Would you eat haggis?

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: Nothing says Scotland like kilts, bagpipes, and haggis. Though most people here in the US don't know what's in it, they tend to shudder when they hear about it, and the US government doesn't seem to want Americans to eat it either. It's blocked imports of haggis for more than forty years and now the British government is making a diplomatic push to change that. Hardeep Singh Kohli is a Scottish chef and broadcaster. OK, Hardeep, what is haggis?

Hardeep Singh Kohli: What is haggis? Can one sum up such an institution of food in mere words? Haggis is beauty. Haggis is poetry. Haggis is delicious. Haggis is the entrails of animals basically and the stomach that is boiled and cooked and is delicious.

Hills: OK. Specifically what animals? Let's get down and dirty.

Kohli: Well, I can get down with you. As for dirty, it's all very clean. Everything's boiled. It's what we call the pluck of an animal, so it's the heart, the lungs, the kidney mixed with grains. And the thing about haggis that’s quite surprising is its spiciness. It’s very peppery and it tends to take people by surprise in that regard. I'm actually talking to you from a place called [??] where every year I organize the annual Burns Supper and we serve a beautiful plate of haggis and it is always the greatest entertainment, which is saying something in a room full of whiskey-addled Scots. The greatest entertainment is to watch virgins to the haggis as they're face changes with delight.

Hills: Describe for our listeners what does haggis taste like? And what could you compare it to?

Kohli: It's incomparable is the truth. It has a beautiful texture and everything is boiled and minced, so you have nuggets of flavor exploding across your tongue mixed with oats. And it’s the seasoning really that elevates it to another place, very peppery. There’s some more exotic seasoning in the more modern batches. No one really gives their secret away, but I suspect there may be cayenne pepper in some, a particular brand of celery salt in others.

Hills: And it's also, of course, quintessentially Scottish so people celebrate it in Scotland. But your name, Hardeep Singh Kohli, doesn't sound very Scottish. What's your own background?

Kohli: Well, interestingly I am the microcosm of haggis myself. My heritage is from the northwest of India: The Punjab, the land of spice, the land of strong flavors and great food. And I’m from Scotland, grew up in Glasgow, and, in a way, that is what haggis is. It's very Scottish ingredients with this twist of spice and flavor. Again, it's very interesting, there's a very famous Scottish dish called "balmoral chicken" which is a chicken breast stuffed with haggis, wrapped in parma ham, poached in white wine with garlic and cream. And that is your entry level experience of haggis. It's not completely on the plate. It's part of another thing. Haggis is a marvelous accompaniment.

Hills: So I know haggis is Scotland's national dish, but how popular is it really?

Kohli: It is actually surprisingly popular. All our fish and chip shops in Scotland will serve haggis. But increasingly, chefs across the United Kingdom and increasingly across Europe are discovering haggis as an ingredient that gives that punch of flavor and gives that punch of texture. I'm working on a recipe just now for haggis and hake. I think those go quite well together. I'm just perfecting that in the next few weeks. So it's eaten more regularly than people know and it's eaten more at home now than ever before.

Hills: Hardeep Singh Kohli is a Scottish chef and broadcaster. We've been speaking to him from London. Hardeep, thank you so much.

Kohli: My absolute pleasure. And happy Fourth of July when it comes.

Hills: Thank you.