Haggis – From Scratch – Step by Step

January 25th, 2010    •  by Bethia    •   35 Comments »

A couple of years ago, around this time of year, I went to my local butchers Blues Creek Farm Meats at the North Market and asked if they sold haggis or if they knew anywhere I could buy it. I didn’t realize that imports of haggis were banned. They didn’t and suggested that I make my own. I laughed and dismissed the idea. I then discovered the Barley’s annual Burns Night Supper and for two years I satisfied my haggis cravings there.  But, this year emboldened by the pig’s head project, I decided that if I could boil pig’s heads, I could damn well make my own haggis.

For the uninitiated, haggis is a Scottish delicacy. It is made of sheep’s offal, oatmeal, suet, onion and seasonings and is boiled and served with ‘neeps and tatties’ (mashed rutabaga and mashed potatoes) and liberal quantities of whisky. It is traditionally served at Burn’s Night Suppers on January 25th because Robert Burns, the bard of Scotland and a fan of the dish, wrote the poem ‘Address to a Haggis‘ calling it ‘great chieftan o’ the pudding-race!’ It is fairly similar to the Cincinnati speciality goetta but with more liver flavor.

Making your own haggis in the US is quite an endeavor. Traditional haggis recipes call for a sheep’s stomach and a sheep’s pluck (heart, lungs, windpipe and liver).  Unfortunately it is impossible to buy a sheep’s stomach or lungs. Blues Creek were happy to supply me with the liver and heart but that was all they could offer. I did a lot of research, comparing recipes and looking for substitutions. Alton Brown used a tongue instead of the lungs, others used lamb shoulder. There was nothing conclusive. I decided to use a mixture of lamb trimmings for flavor and beef tripe, which seemed like it might be the closest in texture and not too strong in flavor. I was able to get tripe from La Plaza Tapatia (a large Mexican grocery store) where they had three different types on display.

The casing was still a problem. Many recipes suggested using ox bung (cow intestine) instead of a sheep’s stomach (even in the UK it seems sheep’s stomaches are hard to find), but Blues Creek couldn’t provide that either and for a while I planned to use some sort of fabric bag. One blog I read debated using a t shirt and then settled on haggis tamales, but despite my love of taco trucks this seemed too non-traditional for me. Fabric didn’t seem ideal as it is much more porous than a traditional casing,  but the alternative, steaming it in a basin wasn’t great either. I heard rumors of pigs stomaches at an Asian grocery. But it was then that Albert from Thurn’s came to my rescue and supplied me with a beef bung cap to use as my casing. It’s amazing that one can get that excited about a cow intestine but really, I was.

The most useful resource I found was Tim Hayward’s step by step guide to making a haggis. I also used a BBC recipe and another step by step slideshow. In addition I consulted many other sources for advice on seasoning, cooking time and proportions. The main problem is that ‘plucks’ come in many different sizes and although recipes acknowledge this, they don’t give you any sense of proportion. Michael Ruhlman, where are you with a ratio when I really need you? For example, the BBC recipe told me to use between 1/2lb and 2lbs of oatmeal, without any guidance on how to decide how much. While I have eaten haggis many times, I have never seen the consistency of the mixture before it is stuffed.

With those caveats in mind here is my own step to step haggis making experience:

The day before you make the haggis, you need to boil the meat until all parts are tender and then leave them over night in their cooking liquid. Luckily there was room for my dutch oven in the fridge. Opinions seem to vary as to whether the water should be salted or not. I went with unsalted but next time would salt the water. The liver and heart were tender before the tripe, so I gave that extra time.

The next day you drain the meat and save the cooking liquid (which was quite gelatinous). I removed the hardened fat from the top of the pan as well. The tripe, trimmings and heart were minced along with 4 onions. We did a coarse grind to start and then put it all through again with the fine disc.

The liver and 1/2 lb suet (which also came from Blues Creek) are grated and then added to the rest of the meat.

The oats used are steel cut or pinhead oats and they are toasted in the oven until thoroughly dried out but not browned. I followed the BBC recipe 10 minutes at 350°F. I ended up using the whole bag which was 1 lb 8oz.

Then for the seasoning: Haggis is usually quite peppery in flavor so I added what seemed like a lot of salt and freshly ground pepper. Many of the recipes just called for a small quantity of dried herbs and traditional herbs seems to include marjoram, savory, sage, pennyroyal and thyme, but my research showed that spices are traditional as well and include mace, allspice and nutmeg. I also saw some recipes that called for cayenne and paprika, although I doubt that they are traditional. I didn’t have savory or pennyroyal but used everything else mentioned and a little rosemary.

The final step is adding some of the cooking liquid. Most recipes called for 1 pint even though they varied the amount of oats, so it was guesswork to decide whether to add more. I wasn’t sure what consistency I was aiming for. Despite my research and the number of recipes I had consulted the proportions of seasoning, oatmeal and liquid were still all guesswork.

Albert at Thurn’s had advised me to soak the cap in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes before I used it. The cap is sealed at one end with an opening at the other. It looks like a very large but slightly irregular condom, but with veins. When I looked at the stuffing it was hard to imagine that it would all fit inside but the casing wasn’t fragile and had a lot of give. Stuffing it was surprisingly easy and I have to admit to giggling to myself.

At this stage, I was pretty curious how much this monster haggis weighed. I tried it on the kitchen scales and they flashed the overload warning, so I placed the bowl on the bathroom scales. Approximately 10lbs! Everything I had read, said to fill the casing half full, so having established that all the stuffing would fit, I spread it out so that there was room for the oatmeal to expand. The recipes make you fearful of the casing bursting during cooking. I squeezed out as much air as I could and tied the open end up with kitchen string.

It was a good two feet long! Lucky I had borrowed a huge pig head sized pot to cook it in. I definitely could have made it into more than one haggis.

Albert had told me to keep the water at 170°F to help prevent bursting, so I heated up a few gallons of water and used my candy thermometer to keep a check on the temperature. I pierced the haggis twice with a skewer as advised, also I hoped to help prevent bursting. As soon as you put the haggis into the hot water the casing contracts and tightens around the filling. It’s quite amazing. I thought it would expand as the oatmeal cooked but that wasn’t really noticeable and I didn’t see any air bubbles. Phew, no burst haggis.

When one recipe tells you to cook it for 3 hours and the other an hour and a half, but neither tell you how to tell when it is cooked, there is a lot of head scratching involved. I used a thermometer to try and check the internal temperature but otherwise erred on the side of cooking it longer and then ended up keeping it warm for a while before we ate. I read that cooking time is based on diameter not mass, but without knowing how long for what diameter that didn’t really help.

And so the finished product: When you cut into the haggis the casing retracts, although not as dramatically as I had hoped.

So how was it? Overall, I was pleased with how it turned out. The filling wasn’t as dark in color as haggis’s I’ve had before and I can’t account for why, unless some people add blood, because I don’t think the lungs would make it a lot darker. It was tasty but a little under seasoned – I should have added more salt and pepper and also salted the water. I also think it was a little moister than some haggis I have had in the past and I’m not sure if this is because I added some extra liquid or because it was cooked for longer.

We made a pretty good dent in it, but there is plenty left over and so this morning I did some googling for leftover haggis recipes. There was a wealth of ideas ranging from deep fried haggis balls to tzatziki haggis wraps and haggis lasagne. It seems in Scotland they use it in burgers, macaroni and cheese and salads. It can also be used as a stuffing, in omelettes and something called Scottish tacos!

I added salt and pepper, formed some haggis into a patty and fried it up like goetta. Wow! It was so good – better than goetta. Crispy oatmeal popping in the pan, a crunchy crust and the still moist meaty center.

Maybe next year I’ll be able to buy my haggis, or maybe I’ll make it again with the lessons learned, but for now I’m enjoying the leftovers. Here’s to ‘Rabbie Burns’!


35 Comments to “Haggis – From Scratch – Step by Step”

  1. Wow, what an entry. I had it once when I was in Glasgow and it reminded me of a slyder.

    The ban is being lifted!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jan/24/america-haggis-ban-lifted-burns

  2. A spectacular effort; truly a labor of love. Well done.

  3. Wow! Quite impressive! Nice work! :D

  4. I am from China, in china we also have this kind of food, but we just fill in the blood of pig.

  5. I thought that was cow-sized! Fantastic effort Bertha.

  6. Susan M.
    January 26, 2010

    This is a wonderful post–really helpful, thorough, and it looks tasty! Thanks!

  7. Great post!

    I bet you could freeze some of the leftovers if you don’t want to eat it all this week.

    • hungrywoolf
      January 27, 2010

      Thanks. We’ve been enjoying the haggis for breakfast – but I have frozen some – I’m not sure how it will be reincarnated!

  8. Heroic effort.

    I’ve had good luck with Butcher-Packer.com for casings. I’m hunting down some beef middles (ca. 60-70 mm).

  9. An alternative to using natural casing, you can also use oven bags (often sold for cooking turkey). wrap the haggis mixture in some cheese cloth to hold it together and into the cooking bag. Remove as much air as possible and cook by boiling. Different sized bags are available so you can make different sized haggis. When eating, just remove the bag and unwrap the haggis meat. Although the haggis is tasty, the presentation is less than ideal.

  10. would this work with pork?

    • Bethia
      June 29, 2012

      It would have a different flavor and would be more similar to goetta but yes it would work. People in Scotland sometimes make non-traditional haggis with different meats (venison, pork etc).

  11. Well done there. You have made a fantastic effort. I served my time in butchery many years ago back in Scotland after leaving school. We intend to do a wee Scottish thing to celebrate St Andrews this weekend so I googled to see what the actual ingredients are in the seasoning. I live in New Zealand and I can’t find any haggis worth washing down with good whisky so I’m going to make my own. Watch this space!!!!!!!!!

    • Wee Shug,
      How did you get on with researching the seasoning? We’re looking into making traditional haggis ourselves and we’re also in NZ, down in the Dunedin.
      Be interested to hear how you get on.
      Cheers
      Will

  12. Many thanks on a great post! This was the second year some friends and I have used this recipe to make some lightless haggis, and it really does the job. I did salt and season the water during the initial boiling of the offal. I also only boiled the stuffed haggis about 1.5 hours, but probably closer to 190-200F and it turned out fine. Of course, intermittent swigs of Glenmorangie 10 year were crucial to execution of this endeavor.

    This morning I mixed in an egg and some flour to form some patties and pan fried them similar to the goetta reference above. Awesome!

  13. Bill Tripp
    January 21, 2013

    In England One can still get sheep’s plucks if you ask at an abbatoir. You get a similar flavour with pig but not so tasty But hang the windpipe OUTside of the pan when doing first boil
    After a burns supper I mix all the unused haggis mashed poatoes and swede and sometimes peas make them into fishcake size patties dip them into eggyoke and cover with breadcrumbs and fry the m till golden brown Really lovely – and they keep for months in the freezer !

  14. Bill Tripp
    January 21, 2013

    PS A skin is not essential you can make it in a pan cooked for about two & a half hours in the oven at gas 6 ( I use this method when making a quantity for a St andrews night ceilidh at the kirk !)

  15. thanks for this post. i am attempting my own haggis today and tomorrow. my main fear is the use of lung and the feeling of the organs. but as scotland is my home country i decided that a real scotsman should make his own haggis at least once. you can check out my blog http://roundtheworldon80plates.blogspot.com and see how i got on. luckily, living in china i have had no issues with getting all the ingredients

  16. Melanie
    March 31, 2013

    I’m interested in making haggis patties, as far as I can tell this is just a use for left overs.

    but if I were wanting only to make the patties, should I just make the whole haggis and then make patties out of all of it?

    or should I make a drastically smaller proportion, and how plausible would that be?

    I’m curious to know if there is any difference is preparation

  17. Stephen Foster
    April 25, 2013

    I can sadly confirm the “only fill the casing half-full” advice: when I made one last year in a similar beef casing, it exploded in the pot, but it left a haggis-shaped blob and the Colonials I was serving didn’t even notice.

    This year I talked a Farmer’s Market butcher into “giving” me all the bits that are sort of illegal to sell in the States, including the lungs and sheep’s stomachs (four of them per sheep) and I plan to make it tonight. I must admit to a spot of squeamishness about the lungs in particular, but I think if I can rinse everything and get it into hot water: that’ll do for today.

  18. Very interesting and descriptive article! Thanks for sharing!

  19. This article was hugely helpful for us in our haggis-making journey at home. It helped open our eyes to possible alternatives since most of the “real” haggis ingredients are difficult to impossible to procure in the United States. We linked this post and your main page on our blog, so hopefully both of our readers will send some traffic your way.

  20. I was wondering about trying this with venison. That way when you get your deer you can use the rest of it. venison tastes close to what mutton does. Any body ever try it this way?

  21. I am impressed. Reside in the States but get into Canada once a year. Two or three things to purchase our first week or so is Haggis, kippered herring (which I heat in a fry pan with milk, and blood sausage. I have wanted t make haggis and this recipe gives me hope. Yes, the haggis I eat when in Canada is not as spicy as the haggis I eat in Scotland. Living very close to the Mexican border I am thinking most ingredients are available as mentioned in this recipe. I would be inclined to fry it in a pan rather than boil it — mixing in the cooked oats first.. When we purchase haggis we do freeze left overs after bakiing it in the oven. I am now curious to know if we are getting the haggis cooked or just the cooked oat meal mixed with the lights etc. Am definitely give it a go. The joy of retirement.

  22. If your haggis is light in color it is likely from using too much oats. I have made haggis successfully with sheep, deer, and even moose sets (a moose set will yield an easy 30-40 pounds of haggis). Knowing a hunter or a farmer is a nice plus.

    I have yet to use a stomach for stuffing but a collagen sausage casing works just fine. You can order them online (got mine on eBay) and they last forever. I have used oven bags as well when making very large batches, but I’ve had issues with the seems giving out in the boiling process.

    I would also recommend cloves in the spice mixture. I generally use nutmeg, cloves, salt and pepper only and have never used green herbs. An obligatory couple shots of single malt should also be included in the seasoning. Different textures can be achieved by using a blend of rolled and steel-cut oats.

    The biggest key to making organ meat edible is many soakings in cold salted water. I’d suggest slicing all meat and doing at least 4 one or two hour sessions of soaking in water then draining. Water should come out clear or nearly clear. Unwashed kidneys particularly will make your finished product taste like urine…. this is not good.

    I’ve made many a haggis and these are some tips that I hope may help.

  23. Janet
    May 19, 2014

    Thanks for the recipe. Instead of a stomach I boil mine in oven bags for hour and a half and then when I want to eat it later I place in the oven for an hour or so at 180 degrees. Happy experimenting.

  24. Help! Going to make a haggis and need help with porportions. All recipes say the offal of one animals but I know that lambs are different sizes. How do you figure out how much of the other stuff to use? In my case we are putting a young goat into the freezer so harvesting organs myself. Goat is a bit milder than lamb so figure it will work as really close in taste. And what spices did you use? Many different ones listed on different sites. Thanks

    • Jenny

      I’m afraid that it was over 4 years ago, so I don’t remember what spices if any I used. Did you read through all the comments. A few of them have very useful suggestions. I wish i had a general guide for the proportion of meat to oats. Maybe ask Tim Hayward on twitter.

  25. Nice blog…Lights are cooking and making my second haggis in the AM. Hints of finding all the ingredients. Buy a live lamb and have it custom butchered. While the slaughterhouse can’t store the lungs, they are YOUR lungs so if you wait for them they can be handed to you after taken out of the lamb. Then go pick up the custom lamb parts later when they have been hung and cut up. Same with stomach….I made my first haggis in the abomassum [true stomach] of the lamb and cleaning it was nasty work and took more time than preparing the lights or grinding it all together. Looked nice when done though. This time I am trying the collagen casing. Either way when simmering keep puncturing with darning needle about every 15 minutes [I set my timer] so things don’t burst. I too will be adding more pepper and salt this time.

  26. I think I’ll be trying your method with the deer I harvested + a couple of modifications. I’m going to use lights, liver, heart, kidneys, spleen, and cojones. I took this one just after sunset and was too exhausted to properly take and prepare the stomach this time, but I’ve used them in the past as well. I’m just going to make this one as a long, bratwurst size. If you are wanting to use all the traditional ingredients, you might see if any local hunters will save the offal for you. Unfortunately these days, the vast majority of hunters leave all organs and even the heart for the scavengers (which tastes just like sirloin when spiral cut and made like a steak). One point of note – chronic wasting disease is a concern when using the spleen, though it has not been shown to affect humans. I am far away from any areas affected by CWD, so I go ahead and use it.

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