Frightening cooks – Haggis

Haggis from scratch

The thing about cooking haggis is that it’s scary. Scary cooking is exciting and to be recommended. For something to be frightening it needs to present the possibility of failure. It needs to be able to take you to your emotional limit and perhaps beyond. If it doesn’t threaten you, why do it? Some people walk across Antarctica to be threatened to their limit, some people row the Atlantic, but you don’t need to go out of the house and do such dramatic stuff to test yourself; you can just cook something impossibly frightening. Only you know your limit; it might be Artic Roll  or soufflé or cheese omelette. Your limit depends on your competence and mind set. It depends where you have been and what you have done. Some people find cycling to the shops daunting whilst others pedal across continents. Your limit is yours to know and no one else’s. It’s good to know and good to test it from time time. This is why I decided to cook Haggis.

Filling stomach before sewing shut

There are only a few blogs about how to cook Haggis from scratch and I suggest
The Guardian newspaper: “How to make your own haggis” and for those in the USA (haggis from scratch )
But what interests me is why I wanted to scream and throw the whole thing out the window half way through.
It may have been the look of bewilderment in the eyes of my local butcher which rattled my self-belief. There’s the doubt of something new: “am I being healthy and sensible”? This man slaughters animals for a living, and I could see he feared for my senses when I asked to buy sheep’s pluck. The pluck is heart, lungs and kidney of the animal, and perhaps is connected to the saying “pluck up courage”. Courage is what you need. What is wrong with us, surely the people of wild 17th Century Scotland would have been disgusted at our modern day timidity to eat some of the finest lean cuts an animal can provide? But in those days, if you didn’t eat, you died
Boiling and dicing the lungs, liver and hearts of two  healthy lambs seemed daunting, but it was the stomach which really tested my mettle. Some bloggers have given up and switched to Ox bung. These sensible people took the wise and cowardly way out, I tried to give up on the stomach, when stitching it together seemed impossible, but I couldn’t, because like so many ingredients I couldn’t buy an Ox bung. My local butcher (Ullesthorpe, Leicestershire) slaughters animal, but had no cows in as they don’t come by very often, and no-one buys their guts anyway. General things you can’t buy, but are needed to make haggis are: sheep’s lungs, sheep stomach and coarse oats – oats sold in supermarkets are squashed insipid things called rolled oats and hopeless for haggis. Then you have to visit a good haberdashery and buy industrial needle and thread suitable for stomach sewing.
Scalding, scraping and soaking the stomach took 24 hours, before stitching its apertures together to form a food tight bag suitable for boiling haggis in. If 17th century Scotland had been given modern utensils they would have clamped the diced haggis meal inside a reusable tupperware box and microwaved the whole thing at low power for one hour. But no, you have to make your own boil-in-a-bag bag from animal matter: sheep guts.
After two days of endless boiling, chopping, stitching and simmering I’m done, finished; I don’t want to see or eat haggis again. I’ve put mine in the freezer, until the wind changes direction. Until then, I’ve been scarred and battered by this intensely intimate experience  with vital organs, and while the house smell dissipates, I am on a strict diet of cheese sandwiches and no meat ever again.
It’s good to know your limit, and if you believe you are bold and brave, I challenge you to cook haggis from scratch. But whilst you might fancy a march across the Antarctic I don’t believe you’ll cook haggis, because you are too much of a coward. Very sensible.

Malaysian food is complexly better than French

Responding to her single glance at my plate, as I sat down beside her, she tutted through Chinese teeth: “Western food, hotel food”. She didn’t mind, it’s what she expected of me, but what troubled me was that I knew better. Asian food is better. Lunch of Western lettuce, tomato, cucumber, however well put together, are no match in Asia and most specifically the advanced and complex flavours of Malaysian food. I learned this last time in KL; when I tweeted:

“The French think they have the best food, because they have never tried Malaysian”.

It’s true, but no one in the West will believe you; they read Western stories.

Wanting to repair credibility in front of my Asian class, I quickly went for my next choice from the buffet: sushi with chopsticks. I am quite proud of my chopstick skills, as I had unusual parents who took me and my siblings to Chinese restaurants in 1970s Edinburgh whilst other Scottish families were resolutely sticking to neeps and tatties. Their quest, to broaden my education beyond the brewery swilling norm, paid off. The Indonesian across the table was impressed; “skilful” he acknowledged. I had saved face and the credibility of all Westerners. Be grateful; I can chopstick with Sushi.

A few days later, I was explaining, on Facebook, that French food is no match for the best Asian food; where it has subtle grace, Malaysian food has advanced sophistication. Malaysian history helps its food: it has an immense coast line positioned between India in the West and Japan in the East. The travelers and immigrants have left their influence on the cuisine, but Malaysians have improved them: curries are better, peanuts have been included, fish is frequent.

My new Facebook friend, Madame Marianne, is shocked. She is, by and large French, and brought up with the knowledge that French is best and I dedicate this blog to her. This breakfast is for you Marianne.

What another bloody blog about a breakfast? Food blogs overflow, but this debate has wider implications. Persuade the French that their food is not at the top and they will be stopped in their tracks; European influence will falter.

I shall not attempt to describe ingredients or flavours, but simply present the story in pictures. French breakfasts are based around flour and look a bit like this:



Frenchy cheeses

Frenchy cheeses


Jams (Malaysian style)

Malaysian meals are typically a succession of small portions of different foods taken from the buffet. I chose six little courses starting gently building to the spicy crescendo, then descending back into a fruit calm, as below:

Usual with Guava & Dragon fruit, (yogurt with strawberry puree on side)

Usual with Guava & Dragon fruit, (yogurt with strawberry puree on side)


Roti Chani

Stir fried mixed vegetables with Mee Mamak

Stir fried mixed vegetables with Mee Mamak

Melon and fruit cocktail drink

Melon and fruit cocktail drink

I ask you simply: which looks like it has more depth, variety, excitement, subtlety and flavour. The answer is complexly obvious: Malaysian Asian.