A guide to haggis

  • By
    Carol Wilson - Food writer

We look at the history of this Scottish treat, plus offer advice on where to buy it and how to cook it to perfection.

Haggis

Scotland's best known speciality, haggis, is a mystery to most non-Scots and the focus of lots of jokes about shooting and hunting the wee beastie haggis. It's made from 'sheep's pluck' - the finely chopped liver, heart and lungs, mixed with oatmeal, suet, herbs, spices and seasoning, packed into a natural casing (traditionally sheep intestines), which is not eaten, then boiled.

The history of haggis

Its origins are shrouded in obscurity, although it is known to be an ancient dish, as 15th century recipes mention a haggis or haggas pudding. The name may come from the Scandinavian 'hag', meaning to hack or chop, or from the Anglo-Saxon 'haecan' - to hack into pieces. Another explanation is that it comes from the French 'hachis', or the Icelandic 'hoggva', also meaning to hack or chop.

Find the best haggis

The best haggis is moist, firm and flavoursome. Every Scottish butcher has his or her own recipe, made according to the basic recipe, which has remained virtually unchanged for centuries, with the addition of their own exclusive blend of seasonings, herbs and spices.

Burns Night

CutleryHaggis is really thrown into the spotlight around Burns Night. Several tons of haggis are exported throughout the world for celebration suppers, including modern variations such as smoked haggis and a vegetarian haggis made with oatmeal, vegetarian suet, lentils, beans, nuts, carrots, onions and other vegetables packed into a synthetic casing. Surprisingly, haggis is very popular in France, where it is served in top Parisian restaurants!

Where to buy haggis

If you don't live near a traditional Scottish butcher, try one of these online alternatives, or alternatively ask at your local supermarket: 

Macsween is one of the biggest haggis brands in Scotland. They have a wealth of options online, including a vegetarian version, haggis canapes and venison haggis, from £3.90. Order from the Macsween site.

London butcher Allens of Mayfair make their haggis in Scotland. Their traditional version costs £4.50, or if you're throwing a party splash out on the ceremonial haggis for £35. Order from the Allens of Mayfair site

Glasgow-based butcher McLays make traditional haggis in natural casing. Prices start at £6.50. Order from the McLays site

Ayrshire butcher Pollok Williamson sell a range of haggis from £1.36, including one specially shaped for deep-frying, should you be feeling particularly decadent. Order from the Pollok Williamson site.

The Blackface Meat Company sell haggis celebration boxes. We like their recommendation of using any leftovers in stuffing. Order from the Blackface site.

How to cook haggis

OvenTo boil: Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the haggis and reduce to a simmer. Time according to weight - McLays recommends boiling a 1kg natural-cased haggis for an hour and 15 minutes. To serve, carefully slit open the casing and tip the filling onto a plate.

To bake: Heat the oven to fan 180C/conventional 200C/gas 6. Remove the outer packaging, prick with a fork and wrap in foil as you would a baked potato then cook in the oven an one hour per 450g. Serve as above. Read the recipe for baked haggis here.

Serve with neeps and tatties and a sauce made from reduced cream and whisky. 

Do you love or loathe this Scottish delicacy? Share your thoughts with us below. If you're throwing a Burns Night party be sure to check out our recipe collection, too.  

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