Scottish poet Robert Burns lived fully and well. One of his legacies is the Burns Supper, a Scottish tradition now celebrated around the world.
On Jan. 25, to mark Burns’s birthday, people from Moscow to the Sault will have a roaring good time drinking whisky, eating haggis, reciting his poetry and singing his songs, usually the dirty versions. Burns would have loved it.
An 18th-century Scotsman who wrote in Scottish dialect, Burns was a poet of the people, revered for his humanist approach to life. He was lusty, hearty and a great eater and drinker.
A traditional Burns dinner includes cock-a-leekie soup (chicken soup with leeks), roast sirloin of beef, bashed neeps (mashed turnip), chappit tatties (mashed potatoes) and either Scottish trifle or any creamy, liquor-laden dessert. No Burns Supper is complete without haggis, a combination of oatmeal, liver, heart, kidneys, lung and suet stuffed inside a sheep’s stomach – a delicacy similar to sausage. It is commonly served as the Burns poem Address to a Haggis is recited. At the line, “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht,” a knife is plunged into the haggis, slicing it open from end to end.
I was in Palm Springs, Calif., one year, about to do a Burns Supper, when I learned that haggis was illegal in the United States because of its ingredients, namely sheep lungs. It was offal. (Canada has the same ban, but versions made without lungs are allowed. It is available at Scottish butchers and several supermarkets import MacSween haggis from Scotland.) To keep the sense of the evening, I made my own “haggis.” I baked it in a bowl to give it the right shape, then wrapped it in plastic wrap for serving so that it could be pierced by a knife for the traditional toast. It was the hit of the evening.
If you want to make your own version, here is my simple recipe using haggis spicing and oatmeal:
Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine 1 cup chicken stock or water with 1 cup rolled oats (not instant). Stir in 1 teaspoon Kosher salt. Set aside for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet. Sauté 1 large chopped onion for 2 minutes until softened. Combine 750 g ground lamb or beef with the onion in a bowl. Stir in 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon chopped dried rosemary, 2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, ½ teaspoon Kosher salt and a pinch of nutmeg and cayenne. Gently combine meat mixture and oat mixture stirring in 1 beaten egg. Fry a little piece to taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Place mixture on an oiled baking sheet and use your hands to shape it into a fat sausage-shaped mound, about 2 inches tall and 4½ inches across. Bake for 45 minutes or until juices run clear. Turn on the broiler and broil for 2 minutes or until the top is slightly browned.
In Scotland, haggis is often served with a dram of whisky poured over it. As you wish. Serves 6.
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