Cooking up a haggis!

What goes into making the Scottish delicacy?
24 January 2020

Interview with 

Tristan Welch, Parker's Tavern


Chef Tristan Welch holding a haggis while Phil Sansom holds a microphone to his mouth


We’re about to bring out the main course: haggis. It’s Scotland’s national dish, but the squeamish among us probably prefer to eat haggis without thinking about how it’s made. But last week’s podcast was all about reducing food waste, and it's important to recognise how good a job haggis does here. Phil Sansom went to meet chef Tristan Welch to learn how to cook the delicacy - and for the uninitiated, there’s talk of blood and guts coming up…

Tristan - So we're going to make haggis. We've got all the ingredients laid out here. The key ingredient, these fabulous things: lambs lights or pluck. What do you think?

Phil - It's horrible! Oh, I hate it, I hate it.

Tristan - A pluck or a light, you big Jessie, is basically everything from the tongue of the lamb right the way down. So we've got our lungs, the liver, the kidney, the heart... some people use the windpipe, some people don't. I think it makes a bit of a dirty haggis rather than a clean haggis.

Phil - Why does a haggis use all of this?

Tristan - For me it's about using the whole animal. Everything's taken, cooked, and made completely delicious and stuffed inside a sheep's stomach. We're going to trim it down first and the bloodier bits, we will discard. I'll do it like so, I'll show you.

Phil - As Tristan went to work on the assorted lamb bits, I tried not to lose the lunch I'd had earlier.

Phil - I need to get a stronger stomach.

Tristan - Well we've got a sheep stomach. Is that strong enough for you?

Phil - I'd really rather it wasn't here.

Tristan - Here we are. This is our lungs, our liver, our hearts, our kidneys, they've all been diced up. We've taking some of the thicker tubes out, let's say. I've put in some bay leaves, some salt, and we're just going to cover it with water and simmer it for about an hour.

Phil - Are they very different to cook with than a normal slab of meat?

Tristan - Gosh, completely different. You have to be very, very delicate with it. But one of the... one of the funny things, the strange things about cooking a lung is it floats on water! So it's just difficult to cook.

Phil - What, do you have to push them down?

Tristan - Yeah, yeah. So we'll put some paper on top and then another pan, and that will just keep them submerged underwater.

Phil - As the lamb's pluck simmered, it went from bright red-coloured to a deeply unappealing grey.

Tristan - I've taken them out of the cooking liquid and I've chilled them down, and I've mixed it with some onions, which I've sweated down in suet. I've got some more suet fat, beef suet fat, and I'm going to put it all through the mincer. It looks pretty gruesome at this point, I have to admit, there's nothing particularly glamorous about making a haggis; but wait until the end product. Back in the 1800s didn't they believe that haggis was an animal that you'd catch? And it's got one leg shorter than the other one so it can run round hills.

Phil - That sounds like something you'd tell to a fool Englishman.

Tristan - You now, I used to live in Scotland and I was called a fool Englishman for many, many years.

Phil - Really?

Tristan - Yeah, yeah! Let's mince away then...

Phil - I can only apologise here, because the sound of haggis mix going through a mincer might be the most unpleasant sound I've ever recorded.

Tristan - And there we are. So you add a generous amount of oats to it, it's almost 50:50. A good pinch of salt. So now we add our spices, which is nutmeg, coriander, allspice, black pepper - that's the really important one. But people always have their own spice mix and they keep it a very closely guarded secret. And to this lovely mix we're just going to add a little bit of our cooking stock, which I've had reducing down there on the stove.

Phil - With the mix ready, Tristan got out the container for the haggis: a cleaned, pale white, cord-textured lamb's stomach.

Tristan - We're stuffing away here. I've taken a nice tennis ball size of the haggis. I've popped it into our lamb stomach, and now I'm gently tying around so it forms a little parcel. Trim the string... and there we are. That's our haggis and it's ready to be poached for about an hour.

Phil - Are you looking forward to eating it?

Tristan - Yeah, it's going to be delicious!


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