How to Make Haggis (in North America, Anyway!)

A bit of a weird (TMI?) note here… my body is kind of weird, and I have ridiculous needs when it comes to animal protein, B vitamins, iron, etc. If I don’t eat enough red meat, I get weak and ill, and it feels like I can *feel* my cells slowly dying.

It’s a really gross feeling, so I TRY to keep up on protein… but sometimes it’s hard. I recently got so busy with the next couple of book releases, that I was living on horrible convenience foods that I won’t really admit to… and no animal protein. Got malnourished, got sick, and decided that what I REALLY needed to feel better was some haggis.

I have a different kind of relationship with haggis, than the average person. I tried it at Folklorama as a teen, and LOVED it. I wasn’t surprised, I knew from a young age that a lot of what gets labeled as “icky” is actually really tasty. One of my absolute favourite foods as a kid was steak and kidney pie!

In my teens, I realized that haggis was absolute gold for anemia, so I started to look at it as not only a tasty meal, but medicine. Iron pills never really did much for me, but a serving of haggis would pick me up and make me feel so much better within minutes. It became a go-to cure, for me.

I moved to the east coast, and met a really nice Scottish lady who’d sell it to me by the ice cream bucket-full. I moved to the greater Toronto area, and found a butcher shop that kept it in stock.

Then I moved to Minnesota, and my only option was canned. What?

While I did suffer through the canned option a couple times (it smells like cat food, and doesn’t even have all the good stuff in it!), this most recent time happened after hours for the company I’d buy it from. I decided that enough was enough, I was going to figure out how to make it myself. I’m always up for an adventure, and this would definite be one – I’d never actually worked with most of the meats involved!

I knew I’d have to make a few compromises, in making haggis. While it’s normally made with lamb, beef would be far easier to find ingredients for, and definitely more economical. Also, for my purposes… I’ve found that beef is better for my issues than lamb is. Additionally, lungs were out of the question, due to FDA regulations – so I decided to substitute a beef tongue. Stomach was impossible to find, so I had to figure out an alternate casing option.

A trip to a local butcher for the beef tongue also yielded me a bit of advice on casings… which was helpful, as I’d never even made sausage before this point. After comparing the options, we all decided that it’d be best to go with the casings used for venison sausage. “Mislabeled” for my purposes, maybe.. but they had the widest diameter, so would be closest to the real thing.

I may have SKIPPED out of the butcher shop. I was positively giddy at the idea that I was just a few hours away from my OWN haggis.

I got home, and decided that the occasion required the start of a new Pandora station. Great Big Sea was the seed group for it, as I figured Celtic rock/pop would be ideal haggis making music… and it was!

It was interesting to unwrap the individual ingredients and see what they even LOOKED like for the first time. I don’t have any weird hangups about types of meat being gross – if I can eat a cow face (barbacoa is amazing!) and chow down on roasted chicken skin, I just don’t see why heart would be weird, you know?

I did have something weird *HAPPEN* at one point, though. When I unwrapped the kidneys, the smell hit me … and it was like something out of some cheesy vampire movie. It didn’t smell GOOD, in a way that food’s supposed to… but something surged in me, and I felt extremely ravenous, immediately. I went from happy and giddy, to feeling almost sort of feral with just one whiff. I had to convince myself that it wasn’t a good idea to just eat some of it raw, right then – the urge was there! It was completely bizarre… I wonder what I was smelling? I’ve always had an insane sense of smell (Aspergers super power!), so I’m almost wondering if it was a nutrient or mineral that I was really, really low on. SO weird!

I was able to pull myself together, and whatever that was calmed down once I got the kidney meat soaking.

I pulled everything together – kind of making it up as I went along – without incident. It was easier than I had imagined, and it was the best tasting haggis I’d ever tried – never underestimate the power of having complete control over your seasonings!

As I took my first bite of the fully seasoned haggis mixture, “Ramblin’ Rover” came on over the new Pandora station, and it was a magical moment for me. It felt – and tasted – like victory!

As I placed the haggis chubs in the water for a final cook, another song got stuck in my head – David Guetta’s “The World is Mine“. Yes. It is an amazing feeling to know that this hard-to-find food item is now something I could make… and you can, too!

A note on the photos: Because of my husband’s weird “top of the food chain guilt”, as I call it (he doesn’t want to see meat that looks like it came from an animal, prefers to pretend it grew on trees or something), I wasn’t allowed to make this while he was home, and had to resort to crappy cell phone photography for the progess photos. Sorry about that!

Luckily, he was perfectly ok with the finished product, and graciously took the beauty shots for me 🙂


Haggis Recipe

1 beef tongue (about 3 lbs)
2 lbs beef heart
5 onions
6 ribs celery
2 carrots, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
4 Tbsp dried savoury, divided
1 tsp dried thyme, divided
2 tsp salt, divided
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp ground black pepper, divided
3 tsp sage, divided
2 lbs beef kidneys
1 cup vinegar
1 lb beef liver
1/2 lb beef suet
2 cups rolled oats, toasted*
1 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
sausage casings of choice**

In a large pot, place beef tongue, beef heart, 2 peeled and sliced onions, celery, and carrots. Cover with water, add 1 Tbsp savory, and 1 tsp each theme, salt, pepper, and sage. Bring JUST to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 2 hours.

As you wait, rinse the kidneys off, and cut all the meat from the white stuff. Place the kidney meat in a bowl with 1 cup vinegar and 3 cups water. Stir well, let it sit for 20 minutes before draining and rinsing it.

Add kidneys and beef liver to the pot, continue to cook for another hour or so, until the tongue and heart are tender.

Remove everything from the cooking liquid, reserving the liquid for later. Discard vegetables, allow meats to cool until you can handle them.

Use a sharp knife to trim gristle, skin, or “ugly bits” from the heart and tongue. Chop all of the organ meat to ~ 1″ cubes or strips. Run all the meat through the larger grain opening on your meat grinder, mix well. Run through once more, this time with the finer cut attachment.

Grate or finely chop the remaining 3 onions, and grate the suet. Add both to the meat mixture, stir well.

Run your toasted oats through the food processor to break them up a bit, add to the mixture. Stir well

Season the mixture to your liking. I ended up using:

3 Tbsp dried savoury
2 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp ground black pepper

Stir well.

I used the sausage making attachment for my Kitchenaid to stuff the sausage casings, which I’d soaked in hot water for a few minutes to soften. As I haven’t made sausage before… not sure what to recommend if you use something else. Don’t stuff them TOO full, or they run the risk of exploding when simmered.

Once the sausage casings are stuffed, tie them off. Prick each casing a few times with a fork or JUST the tip of a sharp knife. Place in a large pot of boiling water, turn the heat down and and simmer for about 3 hours.


*I spread them out on a cookie sheet and toasted them in the oven at 350 until they smelled nice. Stir it every once in awhile.

** I used two large “venison sausage” style casings. If I had my time back, I would have used 4 and only done them half full!

My Haggis Making Victory Song: