Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish. Although there are many recipes, it is normally made with the following ingredients: sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal's stomach for approximately an hour. It somewhat resembles stuffed intestines (pig intestines otherwise known as chitterlings), sausages and savoury puddings of which it is among the largest types. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach. There are also meat-free recipes specifically for vegetarians which supposedly taste similar to the meat-based recipes.
Haggis is traditionally served with "neeps and tatties" (Scots: turnip and potatoes), each of these being mashed, separately. (The "neep" is the yellow vegetable called 'swede' in England and 'rutabaga' in the United States.)
The etymology of the word haggis is unclear, although haggis was a more common word in Middle English, from which the Scots language (and the English language) evolved. Most theories trace it to words meaning "to chop" or "to hew", but there is no agreement whether the word was borrowed from Old English haggen , French hachis, or a Norse root, such as Icelandic hoggva- and haggw- (Dickson Wright 9). Along a different line, it may derive from Old French agace, "magpie"— the magpie is known for collecting odds and ends, and a haggis is made up of odds and ends.
History and popularity
It is unknown when or where the first haggis was consumed. The most likely origin of the dish is from the days of the old Scottish cattle drovers. When the men left the highlands to drive their cattle to market in Edinburgh the women would prepare rations for them to eat during the long journey down through the glens. They used the ingredients that were most readily available in their homes and conveniently packaged them in a sheep's stomach allowing for easy transportation during the journey.
Another theory, put forward by food historian Clarissa Dickson-Wright, is that haggis was invented as a way of cooking quick-spoiling offal near the site of a hunt, without the need to carry along an additional cooking vessel. The liver and kidneys could be grilled directly over a fire, but this treatment was unsuitable for the stomach, intestines, or lungs. Chopping up the lungs and stuffing the stomach with them and whatever fillers might have been on hand, then boiling the assembly — likely in a vessel made from the animal's hide — was one way to make sure these parts did not go to waste. (Dickson-Wright 12).
Other theories are based on Scottish slaughtering practices. When a Chieftan or Laird required an animal to be slaughtered for meat (whether sheep or cattle) the workmen were allowed to keep the offal as their share.
Haggis is traditionally served with the Burns supper on January 25th, when Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns, is commemorated. He wrote the poem Address to a Haggis, which starts "Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!" During Burns' lifetime haggis was a popular dish for the poor, since it made use of parts of a sheep that would otherwise have been wasted.
Haggis is widely available in supermarkets in Scotland (and in some parts of England) all the year round, and the cheaper brands are normally packed in artificial casings, rather than stomachs, just as the cheaper brands of sausages are no longer stuffed into animal intestines. Sometimes it is sold in tins and you can simply microwave it or oven-bake it. Some supermarket haggis is largely made from pig's, rather than sheep's, offal. In addition, practically all Scottish fish and chip shops will sell their customers a 'haggis supper'. This consists of a small single portion haggis dipped in batter and deep fried, with chips; it provides a hot, filling, high-energy meal for a cold winter's day. There are also fast-food shops that sell haggis burgers, with a patty of fried haggis on a bun. In addition some Glaswegian curry houses have also reportedly created the 'haggis baji' as a blend of Indian cuisine and local Scottish foods. Enterprising chefs also find some success with using haggis as a substitute for minced beef in various recipes.
Since the 1960s various Scottish shops and manufacturers have created vegetarian haggis for those who do not eat meat. These substitute various pulses and vegetables for the meat in the dish, with a large number of consumers reporting a result said to be pleasant but sometimes more akin to stuffing than traditional haggis. However since both the traditional and vegetarian haggis have wide variations in flavour depending on the recipe used, it is true to say that some variations of vegetarian haggis taste very similar to some variations of traditional haggis.
Odd facts and pop culture
Since many countries' food safety laws outlaw some of the ingredients in haggis (for example, United States law forbids the sale of any animal's lungs for human consumption), expatriate Scots and Scots descendants overseas have been known to engage in 'haggis smuggling' to obtain true Scottish haggis. At least one American company produces haggis for the U.S. market. The Caledonian Kitchen, a Dallas, Texas based gourmet business, began producing both a Highland beef and vegetarian haggis commercially in 1999. Its haggis is in wide distribution throughout the US.
Haggis is an amusing subject for many people. Those who ask a Scotsman about it rarely get a straight answer. A common reply to the question "What is a haggis?" often goes along the following lines. "A haggis is a small four-legged Scottish Highland creature, which has the limbs on one side shorter than the other side. This means that it is well adapted to run around the hills at a steady altitude, without either ascending or descending. However a haggis can easily be caught by running around the hill in the opposite direction." (see Wild Haggis) Surprisingly, this humorous myth is believed by many tourists, and thus they are shocked — and possibly disappointed — to hear the truth. See also sidehill gouger.
Many tourists are also duped (or nearly duped) by Scottish pranksters attempting to lead them on a 'Wild Haggis Hunt'.
Haggis is also used in a sport called haggis hurling, throwing a haggis as far as possible. The present World Record for Haggis Hurling has been held by Alan Pettigrew for over 21 years. He threw a 1.5 lb Haggis an astonishing 180 feet, 10 inches on the island of Inchmurrin, Loch Lomond, in August 1984.
'Haggis' is an uncommon surname, such as for the animator/games programmer Matazone Haggis, creator of the website known as The Other Side, or the screen writer Paul Haggis, known for his work on Million Dollar Baby, Due South, Thirtysomething, and other film and television series. In names it may come from Old English, meaning 'a woodsman's hut', and a Lord Haggis rode on the third crusade with Richard the Lionheart.
In some ways, the northeastern U.S. dish scrapple resembles haggis, however scrapple differs in the following ways: it uses pig offal instead of sheep offal and cornmeal instead of oatmeal; it is a meatloaf rather than a sausage; and it is baked instead of being boiled. As a result, the appearance and the flavour vary significantly. So the resemblance lies more in the fact that it is a combination of offal, grain and vegetables than in any specific ingredient or cooking style.
In Romania, drob is a traditional dish very similar to haggis, prepared usually around Easter day, from sheep's organs, mixed with spices and herbs and wrapped in the sheep's stomach or, rarely, in a thin dough.
Other similar dishes include:
- Balkenbrij from the Netherlands
- Pölsa from Sweden, made from beef.
- Saumagen from Western Germany, made with pork.
- Slátur, an Icelandic cooked sheep's stomachs filled with blood, fat, and liver .
- Švargl in Serbia, made from pork.
- Boudin, an Acadian/Cajun sausage made with pork offal and rice.
- Bopis from the Philippines, made from pork minus the casing.
- Montalayo from Mexico, which is prepared from sheep offal in a manner very similar to haggis.
- Dickson Wright, Clarissa (1998). The Haggis: A Little History. Pelican Publishing Company. ISBN 1-56554-364-5.