For every Burns purist out there who sticks rigorously to the time- honoured menu that makes the supper so memorable, there’s a culinary experimentalist wondering if there’s a new way of presenting the haggis. Could it be wrapped in filo pastry? What about deep-frying it and serving it with chips? Or perhaps use it as a filling for ravioli? The answer is that all of these options are possible, and more, as Scotland’s chefs, manufacturers and home cooks are discovering.
At this time of year it’s a dead cert that one enterprising restaurant will be adapting the national dish and making headlines in the process. This year it is the turn of Aberdeen’s Gourmet Kamasutra restaurant, creator of the haggis pakora. Its plan for an alternative Burns Night only hit a snag when its owners couldn’t find anyone to deliver the traditional Address to a Haggis.
Scottish-Indian fusion has long proved popular and Glasgow curry house Caf India previously created the Fully Bhoona Haggis to widespread acclaim and Edinburgh ethnic food manufacturer Mrs Unis scored a big hit with its haggis samosas.
You might expect those involved in the haggis business to get twitchy at the thought of anyone meddling with such a revered product, but not so. As MD of Macsween of Edinburgh, Jo Macsween is continuing a family tradition that has witnessed half a century of haggis production. Supplying stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason, the company also has the distinction of creating the world’s first custom-built haggis factory.
Macsween says that she considers the versatility of haggis to be such an important topic that she is seriously considering writing a book about it.
"I have so many recipes now, from customers, colleagues and from my family, that I thought, yes, there’s something in this," she says. "They range from a mountaineering friend who makes haggis bolognese when he goes camping, to someone who doesn’t like cooking and spreads haggis on toast, to someone else who is doing rather an elaborate haggis canap for her smart dinner party."
The only limit, it seems, is imagination. Where a recipe calls for meat, there’s a reasonable chance you can substitute haggis. It works particularly well in Italian dishes such as lasagne, ravioli or cannelloni, or for a simple but impressive meal it can be wrapped up in filo pastry or pan-fried then served up with a mustard sauce. At a recent supermarket demonstration, Macsween served up Portobello mushrooms topped with a slice of haggis and farmhouse cheddar. Despite the manager’s scepticism about how the ingredients would combine, it proved to be a smash hit.
Haggis might be a popular choice at Scotland’s top restaurants but it’s by no means an elitist dish. Visit Harry Ramsden’s and you’ll find battered, bite-sized haggis with chips. Most chippies across the country offer a haggis supper on the menu. Then there’s the vegetarian haggis - it might seem a contradiction in terms but Macsween’s version, using kidney beans, lentils, vegetables and nuts, accounts for 20 per cent of the company’s sales.
Macsween says that it makes an excellent ingredient for Indian dishes, particularly pakora or samosas, and it can also be used to good effect in stuffed peppers or tartlets. If you’re vegetarian, you might like to try the version served up at the Edinburgh veggie restaurant Henderson’s. Its haggis roll, encased in pastry, is a filling snack for these cold winter months.
Although this is undoubtedly the busiest time of year for the haggis manufacturers, Macsween says that its sales now remain high, year-round. "I think it’s gaining in credibility," she says. "Last night I was out for dinner and I noticed haggis was on the menu three times." Macsween also reveals that a pizza company has a haggis pizza in the pipeline. She says that experimenting with the product simply reflects the times we’re living in. "We are a multi-ethnic society, so lets start fusing our cultures together and learning something interesting."
But for all the culinary options available, Macsween admits there are some recipes that she’s received but hasn’t had time (or perhaps the courage) to try out. Haggis scone, anyone?
• For recipe suggestions visit www.macsweens.co.uk