WORDS AND PHOTOS BY ANDY CAPPER
Och aye, Jimmeh! Is there anything more satisfying in life than a wee dram and a haggis after a hard day’s kilt-wearing and Sassenach-hating? And is any haggis more dreamy to eat than a venison haggis made from the innards of a fine West Highlands deer that yee shot yerself? The answer is “Och no, Jimmeh! There cannae be a tastier puddin’ anywhere on this fine earth!” We recently traveled to the West Highlands to film something called Deer Diary for VBS.TV and this is what I learned about the technology that goes into the making of Scotland’s national dish. Here’s a recipe so you can make one at home for yer wee bairns!
First, fly to Glasgow and then drive four hours through mountains and wilderness to the Ardnamurchan Estate in the West Highlands. It’s the most westerly point of the British Isles.
Meet up with a gamekeeper who will take you on a deer stalk in the wilds of the mountains. Ours was called Niall Rowntree and he ran the estate with the help of his “gilly,” Grant.
Take one German-manufactured Blaser rifle. It’s a high-end gun favored by hunters and sportsmen all around the world. Your basic rig costs around $1,900. The rounds are held in the belly of the gun. The reason hunters prefer Blaser rifles is for the strength of the tube and the clean, easy operating system.
Take two .308 Winchester soft-point cartridges and insert them into the Blaser by pulling the bolt action backward.
Use an Austrian-made Swarovski scope—it’s the same firm that makes the crystals your grandma loves. The scope will cost you about $1,170.
Then use some binoculars. Zeiss also makes the lenses for everyone’s favorite point-and-shoot camera, the Yashica T4. Look through these to find a herd of deer to stalk and kill. At this point, it’s worth telling yourself something like what our guide told us just before we pulled the trigger: “Nothing neutralizes mountain grass and destroys natural habitats more than deer. You’re doing something positive for biodiversity by shooting this deer. Remember this is just a population-control exercise.”
Shoot the deer with your gun. It will die from the shock of the impact, rather than any damage to the vital organs. Our guide told us that “it’s like being hit by an anvil at 100 miles an hour.” Now you’re halfway to creating your haggis. To test if your beautiful Bambi is dead, touch her on the eyes while fighting back the urge to cry out, “Oh God! What have I done??!!”
Next, you “bleed” the deer by cutting through the windpipe with a knife. Then pull out the esophagus and tie it in a knot to prevent any of the stomach contents from leaking into the meat that you will cut up later to make a tasty meal.
Carefully remove the stomach. Don’t panic if the intestines are still squirming around or if the stomach cavity is giving off a very earthy, steamy scent. Are you still hungry for that haggis? Good. Let’s continue.
Tie a rope around the deer’s neck and drag it two miles down a hillside. Here, Grant demonstrates this. “I hate doing this part of the job,” he told us before he set off on his merry way, the deer’s bones breaking down each hobble and bobble of the hill, its mouth agape and tongue dragging across the grass.
It’s slaughterhouse time! Here you have to put on latex gloves, then cover them with chain-mail gloves to prevent your fingers from being cut by pieces of deer bone or your butchery knife.
Ready to get involved? It’s worth remembering here what Niall told us: “Everything in life has lines and seams.” So use your knife gently but firmly to cut down the animal’s middle and it will come apart like magic, revealing two delicious cuts of venison. Weight watchers take note, it’s got less fat than chicken.
Uh-oh. Sometimes female deer are pregnant when you shoot them and this can make the butchery process a little traumatic for the person who shot the deer. Glad it wasn’t me, guys!
Mmmm, starving yet? What you’re looking at here is the main ingredients of your venison haggis. It’s the heart, lungs, and liver of the deer, and you need to extract that before you get down to business in the kitchen.
It’s fucking heavy, so make sure you chop it up into component parts before cooking it all up. This is the heart.
Now the boring bit. Acquire a sheep’s stomach from your gamekeeper. Chop up the liver, lungs, and heart and mix them with suet, onions, oats, salt, pepper, and whiskey. Stir it all up in a bowl, put it in the sheep’s stomach, sew it up, and cook it in the oven for about an hour. It should end up looking as gorgeous as this.
Hey, presto! One delicious-looking haggis that’s great for kids!
Serve with mashed potatoes, mashed turnip, and mashed parsnips and drink with two bottles of wine and a bottle of whiskey while tons of wasted Scottish men with kilts recite poems from Robbie Burns’s back catalog. All together now: “Fair is your honest happy face/Great chieftain of the pudding race/Above them all you take your place/Stomach, tripe, or guts/Well are you worthy of a grace/As long as my arm!”