27 February 2006

Scottish Diet - the haggis

Ah the haggis! - "great chieftain o the puddin race" as my great ancestor the poet Rabbie Burns wrote. There is little that can compare to the smell and taste of a plate of steaming haggis, tatties and neeps on a cold January evening. It is at such moments that the Scotsman, tucking into his favourite meal, with a wee dram in his glass and watching the "wifie" shoveling coal on the fire, is in true Scottish heaven.

There have been many false stories circulated about the haggis. These are mostly spread by Scottish butchers ruthlessly trying to guard the secret of this famous dish. Well just like the masked magician revealed all those magic secrets we will today fearlessly reveal the truth behind the haggis.

Foreigners are frequently told that the haggis is a three legged beastie that runs around the Scottish hills (in only one direction because of its odd number of legs) and that Scotsmen go on haggis hunts to catch them. Many foreigners believe such romantic stories but we can assure you that there is not a grain of truth in that story. In fact it is the little known "tattieboggle" that has three legs and runs around the hills. Scotsmen do go hunting the tattieboggle but not for the table because they are such poor eating.

No the haggis is in plain and simple terms a stuffed sheep's stomach. Now you may wonder what the big secret is at this point. Well the art and the mystery lies in how the sheep's stomach is stuffed. Let me take you through the technique point by point.

First of all the tastiest haggis is always made from a wild sheep's stomach. So the first thing is to make sure you have a wild sheep. Usually a couple of swipes across the face with a brush handle makes them pretty wild but the method is not important.

Having got your wild sheep it is then vital to ensure that none of the valuable stuffing is wasted once you start. Personally I would recommend a rubber bung but traditional recipes call for a cork bung.

You should recruit some friends for the insertion of the bung because at this point if the sheep was not already wild it will be by the time you have finished.

It is very very very important that the bung is well secured as the last thing you want is the bung working loose and popping out over the coming weeks. I recommend some ordinary garden wire for this. Make a hole in the top of the bung then, having inserted the bung at the rear, bring the wire forward and tie it tightly to the sheep's horns.

Now having secured your wild and fully bunged sheep we come to the stuffing. Let me be very clear on one point here. I am absolutely not talking about the kind of sheep stuffing that takes place on Valentines day in some of the more remote farmhouses in Scotland.

We are talking about force feeding the sheep. The wifie should now proceed to boil up at least two large bowls of oatmeal each day into which should be chopped any leftovers from the evening meal. Allow to cool a little and then force it down the sheep's throat. It is not uncommon for the sheep to proceed to tenderise its own meat at this point by running up and down the kitchen banging into the walls.

Some friends of mine like that slightly "smoked" flavour to their haggis. If this is your preference then you should take the sheep with you to the nearest bar each evening. For an extra touch the sheep can be given cheese and onion crisps for that cheesy haggis flavour. Remember though that this method of smoking your haggis will not be possible once the smoking ban comes into force so you will need to smoke it at home.

You should continue force feeding the sheep for around two to three weeks until the bung looks like it will not hold. You must now act quickly !

This is the tricky bit. Hold the sheep, stomach up, with its face up near your groin ( please re-read the comments about Valentines Day sheep stuffing to avoid confusion here!) then, with your sharpest knife, you must cut along the length of the sheep. Then without hesitation reach in and secure the stomach at each end with a reef knot. Many a haggis has been ruined at this stage so you must do all this quickly.

You should now be in possession of one well stuffed sheep's stomach or haggis. The haggis should really be cured in a steamy bathroom for a few weeks but if you really can't wait it can of course be cooked and eaten immediately. Yum.
More soon.


Wee Jock said...

Tut Tut Rabbie - imagine giving away the secrets of the Haggis! Shame on you. You should be taken out and hung by the sporran until you are dead.

ann said...

Thats terrible what you scots do to those poor sheep!

alan said...

Sounds delicious. What about whisky flavoured haggis? Doe sthis invlove getting the sheep drunk?

Alex said...

My pal has a better method for making the sheep really wild. He walks into a flock of sheep and shouts "You f'in sheepshaggers!" - this seems to get them really wild. As they say -the truth hurts.