It was recently Burns’ Night. An annual celebration of the Scottish poet, where drinking whisky and eating haggis is very much the order of the day.
Last year, I created a new signature dish especially for the occasion; a whole saddle of lamb stuffed with haggis, served with a neaps and tatty rosti. Worked a treat.
The reason I did that was to disguise the haggis; I had several guests who were squeamish about the idea, even though at least one of them regularly enjoys faceless fast food and was no doubt a victim of the recent horsemeat scandal.
This year, I found myself in Saint Gervais, so had to “smuggle” the puddings out to France via Switzerland. There was definitely an element of meddling with the classic as I did a gratin dauphinois finished with Reblochon instead of straight tatties, but the neaps were there in all their glory. This more traditional approach was necessitated by several Scots in the party….. although strangely only the English were drinking the whisky.
They were most intrigued to learn that I had brought along some English haggis. I say “English”; what I mean is that it was prepared with Norfolk lamb by an Englishman in an English butcher’s shop….. to a traditional recipe…. that Englishman is Stephen of Stephen’s Fine Foods in Hinchley Wood, Surrey. Given that in his past (before going solo) he worked for a butcher that was an award winning haggis maker, suffice to say we were in very safe hands.
Haggis is relatively simple; the “pluck” of a sheep – the heart, lungs and liver, chopped with some onions, oats, suet and spices, boiled in a sheep’s stomach (or more usually these days a sausage casing, though Stephen remains traditional). The Scots of old used to kill sheep for food, but if they were up on a hill or away from home, they wanted to find a way to preserve or use the pluck as quickly as possible – it is the most rapidly decomposing part of the animal, and this recipe was born.
Unlike the McSween’s of this world, the offal quantity is slightly higher in Stephen’s haggis, there’s slightly less oatmeal and it is slightly more delicately spiced and more intensively mixed….. what this gives you is more of a pate like consistency to it versus others and makes it more unique than many.
It also means that it can be stickier, I find that pleasant but it brought some ire from the whisky-hating Scots at dinner, but served with a smelly cheese infused gratin, a balsamic dressed salad and some swede, it went down very well. I think this has very much become an annual tradition now; haggis fusion…… I just sincerely hope I never find myself in India on January 25th!
In any event, it is truly a remarkable and moresome flavour though and I would encourage anyone to try it at least once. There’s nothing in there that isn’t in pate or cheap burgers anyway!