Hail to the haggis

haggis, right, with 'neeps' and 'tatties'

This is what happens when you fall in with a crowd of Scots:  Eventually you have to drink Scotch, which tastes like I fell face down into my backyard; and you have to deal with haggis.

I had naively hoped I could avoid the legendary haggis, despite hanging with this crowd of ale-drinking musicians who call themselves the Raleigh Scottish Fiddle Club. We meet monthly at 518 West in Raleigh, an Italian restaurant. The ringleader is the chef there. No haggis in Italian cooking. I was safe.

Then someone suggested holding a Burns Night.

Scots around the world celebrate the beloved 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns (who wrote the New Year’s Eve song “Auld Lang Syne”) with Burns Night or Burns Supper events on or near his birthday of Jan. 25. There is the playing of Scottish music, especially Burns’ songs; the reciting of poetry in indecipherable Gaelic; and the consumption of a traditional Scottish meal. Which means haggis. Burns wrote “Address to a Haggis,” ensuring that it would become the national dish of Scotland and the centerpiece of the meal in his honor, along with “neeps” (turnips) and “tatties” (potatoes).

Well, I thought, I’ve eaten chitlins. How much worse can a sheep’s bladder stuffed with oats, suet and organ meats and then steamed be? Besides, I had faith in our leader, chef Blaine Nierman, and I offered to be his sous chef for the haggis.

Blaine created a 21st-century haggis, not an 18th-century one. No mystery meats. There was beef and lamb plus calves’ liver, with onions, lemon juice, steel-cut oats, pepper and nutmeg. We cut and sauteed the meats, and combined it all in a big bowl. “This isn’t in the recipe,” Blaine said as he tossed in a jigger of Scotch, “But it can’t hurt.” We used cooking bags, like you use to roast the Thanksgiving turkey, instead of animal containers for the mixture. The bags steamed over simmering chicken stock for a hour and a half.

That night, after the playing of music by the unrehearsed and the orating of Burns’ lines by men in kilts, the haggis was marched through the assembly on a silver tray, accompanied by bagpipes.

It had a strong lamb flavor, and looked a little like Hamburger Helper. Not frightening at all. With all that meat, it was a fairly heavy dish. If I’d been struggling through a Scottish moor in the rain, it would have been perfect sustenance, but for a warm Southern winter’s evening, it was a bit much. But nothing to fear.

So, all hail the haggis…once a year.

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3 Responses to “Hail to the haggis”

  • Comment from Mara

    An excellent evening of boisterous fun was had by all, even the haggis. Nice job, Debbie! You’ll be making your own cock-a-leekie soup soon, not to mention Tipsy Lairds.

  • Comment from carolyn currie

    And don’t forget about cullen skink!

    Lovely article. I’m just sorry I couldn’t be there to add my recorder to the din. Next year, for sure.

  • Comment from Debbie Moose

    Can I have the tipsy without the lairds, Mara?

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