Sunday, April 04, 2010

Adventures in haggis

I don't remember why, now, but I just had to cook some haggis this past week. For the first time.

I had heard of haggis as a scary mixture of animal innards, used almost as a threat in the movies. Several years ago, they had some at a Celtic festival and we decided to bravely give it a try. Now remember, I grew up in rural North Carolina. I took one taste of the dark mush and exclaimed, "This is liver pudding! I grew up on this!"
(Note the word "pudding" and a meat in the same American phrase; there's got to be some Scottish or English heritage here.)

Haggis is now nostalgic, ever since we went to Scotland in 2006 and had it with "neeps and tatties" (mashed potatoes with turnips, like a shepherd's pie) at Edinburgh Castle.

I've always liked liver pudding, which is available in my local stores. But it's made of pork, and I've become more conscious of pork in everything. Why couldn't I make it out of something a little healthier, like beef or venison?

Ingredients. So I bought some beef liver and threw it in the freezer. And last weekend I thawed it, determined to find enough ingredients to try to make haggis. Anybody who knows me well knows that a recipe is just a starting point. I started with the Frugal Gourmet's Our Immigrant Ancestors, but decided not to try to chase down any icky or high-maintenance ingredients, like sheep's stomach or a heart. I did buy lamb, which required going to the grocery store on the other end of town. I knew I would need to steam it all in something, and having just eaten some beef tamales, I hit on the idea of using corn husks - same cooking method, right?

Cooking. I fried the meat instead of boiling it, since I didn't have to bother with the heart. The first problem was that I only had two cornhusks. I had saved some stiff cabbage leaves (idea borrowed from Korean cooking), but I didn't have enough for all the meat. The second problem was that my steamer was just an insert in a saucepan. I had a huge bowl of mixture (from 2 pounds of meat) and only a few wrappers and a little pot! Continuing to improvise, I wrapped some mixture in aluminum foil and formed a meatloaf shape with the rest and baked it.

Results. By now you're probably thinking that I've lost my mind! But it was all an experiment.
Everything that got baked was dry and crumbly. It might could be rescued with water and a shepherd's pie, but baking is not the best.
The steamed portions, both cabbage and cornhusk-wrapped, turned out fine! Next time I'll get more (a bigger cabbage, too), and I'll buy or borrow a steamer.
The recipe had optional gravy, but no guidelines. Frying the meat gave me the drippings to make gravy. But, note to self: gravy with liver in it is not good! It went in the trash.

By the way, the recipe called for Scotch, so I had to buy some. A drizzle on the haggis goes great. But pour it in a glass, and that's some nasty stuff! 'Guess I'm just a bourbon girl.

Tonight, I made mashed potatoes and served it on some leftover haggis, like an individual shepherd's pie. Mmm.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Follow-up: My sister, her husband and I pronounced the cornhusk and cabbage-steamed haggis pretty good, especially with mashed potatoes (and tablespoon of whiskey).

The baked haggis was fully appreciated by their two dogs.