Recipe: Going for the Burns (supper) – A reconstructed take on haggis, neeps and tatties

Reconstructed Scottish classic - haggis, neeps & tatties.
This is set to be an interesting year for anyone living in Scotland – a county that has been my home for the majority of my adult life. Firstly, 2014 has been designated the year of Homecoming Scotland – a programme of events and activities showcasing all that’s great about Caledonia. Secondly, for sports fans there is golf’s Ryder Cup, and the excitement of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games – having experienced London 2012, I personally can’t wait. Oh, and there is September’s referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent nation again, which will have repercussions, whatever the result…

It’s somewhat appropriate then, given that this is such a big Scottish year, that a Burns supper was my first celebratory meal of 2014. For those not familiar, Robert (or Rabbie) Burns is Scotland’s national bard, an 18th century poet, writer and lyricist, claimed as an inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and author of works that include A Man's A Man For A' That and Auld Lang Syne. Burns suppers are traditionally held each 25 January to mark the poet’s birthday and celebrate his life and work.

A Burns supper may vary from formal to casual, but will almost always have three elements in common: the reciting of Burns’ poems at some point in proceedings; the partaking of a “nip” or two of Scotch whisky; and a main course that consists of haggis, neeps (bashed turnips or swedes) and tatties (mashed potatoes). This is very traditional Scottish fare, historically eaten by people of limited means. The vegetables used were cheap and plentiful, and haggis consists of lamb offal – usually liver, lungs and heart – mixed with oatmeal, onion, suet and spices, all encased in a sheep’s stomach and simmered in water.



Chieftain of the pudding race ready for cooking.
Haggis might not sound appetising to everyone but it is the original “nose to tail” food, and tastes delicious. And these days, equally tasty vegetarian versions of the “chieftain of the pudding race” – as Burns called the dish – are readily available. This got me thinking that tradition is great, but tastes evolve and progress. Scotland’s culinary scene is now very different – and dare I say much more diverse and sophisticated – to how it was even a couple of decades ago. So why not try a reconstructed take on haggis, neeps and tatties for Burns night or indeed any other dinner that takes one’s fancy?

 So I give you a stack of whisky infused haggis and crushed neeps with chilli and sage butter, topped with a garlic and thyme flavoured fondant potato, and served with stock and red wine reduction.  At the risk of appearing immodest, it tastes as good as it looks. As Burns so eloquently put it, in Address to a Haggis.

And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin', rich!


Oh, and remember – you don’t have to limit haggis, neeps and tatties only to Burns night. It’s a great dish for any autumn or winter evening…


Recipe will feed two people generously.

Ingredients
  • One small haggis (either meat-based or vegetarian) of good quality, such as those made by MacSween or Simon Howie
  • 1 small, or half a large, turnip (swede) peeled and cut into 1-2cm cubes
  • 1 very large or two large potatoes, peeled
  • A few fresh sage leaves, lightly crushed
  • 1 red chilli – deseeded if you prefer less heat – finely sliced
  • 250ml of good quality chicken or vegetable stock (for the fondant potatoes)
  • Around 400ml of good quality beef or vegetable stock (for the reduction)
  • A large glass of decent red wine – about 250ml – if you wouldn’t drink it don’t cook with it, is my rule!
  • Unsalted butter – for frying the potatoes and adding to the ‘neeps.
  • A good nip of decent whisky – see guidance on wine (above)
  • A couple of cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
  • A couple of sprigs of thyme
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste.


Preparation and cooking
  1. Cook the haggis as per the maker’s instructions – I always think traditional simmering is better than microwaving, even if this takes longer.
  2. Place the turnip (swede) chunks into a saucepan, fill with water and add a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover, cooking until the chunks become tender (about 10-15 minutes should do it).
  3. Whilst the turnips are cooking gently melt a good chunk of butter (about 30-50g) in a saucepan and when this begins to foam add the crushed sage. Turn off the heat. Now add the chilli to the butter and sage, swirling the mixture around for a few seconds, and set aside.
  4. To prepare the fondant potatoes trim the top and bottom off the peeled spud(s) and cut out two round shapes about three or four centimetres thick – a cookie cutter can help with this and if you want to be really “cheffie” trim off (turn) the edges to make a bevelled shape. Set aside in a bowl of cold water with a squeeze of lemon until ready to cook.
  5. Once the turnips are cooked drain them and add the sage and chilli butter – having first removed the sage leaves. Mash until getting towards smooth but still with a bit of texture (you are not looking for a cream). Season to taste and set aside until the haggis is ready.
  6. When the haggis is cooked remove the minced contents from the surrounding casing and place in a bowl. Pour in the nip of whisky and stir into the haggis “meat”. If it is a decent specimen, it will need no further seasoning.
  7. Lightly oil a non-stick baking tray/sheet and the inside of two cooking rings – around 10cm in width and 6cm tall. Place the rings on the baking sheet, divide the haggis between each of them, and firm down with the back of a spoon. 
  8. Next divide the crushed neeps between the rings, to form a layer on top of the haggis. Firm down and smooth the top surface. Brush with a little melted butter. Put the stacks into a preheated oven to 170 degrees Celsius for around 25mins, until thoroughly warmed through.
  9. Put the stock and wine for the reduction in a saucepan and place on a high heat. On a fast simmer reduce until 2/3 of the liquid has evaporated. Keep an eye on it and turn off the heat, and re-warm before serving, if the reduction is quick. You should be after a moderately thick, silky sauce.
  10. Melt a good lump of butter in a medium size frying or sauté pan, over a medium heat. Drain the potatoes and pat dry. When the butter is foaming put the fondants in the pan and fry for around five minutes until the side in contact with the pan becomes golden. 
  11. Turn over the potatoes and fry for a further five minutes – or so – until the other side is also golden. Add the stock, followed by garlic and thyme, cover and simmer until the potatoes become tender. Keep warm.
  12. When the haggis and neeps stacks are ready, carefully remove them from the cooking ring and place each one on the centre of a warmed dinner plate. Arrange a warm fondant potato on top of each stack. 
  13. Spoon a generous serving of the wine and stock reduction around each stack, and serve.
Although traditionally haggis, neeps and tatties are served on their own, they go well with green vegetables, such as the braised leeks that accompanied my take on the dish.
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