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Inside haggis: The secrets of Scotland’s national dish

Haggis is traditionally served with turnips.


Anthony Bourdain loved haggis. But even the late, great American chef, writer and television host recognized that Scotland’s national dish, with its “sinister sheep parts” wrapped in a shroud of mystery and half-invented history, could be a hard sell.

“Don’t let them tell you otherwise, that’s really one of life’s great pleasures,” Bourdain said on one of his gastro-curious pilgrimages to Glasgow. “There is no more unfairly reviled food on Earth than the haggis.”

A mash-up of diced lung, liver and heart mixed with oatmeal, beef suet, onion and assorted spices, haggis was traditionally made by stuffing these raw ingredients into the stomach of a recently slain sheep and boiling the lot to a state of palatability.

Instagrammable is not the word that immediately comes to mind. In our 21st-century world, where “clean” eating and processed pap overlap, haggis can seem like an “Outlander”-style outlier from another age.

Yet, by some alchemy, once cooked to its required “warm-reekin’ (steaming)” state, it adds up to much more than the sum of its modest parts. It’s offaly charm has kept nose-to-tail eating alive among a younger generation of Scots that has largely turned its back on the tripe, liver and kidneys their predecessors enjoyed (or endured).

Carefully prepared, haggis tastes both oaty and meaty; it is dark and crumbly, a little crispy at the edges but still moist; earthy but also savory and spicy; deep-tasting and profoundly warming, the perfect foil for its traditional garnish of floury mashed potatoes and orange bashed turnip.

“It’s like a cuddle for the stomach,” says Nicola Turner, a 35-year-old office administrator from Helensburgh, a town on western Scotland’s Firth of Clyde.

For children of the 1960s and ’70s, like crime novelist Ian Rankin, haggis meals were a choice between the classic meat-and-two-veg plate and the battered and deep-fried, chip-shop iteration loved by both his friend Bourdain and his quintessentially Scottish detective character, Inspector John Rebus.

Now myriad other treatments have blossomed.

“I’m pretty sure the first time I dined with AB in Edinburgh we had haggis in filo pastry with a jam-style – maybe blackcurrant –…

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