Q: Since Brexit, my boyfriend has become more Scottish than usual, and has suggested that we host a traditional Burns night dinner on the 25th January. The neeps and tatties I can deal with, but haggis sounds disgusting. Is there an acceptable alternative? TY Orpington
A: No, there is no alternative, Robbie Burns even wrote an ode to the damn thing, and yes, haggis does sound disgusting and indeed often can be so, but do not despair, it can also be really quite good. Unless you are planning on making one yourself (see below), McSweens is by far and away the best store-bought variety that I have found and is actually rather delicious. There are of course butchers who make their own, but that will be a bit hit or miss.
Best to go for good old McSweens, and then you will only have the problem of whether to cook the neeps and tatties together or separately. (The combined option is delightfully named Clapshot.)
Opinion is naturally divided on this matter, and North of the border fights can break out. Personally I go for separate cooking and serving, which with a portion of McSweens makes for a delicious and comforting plateful on a cold January evening. It should be served with Scotch and water, without ice – a cue for further controversy, no doubt. Nick Welch
Macsween Traditional Haggis serves 4-5 (nominal weight 907g), £8.95 from haggisuk.co.uk
Here for interest only, is the first recorded recipe for Haggis, from Mrs McIiver’s Cookery published in Edinburgh in 1773.
A Good Scotch Haggies
Make the haggis-bag perfectly clean, parboil the draught; boil the liver very well, so as it will grate; dry the meal before the fire; mince the draught and a pretty large piece of beef very small; grate about half of the liver; mince plenty of the suet and some onions small; mix all these materials very well together, with a handful or two of the dried meal; spread them on the table, and season them properly with salt and mixed spices; take any of the scraps of beef that are left from mincing, and some of the water that boiled the draught, and make about a choppin of good stock of it; then put all the haggis meat into the bag, and that broth in it; then sew up the bag: but be sure to put out all the wind before you sew it quite close. If you think the bag is thin, you may put it in a cloth. If it is a large haggis, it will take at least two hours’ boiling.
Oddly to us it seems to use beef instead of lamb, and what ‘the draught’ is I simply do not know. I assumed it was the cooking liquor, but then the recipe goes on to suggest that you mince it. It might be that it is a lost Scots word for ‘the pluck’ or stomach, heart and lungs of an animal which are plucked out, or drawn – hence draught? It’s a possibility. NW
PS : A ‘choppin’ is equivalent to a quart, from the French chopine, further evidence of the auld (anti-English) alliance.