests something offal (hehehehehe). I started off wanting to make this as traditional as possible. Then I tasted boiled lamb lung, and decided to make it taste good instead. Base recipes call for a teaspoon of salt, mixed herbs, spices and pepper. First of all, my haggis weighs 6 pounds. Please explain to me how those recipes are going to get any good flavor out of a teaspoon of anything. I tried it. It tasted like a track stars shoe, that had been training in a swamp for a month. I went a little flavor rogue .
1 set of lamb lungs
1 lamb heart
1 lamb liver
1 lb ground lamb
1 beef bung
6 cups of water
1 lb beef suet
1 cup toasted steel cut oats
8 cloves of garlic
2 nutmeg seeds (one whole, one ground)
3 black cardamon pods
1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
2 tablespoons of sage powder
1 teaspoon of oregano
3 tablespoons of pepper
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
a large dash of rosemary
1/8th cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup Talisker
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1 1/2 cups beef broth
Salt to taste. Its a lot of salt. Don’t be shy.
Now we get down to the nitty gritty part of this whole operation. Cleaning and prepping the organs. We’ll start with the stomach. I didn’t get a superb picture of it unfortunately. Sheep have very thick stomachs with few layers that have easy dissection. I’ve seen the inside of a human stomach, and by comparison, ours seems to be far more tender. They have basically what looks like the tissue of a gigantic tongue on the inside of theirs, with tiny papillae, approximately 2 millimeter in size all over the surface. It is appropriately stained with grass. Your challenge is to soak that in a salt and vinegar mixture, and then scrape off the papillae, and greenness, without slicing a hole in it. I gave up pretty quickly, and bought a beef bung off amazon fresh. If you have the intestinal fortitude to go through with the whole operation, be my guest, and please rub it in my face after. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed in me. Beef bungs are easy though. Thoroughly rinse it, soak it over night in a salt and vinegar bath, then roll it inside out until you can see the bottom, and get to stuffin’! Beef bungs, like lamb organs, are hard to find. Look for a butcher that sells things like capicola, or just different kinds of cured meats. Or google the hell out of it like I did, get frustrated with the run around, and order it online.
Next comes the lungs. If you’re lucky, your windpipe will be intact. Mine had a couple holes in key places. What you should do, is gently cut the heart off, and remove the surrounding fat. Put your lungs in a pot and bring it to a boil. All that phlegm, and nastiness brewing in there will simmer up through the windpipe, and into a cleverly placed bowl outside of the pot, making cleaning a cinch! Since I couldnt do that, I cut mine up. Sheep lungs as well as our own have several tracts in them that absorb our oxygen. Knowing this, I cut the windpipe off, and squeezed up from the base to get the nasties out, then I began cutting and squishing and squeezing to get the rest out. Next you’ll stick that in a boiling pot. The rest of the grossness will leach out, and you’ll be able to spoon it off the surface of the water. Yay!
Now comes the liver. There is a secret layer over the top of the liver. When you cut or clean off the fat and other bits, it should lift. You can easily pull it off with your fingers. I took my liver and stuck it in a ton of lemon juice and water. This is a sneaky trick. Its not like I’m going to be able to gently cook it until its tender, and eat it with some fava beans, and a nice chianti, but it does make the flavor softer. After an hour of soaking I pulled it out, cut it into small pieces and added it to my pot.
The heart it easy enough. I sliced it in half, pulled the blood clots out and removed the fat and thin tissue layer from the outside, and chopped it up.
You’ll need to keep removing the nastiness from the surface of your water. I added about 2 tablespoons of salt, whole nutmeg and black cardamom into my tea strainer and let it continue on a high simmer for 2 hours. It smells horrible. Crack a window, somehow boil it outside, but for the sake of your families appetite, really make sure you have good ventilation. I’ve made lamb stew many times and it didn’t smell like this at all. Many recipes say to add a couple cups of this to your haggis once its been ground or minced. It didn’t taste quite as bad as it smelled, but smell is about half of taste. I gave it one last taste, to give it the benefit of the doubt, and then chucked it. While everything boils, cook your lamb, chop up your onions and garlic and saute them until they are blanched and set them aside for later.
Let your meats cool, and mince them or put them through a meat grinder. Mincing them is a ton of work. I highly suggest the meat grinder. It took me 10 un-frustrating minutes to push everything through, and it gave me a bunch of extra time to tweak the flavor, which was completely necessary. First I added a bunch more salt. Which brought the flavor to kind of a slightly salted, gamey meat loaf. Then I peppered it, added in my lemon, liquid smoke and Worcestershire sauce, and herbs. It finally started resembling something that actually tasted good. Once I was satisfied with the flavor I added in the Talisker ( don’t you dare use crappy whiskey for this), toasted oats, beef broth and suet.
Stuffing the beef bung was super easy, and incredibly messy to do on my own. Its also one of the more visually unappetizing portions of this process. In my job I’ve seen a lot of bowel surgeries. It reminded me of the first time I saw a megacolon. Really, that is what beef bung is. Cow cecum. We also have a cecum. Its right above your appendix. ♫ “The more you know” ♫. The easiest way to do it, is to pretend you’re putting a tube sock on someone else. Roll it inside out, until you reach the bottom, stick your hand in the outside portion (now inside because its inverted) and grab a handful of your haggis meat. It should be enough to get you started. You’ll then just continue to shovel more and more of the meat in, being careful not to over stuff because it will explode if you do (those oats expand).
Finally tie it off, and then tie the end up with a string one more time for good measure and get ready to relax. I put a lot of time and energy into this little project. There are so many warnings and ways to burst a haggis. A few holes need to be poked in it, and I also wrapped mine in a cheese cloth for extra protection. You’ll see why when you drop it in your water. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and then drop your haggis in. I almost messed myself when I did this. It puffed up INSTANTLY. Immediately drop the heat to medium (Low simmer) And commence sipping your whiskey and neurotically checking it ever 5 minutes to ensure it hasnt burst.
Find someone to pipe your haggis in the room, recite Robert Burns’ Address to a haggis and serve it some mashed Neeps & Tatties (turnips and potatoes) maybe a gravy, and a glass of your favorite whisky, and celebrate the magic that is a homemade haggis.