The time is fast approaching for our annual Haggis and Scotch at the Old Colony Club. We don't do the full Burns Supper, although I would love to do that one of these Januarys. For now, we content ourselves with Scotch and Haggis.
What's a haggis? It's one of those things that the gang at work will swear they'll never eat, with utterances such as "Do you know what's in that thing?!" with allusions to grisly discoveries more inferred than understood.
There is no denying that the haggis is a peasant food, a sort of mega-sausage bulked up with oats and stuffed into a sheep's stomach. And of course like any peasant food, when well-heeled urbanites use the basic plan but build upon it with quality ingredients and respect for tradition, it can become the true "chieftain o' the puddin' race". These days it is not hard to get a haggis of a size much smaller than the stuffed sheep's stomach that fed the armed highlanders of yore.
I always get my haggis at British Imports, in Plymouth, MA. I get the frozen Cameron-brand haggis, about one to one-and-a-half pounds in weight. This is enough for a crowd to try a sample each, and allow for a few of the crew to really enjoy it. I thaw it a couple of days in the fridge, then let it warm a little more in a crock-pot before turning it on to cook.
A properly prepared haggis swells as it cooks, the fat melting into and flavoring the oats and melding the spices together. The distended skin is literally bursting with flavor, and a high point of a Burns dinner is the ceremonial thrusting of a dirk into the haggis, splitting it asunder and spilling hot seasoned goodness on all sides.
For today's urban and suburban Americans, the best bet is to serve it with crackers as a sort of dip. I often do this at the club, setting the platter of haggis and crackers down and then hurrying away to more hostly duties with full confidence that my piranha colleagues will descend upon it without need of coaching, and blissfully ignorant of preconceptions.
About 30 minutes later, when the haggis has been nearly obliterated, I observe "I see the haggis was a great hit tonight!". A brief silence is followed by a quiet "Haggis?" and a chorus of manly men exclaiming that real men love haggis (too late to feign innocence now, having enjoyed a robust portion themselves) and the shrinking violets are pressured into trying the remainder, with some single-malt bribery to ease the shock.
By now I have about 20 serious haggis fans. My little ruse has about run its course, but it served its purpose - we have a legion of faux Scotsmen to celebrate Robbie Burns and the peasant food he made famous the world over.