What is haggis?
Haggis is a type of sausage or savoury pudding that combines meat with oatmeal, onions, salt and spices. Often served with mashed neeps and tatties (that’s Scots for turnip and potatoes), haggis is traditionally cooked in a sheep’s stomach – a historic way of preserving meat, passed down by the Romans – but most haggis nowadays is sold and cooked in a synthetic sausage casing.
Made largely from oatmeal, haggis has a soft, moist, crumbly texture – similar to stuffing – while the earthiness of the oats and meat combine with salt and spices to give the dish a spicy, rustic flavour with a peppery kick – delicious!
Vegetarian haggis is just as tasty too. Packed with oatmeal, lentils, nuts, kidney beans, onions and spices this hearty dish is deliciously well-seasoned and is relished by vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
Robert Burns was a fan of the national dish too. In 1787 he dedicated an entire poem - Address to a Haggis – to the ‘great chieftain o the puddin’-race’ and nowadays haggis, neeps and tatties are the focal point of every Burns Supper. This world-famous celebration of Burns’ life and work is held annually on the 25 January, Burns’ birthday, and features exuberant dancing, rousing verse, drams of whisky and, of course, heaps of haggis.
Where does haggis come from?
Although Robert Burns immortalised haggis in his humorous poem Address to a Haggis, the origins of Scotland’s national dish can be traced much further back.
It is said that in days gone by hunters would mix offal, which couldn’t be preserved, with cereal – creating the first haggis. The first written mention of a haggis-type sausage comes from the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes in 423 BC when he refers to one exploding.
Though the actual origin of the word ‘haggis’ remains a mystery, many people believe that it may have come from the Scots word ‘hag’ which means to chop or hew. The dish has Viking connections too, with strong similarities to the Swedish word ‘hagga’ and the Icelandic ‘hoggva’, both of which also mean to chop or hew. Haggis-type dishes can still be found in Scandinavia today.
Image from Amber Restaurant, The Scotch Whisky Experience
How do you cook haggis?
Haggis requires heating until piping hot, and can be boiled in the bag, baked in the oven or microwaved - make sure to remove the packaging, metal clips and casing first though!
Not just for Burns Night, haggis is delicious served alongside its traditional accompaniments, neeps and tatties, but this versatile food is also used as a focal ingredient in more contemporary dishes in the restaurants and pubs across Scotland. Try ‘The Flying Scotsman’, a succulent chicken breast stuffed with spicy haggis, or the excellent ‘Balmoral Chicken’ which is identical, but is also wrapped in sizzling bacon.
You could also try your hand at whipping up some delicious haggis recipes yourself. Modern dishes include haggis nachos, haggis-topped canapés and delicious haggis lasagne. The recipe book by Jo Macsween, from the acclaimed Edinburgh haggis-making family, features 50 mouth-watering haggis dishes with a twist.
Find more information about The Macsween Haggis Bible or visit the Macsween website.