The current revival of “nose to tail” eating is suited perfectly to making haggis. And we got the perfect opportunity to do so when catering for a recent Burn’s night supper. Using every part of an animal is not only satisfying in terms of maximising sustainability and general use of resources but produces some delicious dishes. Of course our ancestors were masters of this and a respect for their livestock and strict economic circumstances were the driver. In recent years various people have embraced the “everything but the squeal” approach, a phrase first used in 1906 when Upton Sinclair encouraged American meatpackers to sell the whole animal in his book, “The Jungle”.
High health pigs being reared at Povey farm in the Moss Valley Sheffield
In the UK Fergus Henderson has famously revived this nose to tail eating, using a whole range of offal, and has a Michelin star for his main restaurant St John – woodcock broth and ox heart and chips is on offer tonight as I write down in London town.
Our opportunity to join this movement was the obligatory inclusion of haggis in the Burn’s night menu but the experience I fancy will lead to further adventures in this field. Our favourite new supplier’s Stephen and Karen from Moss Valley Fine Meats have already given us the route to trying pork derivatives. For the haggis though sheep was the focus and here’s how we did it.
Pluck - heart, liver and lungs
First find your sheep’s pluck. Pluck is a collective term for the heart, lung and liver, which we got still attached to the windpipe. Its a bit gory this bit but steel yourself and once in the pot and simmering it soon becomes easier. In one recipe we found it recommended to leave the windpipe hanging over the side of the cooking pot with a container underneath to catch any drips. We elected to remove the windpipe and discard assuming it would be too sinewy. You will need to order a sheep’s pluck from your local butcher – I’m not sure how a supermarket would respond but I would be interested in the response to such a request.
Traditional the haggis is stuffed into a sheep’s stomach but these are very hard to come by these days mainly due to enhanced food hygiene controls. We opted instead for an ox bung! This is the last yard or so of the cow’s large intestine which is cleaned and salted. We sourced this from a great on-line site, Franco’s Famous Sausage Making Org a resource I am sure we will be making more of as we experiment further for sausage skins et al.
In the recipe below we doubled up having 2 plucks and requiring enough haggis for a large party (40 people). However, in the event it made two very large haggis with plenty of mixture left over.
1 sheep’s pluck. i.e. the animals heart, liver, and lights (lungs).
1 sheep’s stomach (empty) or Ox Bung
1lb lightly toasted pinhead oatmeal (medium or coarse oatmeal).
1-2 tablespoons salt.
1 level tablespoon freshly ground black pepper.
1 tablespoon freshly ground allspice.
1 level tablespoon of mixed herbs.
8oz finely chopped suet.
4 large onions, finely chopped.
(lemon juice (or a good vinegar) is sometimes added as well as other flavourings such as cayenne pepper)
Wash the stomach in cold water until it is thoroughly clean and then soak it in cold salted water for about 8-10 hours.
The Ox Bung Soaks Overnight
Place the pluck in a large pot and cover with cold water. Gently simmer the pluck for approximately 2 hours or until it is tender and then leave the pluck to cool.
Finely chop or mince the pluck meat and then mix it with the oatmeal. Add about half a pint of the liquor in which the pluck was cooked (or use a good stock). Add the seasonings, suet and onions, ensuring everything is well mixed. We then left this refrigerated overnight.
Fill the stomach or ox bung with the mixture, leaving enough room for the oatmeal to expand into. Press out the air and then sew up the haggis, or as we did simply tie off when you have a sufficient size. Prick the haggis a few times with a fine needle. Place the haggis in boiling water and simmer for approximately 3 hours. The traditional service involves a piper and copious amounts of whiskey, not to say the traditional address to the beast with thefamous poem by Robert Burns. Our haggis was moist and highly savoury, very flavoursome and was met with an enthusiastic response from the diners. Highly recommended.