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Issue 38 - Great chieftan o'the puddin'-race

Scotland Magazine Issue 38
April 2008


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Great chieftan o'the puddin'-race

Sue Lawrence looks at the traditional Scottish haggis and provides some more of her delicious recipes.

One cold, frosty day in Scotland, I went down into the bowels of an Edinburgh butcher’s shop to see Jonathan Crombie plop some blood-red lamb lobes into bubbling water in a gargantuan boiler.

It was haggis-making day and as I watched the entire procedure, it occurred to me you need a strong stomach to watch haggis being made.

And that is not only as a receptacle for the offal and oatmeal stuffing.

Once the lungs (there are two lobes in each lung) have cooked for two hours, great lumps of beef fat, bacon ends and boney lamb flanks (the latter adds sweetness) are added, they all bubble away for a further hour. Then it is all minced with onions, oatmeal (both medium-grade and pinhead), then this is hand-mixed and seasoning added according to taste. And although every butcher’s haggis has more or less the same ingredients, it is the seasoning that differentiates.

The Crombie family friends, the Macsweens at their haggis factory on the outskirts of Edinburgh, have a special seasoning which contains white pepper, mace, salt and coriander. All I was told at Crombie’s was that it included: “all the peppers” and salt. But as I sniffed the air, I asked, could I detect mace? An enigmatic smile and a “maybe” was the only response.

Once combined with lamb stock, the mixture is squished into the natural casings of beef intestine (ox bung) in the sausage machine, tied or clipped with metal clips then pricked and cooked in the steamer for 40 minutes. These days the traditional sheep’s stomach is used only for the mighty 10lb ‘Chieftains,’ which are served at special ceremonial functions, such as Burns Suppers.

Although it has been cooked twice by the butcher, the haggis will be cooked a third time at home, which is why it should never be boiled to death; it is the easiest thing to ‘cook’ at home as all you are doing is reheating; this is another of Scotland’s most natural fast foods.

And if you are squeamish and reckon you couldn’t possibly eat bits and pieces from inside an animal, then just think of it as a sausage. Agood haggis – with a perfect balance of peppery spice and meaty, nutty oatmeal texture – is one of life’s gastronomic treats. I rate it up there with caviar and lobster.

Haggis sales have increased dramatically in the past few years. Macsween, which sold some 200 tonnes a decade ago, now sells almost 700 tonnes annually. On a smaller scale, Crombie’s, like many other Scottish butchers, has to make batches daily in January just to keep up with demand for Burns Night on the 25th January; now it makes some 20,000 haggis in the month of January alone.

Just like Crombie’s, Macsween has won many awards for its traditional haggis but it was John Macsween and Sandy Crombie (Jonathan’s father) who, in the early 1980s ‘invented’ the vegetarian haggis. Although this is packed with healthy nuts, lentils and beans, I still consider the words vegetarian and haggis together as one long oxymoron, albeit a delicious one.

And whether it is the real thing or the veggie newcomer, haggis is being served in more and more unusual ways both at home and in restaurants. I have eaten haggis in pasta, nachos, samosas and toasties.

Whether Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns would have approved is a moot point, but to butchers and proud Scots alike it is good to see the versatility of haggis helping spread its appeal and prove that it is perfect accompaniment to far more than the traditional bashed neeps and tatties.


6 flour tortillas
1 medium haggis, cooked (see right)
1 medium cucumber
200ml Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
The juice of 1/2 lemon
2 heaped tbsp freshly chopped mint
1 fat garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1. For the tsatziki, chop the ends off the
cucumber then grate it – unpeeled – and
place the grated flesh in a colander over a
bowl. Sprinkle with two teaspoons of salt,
and leave for about an hour
2. Using your hands, squeeze out all the
liquid then pat dry with paper towels. Place
in a bowl with the remaining ingredients, stir
to combine. Add pepper to taste
3. Spread some haggis over each tortilla
then top with a couple of spoonfuls of
tzatsiki. Fold into wraps then devour messily
while still hot


1 large haggis
600 g / 1 lb 5 oz large potatoes
400 g / 14 oz swede (turnip in Scotland)
250 g / 9 oz cabbage (preferably Savoy)
75 g / 2 3/4 oz unsalted butter
25 g / 1 oz grated Cheddar cheese

To cook the haggis, prick all over and wrap
tightly in foil. Place in a small oven dish and
place in a preheated oven (180ºC / 350ºF /
Gas 4) for about 45 minutes per 450g / 1 lb
– or until piping hot. To serve, slit down the
middle and spoon out the haggis inside.
1. Peel and chop the potatoes and swede
and cook in boiling, salted water until
tender then drain thoroughly
2. Gently cook the cabbage with 50 g
butter until tender, but still vivid green. (I
melt the butter in a microwave bowl, toss in
the cabbage, cover and cook for about
three minutes)
3. Tip the cabbage and butter into the
vegetable pan and mash everything
together with the remaining 25 g butter.
Season generously with salt and pepper
4. Place in an ovenproof dish, top with the
cheese, cover and place in a preheated
oven (180ºC / 350ºF / Gas 4) for about 25
minutes then remove the cover and
continue to cook for a further 20 minutes
until piping hot. Serve with the haggis.