Delicious, Do-able Pot Haggis
March 20, 2016
There's no image this week, because pot haggis, although delicious, is not particularly photogenic.
Until I first tasted haggis two years ago, I had the standard uninformed North American view of it as an exotic and probably disgusting oddity. After all, sheep offal and oatmeal in a sheep's stomach?
And then I tasted it and discovered that it is a real treat. It's also one of those homey dishes whose ingredients and technique vary depending on the cook and what she has on hand. The most liberating thing I learned is that you don't have to steam it in a sheep's stomach. What we're talking about here is not the Robbie Burns Day haggis that gets piped into a dining room full of kilted devotees. That's a wonderful tradition, a once-a-year celebration complete with a recitation of Burns's Ode to a Haggis. But this haggis you can make whenever you've stockpiled a few bits of lamb innards--though it's definitely a dish better eaten in brisk weather than in the summertime.
Here, complete with asterisked asides, is how to make a very satisfactory pot haggis.
In 2 tablespoons of oil (I used olive oil), cook two large-ish onions, finely chopped, plus a couple of bay leaves and a teaspoon of dried thyme, for ten minutes. While the onions cook ready the meat, 2 1/2 pounds of various lamb offal (in my case a heart, kidneys, liver, and tongue)*. Trim away any excess fat, then coarsely chop everything in the food processor. If you are using ground lamb as part of the meat component, you obviously don't need to add it to the food processor.**
Add the chopped liver, etc., to the onions along with a tablespoon of ground allspice and a tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper, then stir and simmer this for not quite ten minutes, until the meats have cooked a bit. (At this point I put in the skinned and chopped tongue.) Add enough water to cover the mixture by at least half an inch and simmer it for an hour.
And now your haggis is ready, except for adding the steel-cut oats for the final cooking. At this point you can set it aside until about an hour before serving--which makes this a great party dish. Note that haggis calls for steel-cut oats, NOT rolled oats. So for this amount (i.e., 2 1/2 pounds of lamb offal), which serves 6 very generously, you will want a scant two cups of oats. For the best flavour, spread the oats on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour, checking occasionally and stirring them around to toast them evenly. This you can also do ahead of time.
Okay, final prep: Reheat the onion and meat mixture (remove the bay leaves at this point) then stir in the toasted oats. You can now let it simmer on top of the stove for 40 minutes, or--even easier--you can put the pan in a 350 degree oven for an hour or more. If your guests aren't ready to eat by then, just turn the oven to 250 and leave it until you need it. It is very forgiving. Delicious and forgiving.
Haggis is traditionally served with Neaps and Tatties--i.e., turnips (cooked and mashed) and mashed potatoes. As I said, this is not a summer meal. But on a cold night, with, say, a light soup as a starter, it will warm the hearts of all your guests.
*The collection of recipes from which I worked called variously for the offal I listed above but also suggested lungs (illegal in my jurisdiction), ground lamb or beef, beef suet, pork liver, and beef or lamb trimmings. Some recipes called for coriander rather than allspice, but black pepper was common to all of them. I'd say that as long as about half your meat is lamb liver, you can use whatever else you want.
**The tongue I covered with cold water, brought to a simmer, and cooked separately, then skinned it and coarsely chopped it, adding it to the pot later, after the initial cooking of the meats.