Haggis 'not just for Burns Night'

Haggis

Haggis, the star of Burns Night, has become a dish favoured all year round, and not just in Scotland.

Haggis is the focal point of every traditional Burns supper - a highlight of the Scottish calendar.

An honoured guest, it is ceremonially piped to the table, poetically addressed, then crudely stabbed apart, and traditionally served with neeps (turnip mash) and tatties (potato mash).

But this cheap food, made from offal, oats and tied up in a sheep's stomach, has undergone an image change as chefs use it in new ways. It is now popular outside Scotland.

In January the demand for haggis is enormous.

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"We do about 30% of our annual turnover in two weeks," says Jo Macsween, director of Haggis producer Macsween of Edinburgh.

"We'll be doing about 2 million portions of haggis in January alone."

By the time January rolls around, independent Aberdeenshire butcher John Davidson and his staff have been burning the candle at both ends for some time.

"We're gearing up from November," Mr Davidson says. "Burns Night is 100% full-on haggis.

"Over January we'd normally sell 12-15,000, but we expect it to be a lot more this year."

But sales are also picking up during the rest of the year, says Jo Macsween.

"Month-on-month increases have been higher in months outside winter. I think that's because we're encouraging people to see haggis as an all-year-round ingredient."

However, many people are initially averse to sampling haggis.

"It's difficult to describe haggis without making it sound not that nice," says chef Fiona Burrell, principal of the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School.

"If you say it's grainy and slightly chewy that doesn't sound so attractive.

Start Quote

Outside Edinburgh, London is the next biggest haggis eating city in the UK”

End Quote Jo Macsween Director, Macsween of Edinburgh

"It's got this sort of slightly spicy peppery taste and also the texture is quite granular, but quite interesting."

Mr Davidson says the thought of eating the "gushing entrails" described by Robert Burns in his poem Address to a Haggis can put people off.

"At the end of the day, there's nothing harmful or anything bad in there," he says.

"Everything in there is fit for human consumption."

Jo Macsween calls haggis eaten with mashed turnip and mashed potato (neeps and tatties) the "holy trinity".

But these days it seems people are becoming more adventurous.

"I think people are seeing it as a product you can put in a roll and eat for breakfast," says Ms Macsween, "or use with Tex Mex recipes - or Tex Mac, as I call it."

Ms Burrell says she uses it in unusual ways too.

Burns Night Supper

Piping in the haggis

The Burns Supper is a Scottish institution - held to celebrate the life and works of Scotland's national poet Robert (Rabbie) Burns.

It is traditional to serve:

  • Cock-a-leekie soup
  • Haggis, neeps & tatties ("Haggis wi' bashit neeps an' champit tatties")
  • Clootie dumpling (a pudding prepared in a linen cloth or cloot) or Typsy Laird (a Scottish sherry trifle)
  • Whisky

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"We do a canapé with haggis wrapped up in filo pastry with a plum dipping sauce, which is nice because the acidity in the plum just cuts through the fattiness of the haggis.

"We've also used it mixed with minced venison and wrapped it round an egg to make a haggis and venison scotch egg, which is delicious as well."

There are other ways to enjoy haggis with its traditional accompaniments, Ms Burrell explains.

"You could take the haggis out of its wrapper and flatten it down into a dish.

"Haggis, neeps and tatties do go incredibly well together but you could do it layered up so that it's something that's ready to just pop in the oven and heat through."

UK sales of haggis have steadily increased for a number of years, rising from £6.387m to £8.778m in just two years from 2007 to 2009.

The location of those buying so much of Scotland's national dish may come as a surprise - over 50% of Macsween's stock heads south of the border.

"There's a very high predominance of Londoners loving haggis," says Jo Macsween.

"People say, 'that's because there are a lot of Scots in London', well, there can't be that many.

"Outside Edinburgh, London is the next biggest haggis eating city in the UK."

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Who is responsible for this upturn in the fortunes of haggis?

"The core consumer for haggis is still over 40, but the good trend that we've been seeing emerge now for a few years is that younger consumers are increasing, and frequency of purchase is increasing," says Jo Macsween.

"All of those things indicate that haggis is breaking off its image of being for a more mature audience and only really relevant for Burns Night."

The reason for the appearance of haggis at mealtimes throughout the year may also be down to economics.

A family-sized portion of haggis from a supermarket will cost between £3 and £4.

If following the "holy trinity" formula, serving with potatoes and turnip, then it is possible to dish up a meal for about £6 or £7.

But perhaps one of the best reasons for eating haggis is that it is a great comfort food.

"I feel reassured about life after eating a haggis. I feel I've been hugged from the inside," Jo Macsween says.

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