Sunday the 24th is a happy combination of Rachel's Mum's birthday and the Day Before Burns Night,
so it's Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
or in my case, Once more into the offal
: It's time to dust off my Haggis recipe.
I volunteered (if that's the right phrase for the situation where you won't take no for an answer)
to make Haggis for the family Birthday Dinner at Rachel's sister's place.
That's the one with all the pans
, for those who have been following closely.
I'll be bringing Haggis and some sauce
, Alan will be cooking the neeps
and the tatties
and I thought I might bring along a bottle of Grand Marnier for tarting up the neeps too.
Or some of the neeps for the grown-ups at the feast.
I had to make the Haggis the weekend before, due to limited time this weekend,
so I popped in to George Bower
of Stockbridge - the best game butcher in Edinburgh -
to order my sheep pluck, and then again to pick it up.
Fortunately for those of us who have to work for a living Bower opens at 8 a.m. which means I can buy quality meat during the week.
It never ceases to amaze me that any of these poxy high street shops that continue,
moronically unaffected by modern life to open only 9 to 5, have survived.
Has it really not occurred to these stubborn jackasses that the reason their business traffic has pissed away to nothing
has something to do with the fact that everyone who works for a living and therefore has money to spend can't shop between 9 and 5
because they are at work?
Is it possible for a business to survive when it's only custom comes from single mothers?
Have they really not noticed that during daylight hours the only other people they see are Pensioners who can only afford to lick their produce,
students who are only looking for work, chavs who only want to steal their stuff and drug dealers who want to sell them something?
I mean, for Christ's sake don't these people go to supermarkets themselves after they finish work so
they can buy something for their own dinner?
They're absolutely heaving!
They're raking it in!
Yes, OK, it might have something to do with the convenience of having everything under one roof
so that if you are the size of a small Welsh cottage
you don't suffer the enormous inconvenience of having to step outside to move from aisle to aisle,
but look at the tat they sell - it's wall to wall generic shite.
Give me a thriving High Street any day of the week.
But not, apparently, any evening.
Anyway, enough with the ranting. On to the Haggis...
I followed the same basic recipe as before
but the pluck I got from the butcher this time were a bit disappointing compared with the absolute monster I had last time around.
Either this chap was sadly undernourished, or the last one was a giant amongst sheep.
I didn't get the whole assemblage this time either - the organs had all been separated already, so there was no gullet, kidneys or tongue either,
which was a bit of a shame.
I did buy some venison liver from the Castle Street Farmers' Market
to bulk the liver quantity out,
though for what it cost it was a pitiful quantity compared with even this miniature sheep's liver.
It seems a complete venison haggis would be a different order of cost than a sheeps one.
Mind you - the difference in liver price does reflect the delicacy of flavour -
I flash-fried a sliver of each of the livers for a quick taste test.
A liver sliver sample if you will.
The venison was absolutely exquisite with a delicate flavour and a fine texture, which made the lamb seem thick and dull by comparison.
Probably it was something of a waste to add the venison to the haggis, and I don't think I could tell the difference in the end result.
The friendly butcher handed over some nice shin bones too,
so this time I used the offal water to make up a nice dark beef stock
for boiling the barley and moistening the mixture before stuffing.
The whole process took about 6 hours this time - quite a lot longer than I'd noted the last time I made them, despite the smaller pluck.
Some of that might have been the time spent making the stock, and this time it was just me,
whereas I think I managed to rope in a couple of unsuspecting assistants last time.
This time I was also quite conscious of the need to keep these haggii for a week before cooking them,
so I deliberately cooked the lights a little more than I would have done otherwise.
I imagine this had some impact on their final flavour.
I decided the best way to keep the haggii without them rotting would be to hang them so that they stayed dry -
the ceca get very moist if they are left in contact with any surfaces -
so I arranged a piece of string in my fridge door and hung the double haggis like a pair of veiny giant testicles.
This seemed to work pretty well: they dried out quite thoroughly,
and even started to look a little shrivelled towards the end so then I wrapped them in muslin and put them on the fridge shelf.
I gave them a jolly good sniff every day just to make sure there was no hint of rot.
Since I figured the liver was about half the size of the last one (I should really have weighed it, but I reckon around 2lb),
I used roughly half quantities of my previous recipe
though this turned out to be a bit heavy on the spices.
I bought some nice fresh cayenne pepper in preparation, and perhaps this was a mistake.
I also realised that before you over-spice the stuffing mixture you can taste it by frying up a little batch.
Probably I should have realised that before
I added all the ground up spices eh?
Anyway - the lesson learned is go easy on the cayenne and taste the mixture before you add all the spices in
Although I bought 3 salted ox ceca (just in case) I only needed one of them, and you really don't need to soak them overnight.
I just gave them a thorough rinsing in the bath: run water into them so they swell up like a balloon to really flush all the salt out.
I used them with the fatty veins on the inside, the way they arrive.
Knowing that the kiddies would balk at the taste of liquor in their sauce,
I cast around for a child-friendly alternative to the Drambuie sauce
to go with the haggii.
I think they really need something creamy to smooth off their rather dry edge,
and despite some difficult hot-cauliflower-related memories
for Rachel, I plumped for a version of Heston Blumenthal's
with the addition of some fennel to lighten it up a bit.
Unfortunately I wasn't really happy with the result, so I mellowed the flavour back down again by blending in some cashew nuts.
The result was pretty nice, but I had foolishly forgotten about Sonny's nut allergies,
so we had to make a new version sans nuts (and fennel).
Although I seemed to be the only one to notice the slightly acrid flavour to the purée,
the original version has the same taste, so I don't think it was due to my fennel addition after all.
Cover the offal with water in a large
pot and boil it up until it's cooked through.
Skim off any scum as it rises.
Drain the offal and use the cooking water to make beef stock
Begin gently toasting the oatmeal in a heavy frying pan on the stove top until it turns golden and smells toasty(!),
and start the barley simmering until tender in some of your rich beef stock
Pick through the liver, heart and lungs removing any tubes and stripping away the flesh.
Grate the liver and blend the heart and lungs to a paste.
Mix all your ingredients (except the spices) together now and moisten with stock as necessary to get the mixture to cohere nicely.
Add some of the spice blend now, but fry up a sample spoonful or two of the mixture to check the levels as you go to make sure you don't overdo it.
Be especially cautious with the cayenne pepper(!).
Take an ox cecum sock and stuff the mixture in until you have a decent-sized package.
4-6 person sized haggii were a bit easier to handle than monster rugby balls.
Pack the mixture in quite firmly, and make sure to fill the stocking so as not to leave any air pockets.
Tie some string around the stocking in a couple of places when you are happy,
then continue stuffing to make the next, connected, haggis ball.
You end up with a couple (or more I suppose if you like) giant maracas.
I tied the final end of the stocking into a knot, tied string around it too for security, and then cut off the excess with scissors.
You can wash off the mess you've made on the outside with a little water and hey presto. The finished product.
I don't think I would have left the haggii in a bowl or bag for a week
as the ox intestine seems to stay quite moist and slimy on contact with any kind of surface
but it dries out quite nicely when hung up somewhere cool and dry.
It's especially easy to hang them from the middle stretch of stocking if you've made a nice pair of haggii out of the one cecum.
To cook the haggii, place them in a large pot of water and slowly bring to the gentlest of simmers. Simmer for 3 hours.
You need to keep a close eye on the fellows in case their skins split open,
in which case you will need to wrap them in aluminium foil for the rest of their cooking.
If you prefer you could probably wrap them right from the start just in case.
These home-made haggii seem to have an annoying tendency to split,
though one of the two we made this time did make it whole all the way to the table!