Haggis Hunting

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Photo copyright © 2004, Scribe Weekly, Scotland

 

Q: What is a haggis?

A: An endangered Highland animal, according to one-third of the respondents to a survey conducted among 1000 U.S. visitors to Scotland. A full twenty-three percent said they had come to Scotland under the belief they could hunt and catch a haggis. One American tourist said he read that haggis is a birdlike creature that only comes out at night. Another claimed that the haggis is a fox-like mammal that sometimes ventures into cities.

Ask a Scotsman what a haggis is and chances are you’ll get anything but a straight answer. Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade, but the time has come to set the record straight.

THE MYTH

haggis3.jpgA haggis is a small four-legged Scottish Highland creature.  Its limbs on one side are shorter than on the other, meaning that it is perfectly adapted to run around the hills at a steady altitude. As the haggis always runs clockwise, he can be caught by running around the hill in the opposite direction, though the task is made easier if you sedate him by playing specific notes on your bagpipe while you run. The young, wild haggis is normally harmless, though when fully grown, he can become quite dangerous during rutting season. His primary evasive strategy is his ability to confuse: being both feathered and furry, the hunter never knows which feature is predominant. When he runs, he runs like a bird, and when he flies, he flies like an animal. At the present time, only kilted Highlanders can obtain official haggis hunting licenses, and haggis can only be hunted in season between November and January. Wild haggis, though originally native to Scotland, have been spotted in Nevada, the offspring of specimens introduced in the 19th century by a couple of Scottish immigrants.

THE REALITY

haggis.jpg Haggis is actually a savoury dish made from the minced internal organs of a sheep, mixed with oatmeal, spices, salt, pepper and boiled in a sheep’s stomach (an early prototype for modern ‘boil in the bag’ meals). Haggis is normally served with mashed neeps (turnip) and mashed tatties (potatoes). Haggis is eaten all year round in Scotland, but has a special place in the Burns supper served on January 25th, when Scotland’s beloved poet, Robert Burns, is commemorated. Burns penned the poem Address to a Haggis, which begins “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place….” In Burns’ days haggis was a popular dish for the poor, since it made use of parts of a sheep that would otherwise have been wasted. In more recent times, haggis has been found both in the fish and chip shop, deep-fried in batter, and dressed-up in various guises on fancy restaurant plates.

Haggis counts among its many talents a starring role in the sport called Haggis Hurling, which involves throwing a haggis as far as possible.

It is also the lovingly-portrayed subject of entire books.

For people of squeamish dispositions but insatiable curiosity, vegetarian haggis is available – the point of which eludes me – which consists of everything minus the offal. I find it resembles bland falafel.

For those of you who must have the real thing, you can either order it, or better yet, make it yourselves.

RECIPE

Set of sheep’s heart, lungs and liver (cleaned by a butcher)
One sheep’s stomach
3 cups finely chopped beef suet (kidney leaf fat is preferred)
One cup medium ground oatmeal
Two medium onions, finely chopped
One cup beef stock
One teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
One teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon mace

Trim off any excess fat and sinew from the sheep’s intestine and, if present, discard the windpipe. Place in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or possibly longer to ensure that they are all tender. Drain and cool.

Finely chop the meat and combine in a large bowl with the suet, oatmeal, finely chopped onions, beef stock, salt, pepper, nutmeg and mace. Make sure the ingredients are mixed well. Stuff the meat and spices mixture into the stomach which should be over half full. Then press out the air and tie the open ends tightly with string. Make sure that you leave room for the mixture to expand or else it may burst while cooking. If it looks as though it may do that, prick with a sharp needle to reduce the pressure.

Place in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and immediately reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for three hours. Avoid boiling vigorously to avoid bursting the skin. Serve hot with “champit tatties and bashit neeps”.

 

Places to try a bit of upscale haggis in Edinburgh:
Dubh Prais Restaurant has a pan fried oatmeal-encrusted haggis starter, which is exceptionally tasty.
123b High St
Edinburgh
Tel: 0131 557 5732
Web: www.bencraighouse.co.uk

Stac Polly is famous for their signature dish of phyllo-wrapped haggis parcels in plum and red wine sauce.
29 Dublin Street,
Edinburgh
Tel: 0131 556 2231
Web: www.stacpolly.com

Suruchi Indian Restaurant has the world’s only haggis pakoras (sorry, but that’s vegetarian haggis…)
14a Nicolson Street
Edinburgh
Tel: 0131 556-6583
Web: www.suruchirestaurant.co.uk

Lavender and Roses

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Last week, as you may remember, I treated myself to two new cookbooks, both of which showcase some of the more unusual gastronomic treasures to be found around the Mediterranean’s far-flung shores. The recipes are so tempting that I started planning a long to-cook list, but I hadn’t gotten very far when something perturbed me: at least *three* of the herbs and spices called for in these recipes were nowhere to be found in my spice bowl. This scenario really flusters me, for reasons of pride I probably shouldn’t probe into here, but the upshot is that my spice collection grows a little with each new cookbook I acquire, because I do whatever is needed to track down the spices in question. One of the missing spices, fennel seeds, was easy to obtain, its absence from my bowl simply the result of forgetting to replenish a depleted supply. The remaining two, however, proved to be a bit more elusive: dried edible lavender buds and rose petals.

After unsuccessfully perusing the spice shelves of all the major supermarkets and ethnic grocers in town, I reluctantly turned to the internet as a last resort. Normally I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to spending money at the click of a mouse, but I’ve never really liked ordering edible things online. I would never consider ordering my groceries over the internet, for example, though I know a lot of people who swear by its convenience.  I simply don’t trust someone else to pick the ripest fruit and the freshest-looking meat, and I like knowing I can change my dinner plans on a whim if something else just looks better. There’s something about food’s subjectivity and fragility that just makes it better to buy when you can hold it in your hand, see its color and smell its perfume. There’s also the impatience factor: when I have a craving for something, I want to make it now, not next week when the ingredients arrive. In any case, it was either brave the internet or go without, so of course I braved the internet, and I’m so happy I did because I’ve come up with a fantastic find, a UK-based supplier of organic herbs and spices, and yes, even edible dried flowers. I placed my order on Friday, and on Monday morning, a box had already arrived containing these oh-so-chic little stainless steel canisters with glass lids, that when opened billowingly exude a breath of intense lavender and roses.

Thus armed and ready, I was highly dismayed to discover that there are actually very few recipes in these two books that call for my new acquisitions. The lavender makes an appearance in a cake, chocolate truffles and roast duck, while the rose petals are actually only used as a garnish for dishes that incorporate rosewater. I spent a frantic hour rifling through the other books on my shelf only to find the same thing. It seemed like if I stuck to my cookbooks I would barely break the crust of possibility of what can be done with these new additions to my culinary arsenal. So, like any self-respecting cook, I went back to the internet…

…and after hours of research, have assembled a by-no-means-definitive digital guide to show off some of the more interesting things you can do with dried lavender and roses. Just in case you ever find yourself in possession of either and have no idea what to cook :)

Lavender is very popular in sweet-and-savory dishes, such as Barbecued Lamb Kebabs with Honey and Lavender, Lavender Honey and Mustard Pork Tenderloin, Salmon Filet with Lavender Honey and Tamari, Lavender-Glazed Meatballs, Lavender Pistachio Lamb Chops, and Lavender Cream Chicken. It can show up in soups: Lavender Leek and Potato Soup, Cold Melon Soup with Lavender; and in salads: Ojai Orange Salad with Lavender Vinaigrette and Lavender Chicken Salad. It can grace pizza: Lavender Pizza; cheese: Chevre Marinated in Lavender and Fresh Herbs; and nuts: Lavender and Orange-Glazed Pecans. It apparently takes well to baking: Lavender and Hazelnut Bread and Lavender Shortbread; frying: Lavender Ricotta Fritters; and freezing: Lavender Ice Cream. It can quench your thirst on a hot day: Lavender Limeade, Lavender Margaritas, and Lavender Kir, and satisfy even the sweetest sweet tooth: Pear and Lavender Clafoutis, Lavender-Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake, and Chocolate-Hazelnut Baklava with Lavender Cream and Hazelnut Bark.

Rose Petals, especially the dried kind, are a little more enigmatic. Most recipes that want to incorporate rose flavor opt for rose water or rose essence, both readily available in Indian and Middle Eastern shops. A little more sleuthing was involved in finding recipes to use the petals, but the ones I found are wonderfully exotic, indulgent and sensual. I’ve included recipes here that use both fresh and dried petals. Recipes I came across included Rhubarb and Rose Petal Jam, Damavand Yogurt and Cucumber Cold Soup with Walnuts and Rose Petals, Chicken with Honey and Rose Petals, Quail in Rose Petal Sauce (from Like Water for Chocolate), Pullum Frontonianum (Apicus Chicken), Maraqat al-Safarjal (Sweet Ragout of Quince and Lamb), Grilled Chicken with Rose Petal-Mango Sauce, Cherry and Rose Petal Soup, Almond Pestinos in Rose Petal Syrup, Champagne and Rose Petal Sorbet, Rose Lassis, and a fabulous collection of rosy recipes at The Joy of Soup, including Rose Petal Omelettes, Rose Petal Drop Scones, Linguine with Rose Petal Pesto and Green Tea and Rose Petal Popsicles.

 

IMBB #14: Orange You Hungry?

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My first entry for the monthly Is My Blog Burning?, and the category is orange. Hmm… now that’s a challenge, not because there are no interesting orange foods, but because there are so many! Carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, oranges, mandarins, peaches, nectarines, mango, apricots… When I started thinking about fruits and vegetables that are naturally orange in color, I realized that they all have inherent sweetness in common. Some orange vegetables (like pumpkin and sweet potato) are used unashamedly in sweet desserts; others like carrots often have their natural sweetness subtly enhanced by glazing before being served as a savory side dish. The orange fruits, similarly, represent some of the most chin-drippingly juicy, sweet and succulent of all fruits. In fact three of them – mangoes, peaches and apricots – make it into my top-ten list of would-even-sell-my-mother-for-them favorite foods. There are of course other things that are orange, like Irn Bru, salmon eggs and Cheez-its, but somehow these don’t seem to strike to the heart of the orange matter like fruits and vegetables do. So that part decided, I had the difficult task of choosing which orange-hued fruit or vegetable to showcase. I wanted to do something local and seasonal, but a quick trip to the supermarket confirmed that there is nothing local and seasonal here in Scotland, apart from a few stalks of rhubarb, which most definitely aren’t orange. So that idea out the window, and spying a little packet of dried apricots florescently beckoning to me from the baking aisle, I decided to go for the anthithesis of local, and create escape food. So here it is, as exotic and as orange as I could make it:

Cardamom and Honey Stewed Apricots with Buttermilk-Rosewater Panna Cotta
Serves 6

1 lb dried apricots
10 cardamom pods
2 cups orange juice
1 cup water
1 cup mild floral honey, preferably orange-blossom
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 packet (2 1/2 teaspoons or 11.7 grams) powdered gelatine
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon rosewater

Combine the apricots, cardamom, orange juice and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, shaking the pan instead of stirring, for 25-30 minutes, or until the apricots are swollen and plump and the liquid is greatly reduced. Add the honey and continue to cook until the liquid bubbles thickly, about 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, pour the cream into a pot and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Allow it to soften for about 10 minutes, then add the sugar and heat on medium until both the gelatin and the sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat, stir in the buttermilk and the rosewater, and pour into 6 oiled small bowls or ramekins. Put these in the fridge and allow to chill until completely set, about 3 hours.

To serve, unmold a panna cotta onto a plate, coaxing it with a spoon if it stubbornly refuses, and spoon some room-temperature apricots and honey over the top. You can either remove the cardamom pods or leave them in for visual appeal. Although this is very sweet and creamy, something about the tanginess of the buttermilk and fruit leaves you feeling quite refreshed, so it would be a good dessert to end a heavy meal. Me, of course, I’ve been eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Note: I think this would take very well to alterations. You could no doubt substitute another spice like ginger or cinnamon for the cardamom, apricot nectar for the orange juice, yogurt for the buttermilk, vanilla for the rosewater, splenda for the sugar… you get the picture.