A 2003 survey suggested
that a third of US visitors to Scotland
believed the haggis
was an animal.
Nearly a quarter thought
~ Jon Kelly
BBC News Magazine
“Of all offal,” writes Anissa Helou, “lungs are perhaps the least interesting gastronomically.” Helou’s Offal: The Fifth Quarter, is devoted to preparations of those “variety” meats such as lamb’s tongue, pig trotters, oxtail, and, yes, sheep and pig lungs now coming back to vogue, as they do in times of economic turmoil. Well. Lungs may take a bit more getting used to than some other cuts.
While it enjoys a degree of popularity in Scotland (and, increasingly, England and Wales), authentic Scottish haggis is banned in the United States. It’s the lungs, you see. According to a recent piece in BBC News Magazine, US food safety officials regard lungs as “inedible.” Americans craving a bit of haggis can either try smuggling some in (not advised), opt for a domestic lung-free version (see below), or take a DIY approach and make it at home.
For those who want to tackle this "great chieftain o' the pudding-race" themselves, here are two haggis recipes. The first is from Anissa Helou who lifts it from F. Marian McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen. Helou reports that one could use bone marrow rather than suet but advises that doing so requires the cooking time to be doubled.
1 sheep's pluck (heart, lungs and liver)
250g minced beef suet
2 medium onions, finely chopped
250g coarse oatmeal, toasted in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes
Good pinch cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons dried herbs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large sheep's stomach, cleaned very well
Prepare the lungs (see below) and discard the windpipe. Place in a large saucepan, together with the heart and liver. Cover with water and place over medium heat. As the water comes to the boil, skim it clean and boil gently for 1½ hours, or until completely tender. Remove the pluck from the pan. Trim away all gristle and nerves and chop them very fine. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Put the chopped pluck in a large mixing bowl. Add the suet (or chopped bone marrow, if you are using it, chopped onions and toasted oatmeal. Add the cayenne pepper, nutmeg and dried herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, adding enough of the pluck's cooking liquid to have a smooth mixture. The mixture should be highly seasoned.
Spoon the mixture into the sheep's stomach until it is three-quarters full. Sew the opening and place in a large pot. Cover with water. Add the milk. Place over a medium heat. As soon as the stomach swells up, prick it in several places, then reduce the hear and simmer for 3 hours, adding boiling water to cover if the water level goes below the stomach.
Serve very hot.
Helou’s method for preparing lungs: Rinse the lungs well under cold water. Put in a saucepan and cover with water. Add a 4" cinnamon stick and salt to taste and place over a medium-high heat. As the water comes to the boil, skim it clean. Then cover and cook for 40-45 minutes, or until the meat is done.
The second haggis version is one of two offered by British bacon curer Maynard Davies in his essential Manual of a Traditional BaconCurer. Although Davies’ recipe also calls for a sheep’s pluck (its combined heart, lungs, and liver), he suggests preparing it without the lungs. “Some manufacturers,” he reports, “put lights [lungs] and rinds into haggis but I am not a big believer in that. I say, put the best in and get the best price.” Lungs, no lungs: your call.
5 lb sheep's liver, hearts and tongues
1 lb beef suet
3 lb oatmeal
2 Spanish onions
3oz fine salt
1 oz white pepper
1½ pints of stock
Juice of one lemon
Put a sheep's or lamb's stomach in a strong solution of salt water to cleanse. Turn inside out and make sure it is very clean. After 30 minutes throw the water away and repeat the process — cleanliness must be paramount in these preparations. Clean the liver by placing it in a strong solution of salt water; this will remove any blood clots and debris. When clean, take out the liver and remove all the sinews; repeat this process with the tongue.
Boil the liver, tongues and other oddments. Keep the water from the boiler for your stock. When cooked, mince all the meat ingredients on a medium grid. Mince the suet on a fine grid: add a small amount of flour so that the suet does not stick to the grid.
Now put the oatmeal into a large container. Mix the oatmeal with the stock left from the cooked meat; mix into a fine paste and place in your bowl chopper.
Add the minced meats and finely minced onions. Add the suet and spread this evenly in the bowl chopper. Lastly, add the seasoning, spreading this evenly over the surface. Turn in the bowl chopper until the mix is of a fine consistency; add more seasoning if necessary until the desired taste is reached.
Check the stomach before stuffing to make sure it is well cleaned. Do not over-fill — fill three-quarters full to take into account expansion. Make sure the top is tied with a good knot; sometimes it is necessary to sew the stomach to close it.
Now place the haggis in the boiler and cook gently for 21/2-3 hours, at no hotter than 180°F. Any hotter and the haggis will burst. To check that they are adequately cooked, use a needle and prick one of them — the needle should come out clean if the haggis is well cooked.
It is best to remove the haggis from the boiler using a sieve. Place the haggis on trays, leaving a space between them to cool. Place in the fridge when cooled.
Goes well with:
- The offal truth about American haggis, Jon Kelly’s piece for BBC News Magazine
- Craving a bit of haggis for Burns Night or the next hogmanay? W.A. Beans of Bangor, Maine makes a domestic, lung-free, version for the American market in 1-, 2-, and 5-pound doses.
- A revised, expanded edition of Offal: The Fifth Quarter is available here.
- How about some Scotch whisky to go with that?