Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hunting haggis

Haggis isn't a hearty Scottish dish; it's a punchline. It joins a long list of foods non-Brits point to when they laugh at British cooking. Others include jellied eels, black pudding, steak and kidney pie, spotted dick. Okay, at least the last one sounds funny.

The whole "British food sucks" thing has always bugged me, not only because I grew up on the stuff, and know that it's largely fabulous--apart from in tourist-trap restaurants in London, and frankly, if that's your experience of British cuisine, you get what you deserve--but also because of the implied insult: the food is bad, so the people who eat it must be unsophisticated morons.

And yes, I know this is rich, coming from someone who's giddy about the
World Parmo Cooking Championships. (Did you vote parmo yet?)

The prevalence of Brit-chef TV shows has helped reduce knee-jerk reactions about the food of My People, but even the best efforts of Gordon Ramsey, Nigella Lawson and the man once referred to in
Viz as a "fat-tongued mockney herbert," Jamie Oliver, have not totally squashed the assumption that the cuisine of the British Isles is boiled, bland, fatty and flavorless.

Which brings us back to

I'd wanted to feed some to The Boy for ages, but stupid goverment rules forbidding the sale of food containing animal lungs make it hard to find the real stuff. So instead I broke down and bought
Stahly's canned haggis from Cardullo's.

Looks tasty. huh? For $8 a can, it damn well better be. The label notes that it's "skinless," which I guess is their way of skirting those crazy "unfit for human consumption" laws.

The traditional accompaniment is neeps and tatties (translation: turnips and spuds. Translation: rutabagas and potatoes).

Yeah, okay, the veggies were boiled. But our mashed potato kicks butt, thank you. And any turnippy blandness was quickly overcome with garlic and fresh black pepper and lavish buttering.

Haggis is supposed to be served with a good Scotch, but--gasp!--we were all out of Jura. We had to slum it with Jim Bean, sassenachs that we are.

So what does haggis taste like? Think corned beef hash made with liverwurst, rounded out with barley. Okay, maybe that still sounds disgusting. But in the realm of comfort food, it's wonderful: a deep, earthy flavor, dark and meaty, with a creamy, rich mouthfeel, the grains adding a satisfying chewiness. Perfect for a chilly November night. Especially when rounded out with piles of creamy, buttery veggies and good hooch.

If you have a hankering to make your own haggis--and you can get your hands on a sheep's stomach bag (I think Coach has one in their fall line)--you could
try one of these recipes.

Otherwise, try a can.
Maybe a selection box. Go on. You'll like it. Promise.

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