Robbie Burns Night
Yesterday at 11am I got an IM from the Snook: “Och! It’s Rabbie Burns Day.” To which I jokingly replied: “Neeps and tatties for dinner then?” For those who are confused, Robert Burns was the most famous poet of Scotland and January 25th was his birthday. It’s traditional for Scots to have a Burns Supper on that night with traditional foods, whisky, and recitations of Burns’s poetry. Now, the Snook and I are not Scottish. Not a bit. But we’ve visited Scotland on a couple occasions, and we have good friends who are Scottish. Also, we’re foodies and we love any excuse for an exotic feast. (I have a dream of going to the annual Bastille Day dinner at Bennelong some year.) So that little joking exchange in the morning stuck in my head all day…
At 5pm I was packing up from work and I messaged the Snook to see if he really did want Scottish food. On a whim, I asked Twitter where I could get a haggis in Sydney on short notice. A few people replied mentioning various specialty butchers in the suburbs, but making a special trip was probably taking the joke too far. Then my friend Sharon tweeted that Hudson Meats have haggis on their website. Hudson is in Surry Hills, which is only like a 20 minute walk from my office. So I rang the shop to confirm, and half an hour later I had a 2-pound haggis in my backpack. Was I really going to cook and eat this thing?!
For those who don’t know (or who’ve never seen So I Married an Axe Murderer), 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. Yes, SERIOUSLY. Basically, it’s like a cross between a meatloaf and a breakfast sausage… involving lots of organ meat. (You don’t actually eat the stomach though; that’s just there for cooking.) Neither of us had ever had one before. Haggis come pre-cooked, so all you really have to do is heat them up. Traditionally you boil them, but there’s always a risk they’ll rupture and you’ll have haggis soup. So I went with the safer oven method: wrap tightly in aluminum foil; place in roasting pan with some water; and roast at 180C for an hour. While it was roasting I invited Fiona and Matt over to join us. We had our haggis with mashed neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) and a whisky sauce. We also recited Burns’s poem “Address to a Haggis” in terrible Scottish accents. It was great! Read on for more details… AND PHOTOS.This is how the vac-packed haggis from Hudson Meats looked. It cost me about $26 for a 900g haggis.
And here it is out of the packaging. I felt very brave doing this myself. (I am traditionally not a huge fan of organ meat.) Steeling myself, I leaned forward to take a whiff, expecting some sort of grossness. To my surprise, it smelled good! Like a fresh sausage with lovely spices.
Fresh from roasting, still in its foil. It’s traditional to cut the haggis open with a dagger. We didn’t have a dagger, but Snookums had a fancy-looking letter opener that we used for the photos.
And here it is unwrapped. It actually looked kind of good! The casing went translucent and you could see the dark filling inside. The smell was a little bit gamey, but by no means unpleasant.
And now for the ceremony. A proper Burns Supper has a whole set of steps you’re meant to follow. Snookums gave the host’s welcoming speech, and then I recited the Selkirk Grace. I had an mp3 of some bagpipes playing the “Robert Burns Medley” playing in the background. Then we all took turns reciting verses from Burns’s “Address to a Haggis”. Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!
After a whisky toast to our noble haggis, it was finally time to cut the thing open.
Here you can see what it actually looked like inside. Basically, just a big dark meatball kind of thing. The texture was moist and slightly paté-like.
I’ll admit that my first few bites were tentative, as I couldn’t get my brain to stop thinking about all the organs in it. But you know what? It was really tasty! It was lovely with the mashed veg and the cream sauce. Matt was the only one of us four who’d ever had it before, and he said this one was better than the previous two he’d had in Scotland. We pretty much demolished the whole thing!
So what started as a bit of a joke in the morning turned into a full-fledged culinary adventure in the evening. It was loads of fun! Thanks to Sharon for suggesting Hudson Meats, who were awesome. And thanks to Matt and Fiona for helping us eat it!