Haggis, Scotland’s national dish, is world famous, but countless detractors remain. Too many of us fear offal – the heart, liver and lungs of a beast, traditionally a sheep for haggis – and the prospect of this served up in a stomach lining doesn’t help its cause.
But while Burns Night is a fitting reason to overcome such qualms and celebrate the savoury pudding, it shouldn’t be the only occasion we cook this delicacy; after all, using up offal, together with beef or mutton suet, oatmeal, onion and spices, is a sustainable way to dine, not to mention a nourishing and affordable one.
Tomás Gormley, of Skua restaurant in Edinburgh, recommends haggis in a buttered roll with bacon – a favourite from his childhood. “I have them once or twice a week,” he says. “It’s my go-to order. I usually go to The Pantry in Edinburgh, where they’re great.”
Gormley recommends making your own haggis rolls thus: “Fry a slice of haggis in a pan along with some back bacon. Combine both in a well buttered roll, and cover with HP Sauce or Daddy’s. I’d err towards the latter.”
Haggis fry up
Gormley also advocates for adding haggis to cooked breakfasts – a regular feature in Scottish cafes but less so in the rest of the UK. The haggis fulfils the place of black or white pudding, a filling, oaty addition to the traditional spread.
“Sliced haggis is good for breakfasts,” he advises. “It comes in rolls and might be easier to work with. Just cook a fry up as you normally would and fry a thick slice of haggis in a pan with the rest of the ingredients. As it’s already cooked, it doesn’t need as long as the sausages; [for timings] a fair indicator might be the eggs.”
To source his haggis, Gormley likes to use “a butcher in Portobello, a suburb of Edinburgh, called Findlay’s. They make their own and I’d say it’s the best around. Really premium stuff. It’s really well seasoned and quite heavily spiced.”
Roast chicken with haggis
The founder of the Michelin-starred Frog restaurant in London, Adam Handling, who hails from Dundee, is known for his use of haggis in high-end cuisine. He serves an upmarket version of Balmoral chicken, where a chicken ballotine (the meat deboned, stuffed and rolled) is stuffed with haggis.
For home cooks this is more easily accomplished by way of a roast: “Haggis works well if stuffed under the skin before roasting,” he says. “Tucking it under the skin, with butter, would be a fitting way to mark Burns Night. But you can use haggis any way you like, even pan-fried on a crumpet. People’s perception of it can still be a little frustrating; British cooks are often too wimpy.”
Haggis sausage rolls
Roberta Hall McCarron, chef patron of the esteemed Little Chartroom in Edinburgh, makes her own haggis, “out of every animal that comes through the building because I like to use the whole animal. I think it’s amazing”.
She recommends giving it the sausage-roll treatment: buying puff pastry, filling it with haggis, and brushing the rolls with a rich egg wash and sesame seeds. “We used to make haggis sausage rolls as a brunch dish and served them with a turnip ketchup,” she says. “It really is a case of just rolling pastry around a cylinder of the meat (with some overlap to avoid bursting) and baking in a hot oven. I love a supplier called Puddledub, based near Fife.”
“You could even blend haggis with sausage meat first to be a little more entry level,” she says. “Technically this becomes a faggot, but it it’s a great way to introduce people to haggis.”
Haggis on Turkish pizza
For his recommendation, the Glaswegian chef Gregg Boyd, who founded the much-loved Scottish deli and food supplier Auld Hag, draws on the similarities haggis shares with some Turkish, Greek and Balkan dishes – not least kokoretsi, which consists of goat or lamb intestines wrapped around seasoned offal.
Using haggis as a pizza topping, or on lahmacun, a Middle Eastern flatbread, is a playful and modern method that can be especially compelling for haggis sceptics, Boyd argues. “I think pizza is an easy way to change people’s minds,” he says. “I love Turkish cooking [in which offal is prized], and haggis fits into it really well. Just buy a classic lahmacun from a Turkish shop or café, sprinkle it with crumbled haggis, and grill.”
Haggis tikka masala
Boyd’s culinary influences don’t stop with Turkey: “I like to cook a tikka masala, making a base sauce of onions, garlic, ginger, spices, tomato paste and double cream. Any good recipe will do. But before taking off the heat, 10 minutes before service, I add haggis. It sounds mad, but tikka masala is basically a Scottish dish: there are claims it was conceived in Glasgow.
“The oats soak up the sauce so well and the haggis brings texture. And everything combines superbly: the peppery haggis pairs naturally with the curry spices, and the creaminess of the sauce compliments the bold flavours of the offal.” For his haggis Boyd recommends McCaskie’s, a producer on the west coast of the Scottish lowlands.
Nick Nairn, who in 1991 was the youngest Scottish chef to ever win a Michelin star and who now runs a self-styled brasserie in the Port of Menteith, recommends stuffing haggis into pasta, even wontons. He has long been inventive with the dish, ever since arriving in the United States to prepare a Burns Night supper – “for a very important diner” – only to see his £3,000-worth of prime Scottish meat and haggis seized and burned in a furnace. “I tried to bring a significant amount of luxury produce into New York,” he recalls. “Apparently I contravened the bioterrorism act. I had to call on a friend to smuggle a batch of haggis in from Canada.”
Nairn points out that “haggis has similar properties to Italian sausages such as ‘nduja, and to some minced meat that fill wontons in Asian cooking. It’s subsistence food, ‘peasant’ cooking, and can be used in dough as any other filling might be.” He recommends making fresh pasta, or buying sheets or wonton wrappers, “and using haggis as the filling. Poaching these or deep-frying them works really well. With the tortellini, I like to make a whisky and cream sauce; with wontons, a sweet chilli dip works very well; the rich, spicy haggis lends itself to heat.”
Nairn tips Macsween haggis, one of the most common and available in grocers nationwide, for home cooks, but also recommends that from Campbells, a specialist Scottish butcher.
The snack is found in innumerable pubs and restaurants across Scotland; although ubiquitous, haggis bonbons are popular for a reason and Nairn believes a simple preparation is best. “The more entrenched I get in cooking, the less I favour tricks,” he says. “Haggis doesn’t need to be overworked. Shape your haggis (which is already cooked, remember), into balls, dip them in egg, flour, and breadcrumbs, and deep fry. The bonbons are crispy, spicy and delicious, and work with a creamy mayonnaise or a hot pepper sauce.”
The Dundee-born chef patron of Soho stalwart Quo Vadis, Jeremy Lee MBE, has long campaigned for haggis, antiquitous as it is, to be given a bigger platform in modern British cooking – and vouches for haggis in shepherd’s pie, a dish that marries the more luxurious parts of the animal with the inexpensive.
“Haggis is glorious crumbled into shepherd’s pie, or indeed any pie,” he says. “I love it served simply with clapshot (mashed potatoes and swedes with onion, butter and chives) but being adventurous with it is also a joy.”
Prepare a pie “as you would normally,” he suggests, “but cover the mince with a generous sprinkling of haggis before topping with mashed potato, and then bake. It would work with cottage pie, too.”
“It’s a bizarre thing that haggis is a preserve of Burns Night,” Lee says. “I understand why people get nervous, but it’s sustainable and it is a fine thing to honour tradition.”