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I am married to a Scot and it's become something of a tradition that we hold some form of Burns Night event.
Burns Night falls on 25th January and celebrates the birth on 25 January 1759 of Robert - Rabbie - Burns, the famous Scottish Bard. Burns Suppers have been held in his honour for over 200 years - the first supper was held by his friends after his death in 1796.
There is a set format for a Burns Supper which starts with the Selkirk Grace:
"Some hae meat and cannot eat.
Some cannot eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit."
After the starter (typically cock-a-leekie soup, although this year Mr P made a delicious Cullen skink which is a thick chowder style soup made with smoked haddock), the guests stand for the entrance of the haggis which is really the start of the evening. A true Burns Supper will have a piper who play the bagpipes as the haggis is brought in and the guests clap. The host then recites one of Burns' most famous power - To A Haggis - Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great Chieftan o' the Puddin'-race!
When he gets to the line 'an cut you up wi' ready slight', he cuts open the haggis with a sharp knife. Mr P always uses his skean dhu which is produced with a great flourish from his kilt socks. After toasting the haggis with a wee dram of whisky we then tuck in to the haggis which of course is served with 'champit tatties' (mashed potatoes) and bashed neeps' (swede).
The traditional dessert is tipsy laird (trifle) or raspberry cranachan (raspberries with a cream infused with whisky and toasted oatmeal). Speeches then follow starting with The Immortal Memory - an irreverent speech about Burns - and then a toast to the lassies and a reply to the lads. After that there's more poetry ready or some Scottish country dancing - all of course helped along by copious amounts of whisky.
I hate to dispel the popular myth that at certain times of the year haggis can be found running around the Scottish hills (apparently the legs of the wee beastie are shorter on one side than the other to help it cope with the steepness of its habitat) but for the purposes of this review I fear I must describe the haggis as a mix of beef and lamb offal and meat mixed with spices and oatmeal. Traditionally this mixture is stuffed into a sheep's stomach for cooking.
The Macsween haggis
The Macsween seems to be the most widely available haggis - at least it's the one I see most in English supermarkets. Apparently Macsween make 1,000 tonnes of haggis every year. That's an awful lot of haggis! The haggis is made from lamb, beef, oatmeal, onions, pepper and spices and is absolutely delicious. To serve as main course, Macsween suggest that you allow 150-200g per person. I think this is a very generous serving - most people really only want a tasting. Waitrose had a variety of sizes in stock this year and I bought a couple of small 'haggii' for £3.55 each. I also bought a vegetarian version for the same price. The beef and lamb is replaced with a combination of black kidney beans, lentils and vegetables.
Typical values per 100g are:
Cooking is easy. You wrap the haggis in silver foil and pop it in a tin with 2cm of water and roast. A small haggis which will serve 3-4 takes about an hour.
The oatmeal gives the haggis a nice almost nutty texture. The taste isn't over powering - slightly peppery but to me the seasoning is just right. I prefer the meal version as the vegetarian is a little too creamy for my taste but it is a good alternative to anyone who doesn't eat offal.
Haggis may be something of an acquired taste but I've always liked it. It's good value and surprisingly versatile. The Macsween website has a variety of recipes some of which elevate the humble haggis into gourmet dishes. There's even a recipe for haggis nachos! I have served balmoral chicken in the past on Burns Night - chicken stuffed with haggis - and this year I made a variation of the haggis shepherds pie to use up leftovers. The family wolfed it down - I didn't have enough leftovers to use haggis alone so I added the leftovers to some mince. It worked really well and was absolutely yummy. So yes I would definitely recommend the Macsween haggis. It gets the full 5 stars from me.
Haggis is one of those dishes that people refuse to try because they know that it contains ground up offal but I bet they would balk at the ingredients of a lot of the convenience food they eat every day. Macsween is Scotland's premier haggis producer, their dish is head and shoulders above the competition in terms of taste and quality.
Haggis is traditionally made from sheep pluck ie the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep boiled in animal casing with suet, oatmeal and spices and Macsween sticks to this recipe except for the fact that they use beef suet. The haggis comes encased in animal intestines, it's not nearly as disgusting as it sounds especially as you don't eat the casing and the white casing was not at all slimy to touch.
To prepare the haggis, you can either oven heat in a dish containing water for an hour or microwave it for 6 minutes, I always choose the latter method for speed and convenience but if you are planning on a traditional Burns supper where you stab the haggis to see it spurting out you will need to oven cook.
I'll admit that haggis is not the most attractive looking dish when you see it, the mix is a brown and grey colour of small minced pieces. It does however taste wonderfull. This haggis is easily the tastiest on the market with a nice strong meaty flavour with the oats giving it a nice nutty taste too and the pepper giving it a nice kick without being too spicy. What I particularly like about this haggis is the fact that it is not at all greasy or oily like any of the other haggises out there and manages to be nice and moist without leaving an oily feeling in my mouth.
The traditional way to serve this haggis is of course with mashed tatties and neeps but another favourite recipe of mine is to make a flying Scotsman which is a chicken breast stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon before baking, chicken and haggis always go really well together.
Macsweens haggis costs £2.99 for a ball which serves 2-3 although I find I can easily stretch it to feed 4, unfortunately it is not always available in the supermarkets which is a pity as some of us would eat haggis more often than Burns night if we could get a hold of it.
Haggis is available in supermarkets and butchers all year long in Scotland but at this time of year there are usually whole fridge areas devoted to different makes and sizes of Haggis. By this time of year I mean Burns Night on January 25th!
My Macsween Haggis is a traditional one as they do make Vegetarian haggis as well now. It is sealed in a clear plastic bag with red tartan decoration like a ribbon and clearly states that it is hand made by Macsween - Guardians of Scotland's national dish. My Haggis will serve 2-3 people, but strangely there is no weight on it and it's too late now to weigh it, as we've eaten it! The date to be used is February 5th.
On the back are several instructions depending on how you wish to cook it. But although it is already cooked it needs heating until piping hot and should you decide to freeze it for a later date it must be defrosted before heating.
This is a traditional haggis and is in a skin from an animal, which is left on and wrapped in foil before placing in a pre heated oven to gas mark 4 or 180°C in a dish with a little water for about 1 hour. A quicker alternative is to remove all packaging, metal clip and skin and cut the haggis into chunks and place in a microwavable dish, cover with a lid or cling film and cook for 6 minutes, stirring once during cooking. It may need a little longer if you have a lower model, but mine is an 800watt model. For a proper Burns Night celebration meal the Haggis needs to be in a skin as after being piped in, the address to the Haggis involves it being cut open as "An, cut you up wi' ready slight; Trenching your gushing entrails bright" is spoken.
People often won't try haggis because of the ingredients, this one contains Lamb offal, beef fat, oatmeal, water, onion, pepper and spices. It has high calories because of the fat content and 100grams has 1126 calories, with 17.6 grams of fat. I do believe that anyone eating Haggis isn't really bothered about the calories just the taste, or they only have a small portion as Haggis doesn't have to be eaten entirely on its own with neeps and tatties it can be used in many ways and Macsween have a lovely selection of recipes, some modern ideas worth trying like Haggis Bruchetta and Lasagne. This was a particularly nice Haggis, not too spicy but seasoned very well. It was quite moist, but not too greasy.
The haggis I bought was £2.97 although we ate it all it would serve 3 people with smaller portions! Go on, try it, it is a really delicious meal.