A few weeks ago, I thought I had made an acceptable homemade substitute for a vegetarian haggis by Hall’s which I’d tasted some years earlier. Well, I’ve recently been taught a lesson in humility by the “guardians of Scotland’s national dish,” Macsween. The recipe for their vegetarian haggis is apparently very closely guarded, and I would like to assure the good thanes of Macsween that their secret is in NO danger whatsoever of being divined by me – my skills as culinary alchemist appear to be sorely lacking. Either my memory is getting faulty or my tastebuds are, for my concoction could only have been described a reasonable facsimile if one had never, ever tasted a vegetarian haggis before in one’s life. In my own defense, however, I maintain that, if this haggis were stocked all year ’round, I wouldn’t have to resort to such drastic measures or be prone to such wild, and ultimately unsubstantiated, claims of success.
For you see, my local grocers don’t stock this delicacy with any discernable pattern or timetable (unlike the meaty versions which are available any time of the year…), and I don’t understand why. These aren’t Easter Creme Eggs, for crying out loud! Don’t limit our access to them! (Speaking of the devil, Cadbury’s Creme Eggs are now in season – January 1 – April 4th – so, if they’re your sort of poison, get ’em while they’re hot! Who knows what the Cadbury-Kraft merger will mean for our sickly sweet ovoids.) Imagine my delight, then, when I spotted a precious few vegetarian haggis (haggises? haggisii? haggeese?) wearing a livery I didn’t recognise just around the time of Burn’s Night. Weevil-like, I snapped them up and squirrelled them away in the freezer, determined that they would be apportioned out sparingly – some might say stingily – until a reliable supply of them could be found. Later, when road-tested on the toughest critic of all, my tame, obligate carnivore, this haggis received the coveted two fangs up. I’d love to be able to describe the flavour beyond the catch-all terms of “savoury, nutty, slightly spicy, and substantial”, but I fear I’d be doing it a disservice. You’re just going to have to hunt some down for yourself! And if you do manage to locate some in the wild, buy a metric feck-ton of them and send the message to your grocer that it’s in his best interest to keep these chubby little beauties in stock. They freeze very well and are a doddle to prepare. Vegetarian Society approved, these haggis do contain nuts, so do ask your guests about any allergies before serving.
I had a thought – perhaps the weak link in the supply chain was Macsween itself. Maybe the mighty Mac didn’t want to share their lovely wares so freely with the southerners and sassenachs! A quick look at their website put paid to my conspiracy theories as there were plenty of stockists from all over the country listed. No, it was just another example of the cruelty of the post code lottery for me, alas. If, like me, you have trouble sourcing these as well, the Macsween site did provide a link to online retailers Aubrey Allen which sells the vegetarian version in large, catering sized sausage format, as well as a wide range of ethically sourced meats and poultry – squeamish vegetarians be warned. To date, I’ve not used their services, but stay tuned – I’ll probably have something to say about them once I have!
The Macsween site also listed a handful of alternative ways to use and serve their haggis, several of which hadn’t even occurred to me. Once cooked, it could be used as a filling for pakoras, a stuffing for peppers or a topping for jacket potatoes. Spread some on crispbread or crackers for hors d’ouevres. Try slices of it in a sandwich. Fancy a change from bread-based stuffing for your poultry? Stuff the bird with haggis! Slice it into rounds and lightly fry it as a sort of bloodless black pudding for your full English breakfast. I think I’m just going to have to try them all.