Sunday, January 22, 2012

Burns Night: Haggis is a good thing!

If there's one thing Americans are better at than the British, it's centering holidays around food. Yes, British Christmas and Easter involve good traditional meals (and cakes and snacks and sweeties), but what else is there in the calendar?

Meanwhile, in the US, there's Thanksgiving (turkey and pumpkin pie!); July 4 (burgers and blueberry pie!); even Hallowe'en is basically an excuse for pigging out on chocolate.

So if there's even the slightest excuse to celebrate a food-related British holiday, I'll jump on it. Which is why we make a point of celebrating Burns Night every year.

Robert Burns is Scotland's poet; he wrote hundreds of poems and songs (if you warbled along vaguely to a tune at midnight on New Year's Eve, you've half-remembered one of them).

I don't pretend to be Scottish, or particularly a poetry fan. But Burns' birthday, January 25, is celebrated with readings of his work, speeches, and ... haggis.

Don't even start with the "ewww" stuff. Haggis is not gross, or slimy, or disgusting. Yes, it uses some sheep organs that are more usually discarded, but that's a good thing; waste not, want not. And on a cold January night, it's good, satisfying, stick-to-the-ribs food.

For this year's feast, we cheated on two counts. First, we used canned haggis (because the only alternative was a 4lb "presentation" haggis, which we'd be eating until next Hogmanay); and second, we celebrated four days early, so that we could properly toast the haggis with whisky (not a good idea on a school night).

Also, planning the meal for a Saturday meant I had time to do it up right.

First, cock-a-leekie soup. Main ingredients ... well, it's pretty self-explanatory.

Chicken and leeks

Instead of following a specific recipe, I made up my own: softened a mirepoix, added herbs and chicken stock, threw in the sliced leeks, poached and shredded a couple of chicken thighs.

Cock-a-leekie soup

Before we ate, The Boy said the traditional Selkirk Grace (because nothing's cuter than Scottish read in a Spanish-American accent):
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Next, haggis! With neeps and tatties! Which means mashed potato and rutatbaga! Is this not the best dish ever??

Neeps and tatties

Of course, by the time the rutabaga is softened and sweet and tossed with butter and black pepper, and the potato is whipped into creamy clouds, and the haggis is sizzling hot, it all looks much better.

Haggis with neeps and tatties

Before we ate, The Boy read Address to a Haggis.

So what does haggis taste like? Like it says on the tin, it's lamb heart and liver (sometimes tongue is also involved), so it has a deep, earthy flavor. The texture is meatloafy, with the oats (or barley) adding little bit of chew. It really is pretty good, even from a can.

And of course we had to go traditional with the beverage.

And then dessert; this can either be a clootie dumpling (basically a steamed suet pudding); a whisky-laced trifle called Tipsy Laird; or cranachan, which involves heavy cream, toasted oats, raspberries and, uh, more whisky.

We decided on the latter, but in a rash moment of healthiness, decided to use Greek yogurt. It still turned out rich and creamy, with the honey and whisky adding sweetness and smokiness and the oatmeal providing a nutty note.

Cranachan (sort of)

If this has piqued in you the slightest interest in trying haggis, The Haven in JP is holding Burns Suppers this week.
Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

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Blogger tug2 said...

Hooray for haggis - King of Puddings!
But y'shud 'ave eaten the suet pud fer dessert. So difficult to get real pudding or dumplings made of suet (like real spotted dick!) in the States. (Though I did have suet dumplings in Ecuador and Costa Rica!)

8:53 PM  

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