Last Sunday was a special day! It was Burns’ night, the day that the Scottish celebrate the birthday of perhaps the most famous Scottish poet of all times, Robert Burns (‘Rabbie’ for friends). Burns not only wrote tonnes of poetry and songs in Scots, English and Scottish dialect, he also collected traditional folk songs and wrote them down, saving them for later generations. You’ll probably know at least a few of his works, even if you’re not familiar with his name – Auld Lang Syne and Ae Fond Kiss are amongst his more internationally renowned pieces.
So old Rabbie here also wrote a poem about the most famous, or possibly the most infamous, Scottish dish: haggis. “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o the puddin’ race!” That’s right, Rabbie, you tell ’em. The Address to a Haggis, as the poem is called, gives praise to the haggis, of which Burns must have been very fond. Traditionally, on Burns’ Night, one person has to recite the poem, after which everyone digs in.
Haggis is one of those unfortunate northern dishes, similar to the ones I mentioned last week, that people just can’t seem to warm up to. It’s got a bad reputation, partly because people like to describe it in the most unappetising way possible. Usually, when non-Scots describe haggis, the first (and frequently the only) words mentioned are “sheep’s stomach” and “offal”, whilst people conveniently forget all about “delicious oats” or “carefully selected spices” and a number of other ingredients.
Now, that whole thing about the stomach isn’t even necessarily true anymore: the modern version is often made in a casing similar to that of sausages. There’s some organs in it, aye, but it’s not as if they don’t eat those anywhere else. In fact, Italians can’t seem to get enough of tripe, which is much scarier than anything contained in haggis.
Still, haggis isn’t the kind of dish that travel guides tend to write about as they would about, say, Neapolitan pizza, and so it’s never really become popular to anyone but the Scots. This is a perfect shame, because it is actually delicious, and I was determined to convince at least a couple of people outside of Scotland of this fact, so after my last visit to Glasgow, I brought home a big fat haggis with the intention of organising a real Burns’ Supper on the 25th.
A traditional Burns’ Supper consists of haggis, neeps ‘n tatties, or haggis served with mashed swedes and mashed potatoes. As ever, one of the essential ingredients is utterly unfindable in Italy: swedes here are apparently only suitable to feed to your horse, so I used carrots instead. Not quite the same thing, I realise, but it was my best option: the colour is as close as you can get to the deep yellow of swede mash. About the neeps ‘n tatties: whether you want to mix it or not is up to you. I’ve kept them separated so that everyone could decide on their own carrot-to-mash ratio.
Thankfully, the other important component of a Burns’ Supper, the whisky, was under control: a special kind of deli here in Turin sells just about any type of booze from anywhere around the world, and they also have a good selection of whiskies. I went for Peat’s Beast, which was good! I used it to make the whisky sauce with, too – you only need a couple of tablespoons of it, and it makes for a really, really powerful sauce.
Of course you can eat haggis and drink whisky any time you like, and I suggest that if you didn’t have any on the 25th, you have some in the near future.
So for a jolly Burns’ Supper with 4 or 5 guests, use:
- a large haggis. Yeah, sorry, I’m not that person – I don’t know how to make haggis. Buy one.
For the tatties:
- a kilo of potatoes
- a large knob of butter
- half a cup of milk
- some salt
For the neeps:
- one swede
or if you can’t get one
- a kilo of carrots
For the whisky sauce:
- 250 ml of fresh cream
- 2 tsp of mustard
- 2 tbsp whisky of your choice
- some nutmeg
- a small dash of vinegar
- white pepper
You’ll really want some black pepper on your haggis, so you’ll need some of that to serve. Of course you’ll need enough whisky for everyone to have a glass.
So, heat up your haggis as specified on the packaging. Mine was to be rolled up in foil, put in an oven dish with about an inch of water in it, and heated up in the oven in about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Do whatever it says on the wrapper and you’ll be grand.
Peel and cube your potatoes and boil them in salted water. Make your mash as you would normally, with butter and milk and possibly some salt if it’s a bit bland.
Give your swede the same treatment, or if you can’t get a swede, peel your carrots and cut them into chunks. Boil them and once they’re soft, mash them up.
Now make your whiskey sauce. You put all of your cream in a small saucepan, put it on low to medium heat and stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. Now once it’s kinda hot, add your mustard, stir well. Then add the whisky and the pepper, then the vinegar (only a little!). Top it off with some nutmeg, stir briefly and serve it with the haggis. Before you eat, someone has to recite the poem. Just do it, it’ll be fun!
It’s difficult to make haggis look good in a picture but I’ve really tried my hardest.