25 Jan 2011

Haggis overload: A Burns birthday special

Around the world tonight, people are tucking into Scotland’s national dish of haggis, accompanied by some piping hot neeps and tatties. But not us at chez Gorgie. No, we opted for something a little less traditional.

But I’ll get to that. In truth we have had haggis for our tea three nights in a row. That’s a lot of haggis. Somehow I got it in my head that I wanted to try three new recipes as quickly as possible. They simply got more eccentric as I went on.

We must start with the haggis itself, which I bought from Edinburgh’s wonderful Findlay’s of Portobello. The shop was so busy on Saturday morning I could barely squeeze in the door, and I regret not taking my camera because I missed a beautiful photo of a long wooden shelf that was weighed down with dozens of fat haggises (I had to look up the plural of haggis).

Behold, a haggis!

My first dish was the stodgy and Moorish haggis pie, cooked like a shepherd’s pie but with crumbled haggis on the bottom of the dish instead of beef, and a layer each of mashed neeps and mashed tatties on top.

Baked covered for about an hour and consumed with great vigour. This was easy because I didn’t have to cook the haggis first, and not as heavy as I thought it would be.
Monday night was toastie night, for which I had to cook the haggis first. Findlay’s traditional haggis cooks up nice and dark with just enough peppery bite.

Using a recipe I found in Sue Lawrence’s A Cook’s Tour of Scotland, once the haggis was cooked I cut it open and mixed it up with some dark beer. On this occasion I used Inveralmond Brewery’s rich and malty Lia Fail.

The trick is to leave the haggis in the beer for a few minutes to let it really soak in. But don’t put in too much or else it will just be soggy.

Quality haggis, quality beer, and finally quality bread. The recommendation was for a brown bread, so I went for Pattiserie Jacob’s brown sourdough, but the bread itself is very flavourful and I found it competed with the haggis a bit. Overall a tasty but extremely weighty meal and afterwards I felt as heavy as if I had eaten a sack of wet flour.

Finally, Burns Night arrived. It was time to go where no Burns Supper had been before. It was time for Asian haggis wontons with whisky mayonnaise. You will find the recipe here, although they call them samosas. To me samosas have a different outer texture. I used the wee wonton wrappers you can buy in Chinese grocery stores.
For the whisky mayonnaise, which also includes a bit of wholegrain mustard, of course we used the official Robert Burns Blended Malt Whisky. I didn’t add enough for it to make any real impact on the flavour, but from what my beloved Scotsman tells me, it is not the kind of whisky that would have a lasting effect anyway. He describes it as “inoffensive and unremarkable, with vague hints of vanilla.”

In true Scottish fashion, once the wontons are stuffed with haggis and the grated neeps and onion which have been previously cooked, they are fried in oil. Lots of oil. And since I didn’t think ahead for something to accompany them, we ate them with - what else? - fat chips from the fish and chip shop down the street.
Now that I have finished my meal of fried haggis wontons and chips, how am I feeling? Like a ball of grease, of course.

But of all three meals, this was the best. Crunchy wontons, spicy haggis and the cool creamy texture of the mayonnaise with the sharpness of mustard. But I would certainly make it as a starter and not a main dish. You wouldn’t want your guests thinking you were trying to kill them off with a heart attack.

Anyone else have a Burns Night adventure to report?

If you can’t get enough Burns, there are a few things I found around Internet-town that you might enjoy:
-The Robert Burns' Birthday flash mob which took place on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile
-The new (free!) Burns Iphone app, so you can carry Rabbie with you wherever you go

Now, someone please get me a salad!

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