Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, is known throughout all of the UK but it is in Scotland and the far north that his life and works have been celebrated on Burns Night for well over 200 years. That means haggis.
If you don’t know what is in haggis and you look it up, you might, perhaps, feel just tad nervous about eating it…..if you just eat it first then you may well be pleasantly surprised. There’s a lovely deep meatiness there, balanced with a richness from the oatmeal and suet and spices that, well, you wouldn’t believe came from a mixture of sheep’s innards.
Maybe it is best that I leave the description at innards. Click on the link if you want to know exactly WHAT innards.
I was given haggis from an early age, served with the traditional accompaniments of mashed potato and turnip or swede, so I was never fazed by it. That is probably how it ought to be done.
If you are an adult coming to haggis for the first time, do try it.
At a Burns Supper you will be served haggis with neeps and tatties (that’s the mashed turnip and mashed potatoes) and a dram of whisky. Now, that resonates with me…. any meal where whisky is served as an integral part of the menu gets my vote.
Thing is, there are other ways to serve haggis and the other ways tend to be more friendly, say, to those who have never eaten it before. The Bear for example, being a Cockney, probably thought that haggis was foreign food, beloved of savage Northerners and Scots and wasn’t something a boy from London should eat. Mind you, I think much the same of jellied eels, which is a favourite, apparently, of those from the East End of London.
A good way to introduce haggis to innocents is to serve it with something to perhaps soften the effect…… and I thought that sweetening things up might help. I had some delicious black pudding and adding apples to that is always good… so I came up with haggis with black pudding and apple mash… and a creamy, sweetly sharp sauce to go over it.
Haggis is easy enough to cook… you can poach it gently for an hour or so, or roast it in the oven, if you wrap it in tin foil to protect it, or, if you are pushed for time, you can cut it open and slice it, then put it in the microwave for 8 or so minutes, maybe breaking it up with a fork to make sure it is evenly cooked.
I like roasting it – there’s always the danger that you might burst the haggis if it boils… and then you will have ruined it beyond any chance of saving. The whole point of a haggis is that all those spices and meat and oats are bound together tightly – it’s already cooked, of course, you are just heating it up properly – and if it bursts open then unwanted water gets in and it turns into a dissolving mush.
I started roasting my haggis and while that was in the oven (175 degrees, wrapped in tin foil and placed in a casserole dish with some water to keep it moist) and got on with the other stuff… that was going to be in the oven for an hour and a quarter, or thereabouts, so that gave me plenty of time.
I had a lovely sharp Braeburn apple which needed peeling, coring and cubing.
I wanted it to keep its shape and sharpness but not to be too raw… so quickly tossing it through butter and a pinch of sugar would do that. I scooped out the apple from the pan, leaving the appley, buttery juices behind – I was going to use them in the whisky cream sauce later.
I chose red skinned potatoes as they always make a great, fluffy mash, and used a potato ricer to make sure there were no lumps. I know it seems more effort than using a masher, but the result? Ohhh… the difference is incredible… beautifully light and fluffy potato that you can beat your butter into…
That’s not a great photograph, I know, but you can get the gist of it. I was trying to get a shot with one hand as I squeezed the ricer with the other. The potato is forced out of the little holes and there are no lumps. Not one. Just oodles of beautifully riced potato.
Use a wooden spoon to beat in a big knob of butter, you’re looking for a gorgeous creamy mash.
Add those slightly softened cubes of apple – they make a lovely contrast to the smooth and creamy mash.
The black pudding needs to be gently fried. You’ll need a slice per person.
You’ll see the change from that dark red colour, to a glassy black – just keep the heat gentle so it cooks slowly.
Oh and remember that covering needs to be peeled off….
The haggis should be coming along nicely – that darkens down .
If you have decided to poach it, be careful when you cut into it – it is going to be very hot when that outer skin is cut.
I made a little whisky cream sauce… but forgot to take photographs.
What I did was make a cream sauce (a couple of teaspoons of butter, a couple of teaspoons of flour, a pinch of salt, mixed and cooked through, then single cream stirred in until all the lumps disappear and it becomes a glossy smooth sauce… ) then thinned slightly with the apple juices and some whisky and heated through until the alcohol has cooked off. This is not an overtly sweet sauce but a savoury , fruity fresh one – you have sweetness with the nuggets of apple in the mash.
I wanted to make this look, if not glamorous, then at least vaguely presentable. I was thinking of the round slice of black pudding and I wanted to get away from the normal haggis, neeps and tatties look of just everything spooned on the plate.
So I made a stack. Black pudding on the bottom. Then apple mash.
Then I pulled up the ring and spooned haggis in.
A spoonful of the whisky cream over the top and then served it.
I have to say this is probably not the best way of doing it, but it was what I did.
I won’t do it like this again because at the end of it, it didn’t look so great. Far too monochrome.
Tasted fantastic though, so I am not upset.
Still, as my mother always consoled me, looks aren’t everything.