First, slaughter your sheep.
If no sheep to hand – or you don’t want to slaughter Mailie* - what meats to use?
Traditionally you use the sheep’s heart, liver and lungs. Lungs are illegal as human foodstuff in USA – a good thing cos they’re kinda gross to clean, a bad thing cos they add a light texture. I’ve found sheep’s heart and liver in Pittsburgh, though you can use pork or ox liver if you want (ox being quite strong, so cut down quantity). Many haggis makers in Scotland these days use pork as the base meat, which is fine if no-one has any objections to pig. I have found a hunter who keeps deer hearts and livers for me, which makes a dish known as Royal Haggis. (Her Maj would shoot a deer but not a sheep) Don’t, whatever you do, use the online Alton Brown recipe, which uses sheep tongue – it gives completely the wrong texture, more like a meatloaf, and flavour, not remotely right! (Not that his recipe doesn’t taste good, it’s just not haggis)
Most recipes say you should use beef suet - which in UK comes in handy prepared pellets, not the grisly lumps you get here. I bypass that. You want a bit of fat to keep the meat juicy – heart and liver don’t have much – so what my mother used to do is ask the butcher for a pound of beef or lamb trimmings. If all else fails, a pound of stewing beef with a bit of fat on it. Don’t use ground meat, the texture’s wrong, it ends up like meatloaf. Haggis comes from hag, to chop, and should have a bit of bite to it.
So – sliced liver, sliced heart, trimmings go in to a pot of cold water to cover and are brought to a simmer for an hour or so. No salt! Skim surface regularly. The picture shows top right heart, top and middle left liver, bottom right lungs.
Cool and drain (keeping the cooking liquid).
Take half a pound of steel cut oatmeal, known in Scotland as pinhead oatmeal; not rolled oats, which will give you the texture of a meatloaf. Did I mention a haggis is not like a meatloaf? Brown or toast the oatmeal under the grill (broiler in American) or in a dry frying pan or even in the microwave – you want it lightly browned and nutty. Allow to cool.
Finely dice the meat – my grandmother, daughter of a professional cook, said you had to grate the liver but I reckon early cooks didn’t have graters and it was a ploy to keep granddaughter involved. That said, an awful lot of old recipes say grate the liver. Your call. You CAN put the meat through a processor as long as you make sure it doesn’t process too finely – a mincer can give too fine a texture so you end up with a pate, not a haggis.
So, in a bowl you put your finely chopped meats, a couple of onions (also finely chopped – don’t be tempted, as a friend was, to use red onions, it’ll end in tears). Now you add the flavourings. Wars are fought over less. Salt is a given – between one and two tablespoons, depending how salty you like your food. (It MUST be Maldon sea flakes… actually, no, whatever you have). I go for less and put out a salt cellar at the table. A tablespoon of freshly-ground black pepper. Then – some people say it should have a teaspoon of coriander seeds, others some cayenne, while yet others add herbs. It should not contain hot spices, cinnamon or, come to that, Miracle Whip. I just go for salt and pepper.
At this point, you should have a sheep’s stomach to stuff it in to. If you have one lying around or want to use sausage casing, that’s OK. But this is how we did it in my family.
Put the mix in to a greased casserole dish and pour the reserved cooking liquid on top (through a sieve - strainer - to take out any bits). The mixture should be quite sloppy.
Cover the casserole dish – no lid? foil – and bake at 180°C/350°F until you get bored. About an hour. If you’re like my family, you’ll whip off the lid/foil 20 minutes or so before it’s ready so you get a crunchy top. Whatever you prefer.
Tell the person standing by with a dirk, ready to stab the wee sausage, to stand down. Serve with "bash-it"** neeps (rutabaga boiled and mashed with butter and nutmeg) and chompit tatties (potatoes boiled and mashed with butter and milk).
And if anyone says “oh, blech, can’t eat that. It’s full of unmentionable stuff!” point out that andouille sausage, hot dogs and scrapple contain equally unmentionable bits and they're never mentioned!
*Rabbie’s favourite sheep.
** The word is spelled without the hyphen but added to overcome naughty word issues with the software!
(photos from The Guardian and Caroline's Cooking)