Haggis – news, articles and information on this Scottish traditional delicacy
Haggis is a dish containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach.
As a kind of savoury pudding, the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique puts it, “Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour”.
The haggis is a traditional Scottish dish memorialised as the national dish of Scotland by Robert Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis in 1787. Haggis is traditionally served with “neeps and tatties” (Scots: Rutabagaand potato, boiled and mashed separately) and a “dram” (i.e. a glass of Scotch whisky), especially as the main course of a Burns supper. However it is also often eaten with other accompaniments.
Although there is no precise date for the first preparation of haggis, the earliest recorded consumption of the related French dish Andouillette can be traced back to an actual date in the ninth century – it was served at the coronation of King Louis II in Troyes on 7 September 878.
Food writer Alan Davidson goes back further, stating that the Ancient Romans were the first people known to have made products of the haggis type. Even earlier, a kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer’s Odyssey, in book 20, (towards the end of the eighth century BC) when Odysseus is compared to “a man before a great blazing fire turning swiftly this way and that a stomach full of fat and blood, very eager to have it roasted quickly”. Haggis was “born of necessity, as a way to utilize the least expensive cuts of meat and the innards as well” (Andrew Zimmern). Since the internal organs rapidly perish, it is likely that haggis-like preparations have been around since pre-history.
Clarissa Dickson Wright claims that it “came to Scotland in a longship [ie. from Scandinavia] even before Scotland was a single nation.” Dickson-Wright further cites etymologist Walter William Skeat as further suggestion of possible Scandinavian origins: Skeat claimed that the hag– part of the word is derived from the Old Norse haggw or the Old Icelandic hoggva (höggva in modern Icelandic), meaning ‘to hew’ or strike with a sharp weapon, relating to the chopped-up contents of the dish. One theory claims that the name “haggis” is derived from Norman French. Norman French was more guttural than modern French so that the “ch” of “hachis”, i.e. “chopped”, was pronounced as the “ch” in “loch”, giving “haggis”. This conjecture, however, is discredited by the Oxford English Dictionary.
Dickson Wright suggests that haggis was invented as a way of cooking quick-spoiling offal near the site of a hunt, without the need to carry along an additional cooking vessel. The liver and kidneys could be grilled directly over a fire, but this treatment was unsuitable for the stomach, intestines, or lungs. Chopping up the lungs and stuffing the stomach with them and whatever fillers might have been on hand, then boiling the assembly — likely in a vessel made from the animal’s hide — was one way to make sure these parts did not go to waste.
In the absence of hard facts as to haggis’ origins, popular folklore has provided more fanciful theories. One is that the dish originates from the days of the old Scottish cattle drovers. When the men left the highlands to drive their cattle to market inEdinburgh the women would prepare rations for them to eat during the long journey down through the glens. They used the ingredients that were most readily available in their homes and conveniently packaged them in a sheep’s stomach allowing for easy transportation during the journey. Other speculations have been based on Scottish slaughtering practices. When a Chieftain or Laird required an animal to be slaughtered for meat (whether sheep or cattle) the workmen were allowed to keep the offal as their share.
A frequent tale is that a “Haggis” is a small Scottish animal with one set of legs longer than the other so that it can stand on the steep Scottish Highlands without falling over. According to one poll, 33% of American visitors to Scotland believe haggis to be an animal.
Haggis is traditionally served with the Burns supper on the week of January 25, when Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, is commemorated. He wrote the poem Address to a Haggis, which starts “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!” During Burns’s lifetime haggis was a popular dish for the poor, as it was very cheap, being made from leftover, otherwise thrown away, parts of a sheep (the most common livestock in Scotland), yet nourishing.
Haggis is widely available in supermarkets in Scotland and other parts of the world all the year round, with cheaper brands normally packed in artificial casings, rather than stomachs, just as cheaper brands of sausages are no longer stuffed into animal intestines. Sometimes haggis is sold in tins or a container which can simply be microwaved or oven-baked. Some supermarket haggis is largely made from pig, rather than sheep, offal.
Haggis can be served in Scottish fast-food establishments deep fried in batter. Together with chips, this comprises a “haggis supper”. A “haggis burger” is a patty of fried haggis served on a bun, and a “haggis pakora” is another deep fried variant, available in some Indian restaurants in Scotland.
A modern haggis variant often served in higher class restaurants is the “Flying Scotsman”, which is chicken breast stuffed with haggis. This can in turn be wrapped in bacon to create a dish known as “Chicken Balmoral”. Haggis can also be used as a substitute for minced beef in various recipes.
Since the 1960s various Scottish shops and manufacturers have created vegetarian haggis for those who do not eat meat. These substitute various pulses and vegetables for the meat in the dish.
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