Haggis is a traditional Scots dish and usually served on the anniversary of Robert Burns' birth on Jan. 25, mainly because he wrote the immortal "Ode to a Haggis," and because it connects Scots to an ancient and mystical agrarian heritage, and because it's an excuse to get kilted up, and because Scots are naturally ornery that way.
Burns Night takes place 6 p.m. Saturday night at Ilikai Hotel, and is sponsored by the Caledonian Society of Hawaii. Admission is $46.50.
During such occasions, the haggis is brought out with a great flourish and ceremonial huzzah, Burns' poem is recited by a member of the party, and it is carved and consumed with gusto - not to mention cock-a-leekie, tatties-and-neeps, tipsy laird, Dunlap cheese and bracing shots of - what else? - a wee dram o' Scotch.
You never see bagoong being feted in such a manner. At least not in public.
But you do see the words "noble" or "dreaded" often prefixed upon haggis. Particularly upon the Internet, where haggis sites breed apace. We picked up few recipes from net sites and elsewhere - we particularly liked the "Haggis Early Warning Network" site, but watch out for the sites that pretend that the haggis is a three-legged bird found near Loch Ness! - and tried them out in a regular kitchen with a regular cook, in this case, this writer's mother, Connie Burlingame of Mililani.
She whipped up a couple of examples, and we tried them here at the office, without telling the guinea pigs - er, subjects - what the dish was. They liked it. Most requested seconds.
Other subjects, when told the dish was "haggis," went into spasms without even a taste. Such is the power of suggestion.
SO what is haggis? The word might come from the French "hachis," which is how it's referred to in dusty cookbooks, or from the root Scots word "hag," which means "to chop." In any case, the French have disowned haggis - they called it "le pain benit d'ecosse," which, as near as we can guess, means "the bread blessed by Scots," which is not a thumbs-up among French bakers.
Haggis is the legendary food of the Scots, next to sheep's head, and some ancient haggis recipes even call for minced sheep's-head meat. Yum!
At any rate, we're talking peasant food. Making something out of nothing. In the olden days, after "Braveheart" but before "Rob Roy," and after the evil English made off with the good parts of the deer,
the cow and the sheep, what was left was entrails and cattle feed. Haggis is more of a method of dealing with these ingredients than a specific type of dish.
Bottom line, it's a kind of sausage. The ingredients are chopped fine, placed in a container and cooked within an inch of its life. Traditionally, this was comprised of toasted oatmeal, onions and other vegetables, seasonings, and meat protein from chopped-up heart, tongue, "lights" (lungs) or liver, and the whole is stuffed into a cleaned sheep's "paunch" or stomach, and boiled for hours.
This "great chieftain of the pudding race" - as Burns called it - is the most democratic of dishes, served in Scots castles, crofts and also plumped center table in humble farms, where "all gathering round with their horn spoons, and it was 'deil tak' the hindmost!" reported T.F. Henderson in "Old-World Scotland."
Cooking haggis in a stomach bag appeals to the romantic barbarian in every Scot heart, not to mention the occasional excitement of seeing the bag explode (remember to prick in some vent holes with a needle). Frankly, a pressure cooker or a tight casserole dish or a covered mixing bowl works just as well. Or it can be cooked like a stew in a saucepan, as long as it's kept moist. Your call.
At any rate, haggis is a good winter meal - it's nutritious, spicy, filling, cheap, stores well in the freezer and takes microwave nuking most excellently. Just don't tell anyone what it is before you serve it.
1 cleaned sheep or lamb's stomach bagToast the oatmeal slowly until it is crisp, then mix all the ingredients (except the stomach bag) together and add the stock. Fill the bag just over half full, press out the air and sew up securely.
2 pounds dry oatmeal
1 pound chopped mutton suet
1 pound lamb or deer's liver, boiled and minced
1 pint stock
Heart and lights (lung) of a sheep, boiled and minced
A large chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon each of cayenne, Jaimaca pepper, salt and pepper
Have ready a large pot of boiling water, prick the haggis all over with a large needle so it does not burst and boil slowly for 4 or 5 hours. Serves 12.
6 medium unpeeled onions, trimmedCut a sliver across the bottom of each onion, so that they stand upright. Cut a cross in the top about 3/4 of the way down. Place in a large pan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, drain and refresh under cold water.
3-1/2 tablespoons sunflower margarine
2/3 cup organic rolled oats
2/3 cup pinhead (unrolled) oatmeal
1/3 cup chopped mixed nuts
1 onion, finely chopped
1-1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons canned red kidney beans, drained and chopped
3-2/3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon yeast extract
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoon chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as basil
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Juice of 1 lime
Italian seasoning to taste
1 tablespoon whiskey
Chopped fresh chives and parsley to garnish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To make the haggis, melt the margarine in a pan and add the oats, oatmeal and nuts. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring, for about 3 minutes until toasted and golden. Transfer to a bowl.
Melt remaining margarine, add the onion, mushrooms and carrot and cook gently for 5 minutes until softened. Stir into the toasted oat mixture with the remaining haggis ingredients.
Snip out the center of the onions with kitchen scissors, leaving the skin and 3/4th outer layers intact. Stuff with haggis and bake for 40 minutes. Serves 6.
We cooked it in a round-bottomed steel mixing bowl, which was then dumped over to make an attractive pudding-shaped mound.
1-1/2 cups boiling waterBoil liver for 10 minutes in 1-1/2 cups of water; save water. Chop liver fine in food processor, followed by onion.
3/4 pound calves liver
1 large red onion chopped fine
1/2 pound light margarine
1/2 pound very lean ground beef
1 tablespoon course ground pepper
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoon Italian seasoning
5 cups oatmeal
Mix together margarine, ground beef and saved water well. Mix all dry ingredients well, then add wet and dry ingredients together and mix well. Place in tight covered casseroles (wrap in foil to seal if necessary) and steam or bake for 4 hours.
Makes 20 1/2 cup servings.
What: Burns Night
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ilikai Hotel Pacific Ballroom