What is haggis?

With Burns Night on 25 January, we asked Scottish butcher and haggis maker Andrew Ramsay for the low-down on this iconic meat pudding.

Haggis served with neaps and tatties and oatcakes

Ever wondered what haggis is really made of and whether something that often looks so unappealing can actually taste good? According to award-winning butcher Andrew Ramsay (whose family have been in the business for 160 years at Ramsay of Carluke), few things are more Scottish than haggis, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to non-Scots and can vary hugely in quality. He reveals everything you need to know about this hearty and versatile national delicacy that is often served to celebrate Burns Night.


What exactly is haggis?

Historically, when hunters made their kill, they would use up the offal, which went off first, using the cleaned animal’s stomach as a cooking bag. Minced heart, liver and lungs are bulked out with oatmeal, onions, suet, seasoning and spices before cooking. Nowadays natural casings are still used, but synthetic ones are becoming more common (there is no effect on the flavour.)


What does it taste like?

Haggis is like a crumbly sausage, with a coarse oaty texture and a warming peppery flavour. It’s most commonly served with neeps (mashed turnip) and tatties (mashed potato) and washed down with a wee dram of your favourite whisky. Haggis is a versatile ingredient – it can be used to make a stuffing for poultry and game, or fried up for breakfast like crumbled black pudding.


Is there only one type?

Haggis is normally made with sheep offal, but originally any animal would have been used. There are many variations, which include combinations of lamb, pork, beef, venison and slightly more unusual offerings, such as rabbit and hare. Haggis has evolved over the years to suit all tastes and lifestyles, so you can now find organic, gluten-free and even vegan haggis.


How's it cooked?

The traditional method is to simmer the haggis in a pot for hours, but there's a risk that it will burst. You can also bake it in a casserole dish with some water. Although potentially cheating, the easiest and quickest way to cook haggis is in the microwave (but Robbie Burns might turn in his grave). Haggis is usually sold pre-cooked, so the most important thing is to get it piping hot.

How to cook and serve haggis:

1. Gently simmer in water for 50 mins per 500g.
2. Bake in a lidded casserole dish with a splash of water at 190C/170C fan/gas 5 for 1 hr.
Or, to microwave, cook on medium for 9 mins, turning once.
3. Once the haggis is very hot, cut a cross in the middle and spoon out the filling.Three steps to cooking haggis

Why on Burns Night?

In 1801, on the fifth anniversary of the death of Robert Burns, his friends got together to celebrate his life. Burns immortalised haggis in his poem Address to a Haggis, so it was the obvious food to serve. This celebration has continued every year on Burns’ birthday, 25 January, ever since. Events are held across the world, where people recite his poetry, sing, drink whisky and – of course – eat haggis.

Baked haggis spilling out of outer layer

See our recipe for baked haggis or try a vegan haggis – and don't forget the neeps & tatties.

Like this? Discover more Burns Night recipes...

Burns Night recipe collection
Clootie dumpling
Cranachan
Raspberry cranachan trifle
Neeps & tatties soup
Shortbread

Have you ever tried haggis and what did you think? Leave a comment below...


Ramsay of Carluke has been producing pork products and making haggis for 160 years, and won hundreds of awards and accolades. Their haggis has been cooked by chef Tom Kitchin at 10 Downing Street and for Alain Ducasse at his three Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. 

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