Today, I decided to clear out the freezer. It was getting a bit like a rainforest, in that it was too densely populated to see very far, there were unknown things hiding in there and you’d need a machete to get to the back. Alright, not a lot like a rainforest, but certainly over full. I have a terrible habit of keeping leftovers in the freezer, because wasting food is a sin and everyone knows it. So I unearthed small portions of leftover stew and casserole, which I had for breakfast/lunch/dinner (that was just one meal, I spent the morning and early afternoon ensnared in the tentacles of the internet and ate nothing but a pack of Saltines), leftover vegetable biryani and, most importantly to this post, some leftover offal.
Now, I know that many people wouldn’t have offal in their home in the first place, let alone have any *left over* and frozen to use at a later date. However, I like to experiment, and picked up some ox heart and liver to make a pâté a while ago. This was inspired by one I’d tried on holiday in Italy which was made of chicken liver and heart and was delicious, very rich and meaty and very coarse in texture – almost like fine minced meat in a thick gravy, more than the pâté I’m used to. Anyway, I didn’t achieve anything like that kind of result, and of course ox gave a completely different flavour, but I was pretty pleased with the results nonetheless – a coarse but spreadable pâté with flavours of meat, onion, garlic and porcini mushrooms. At any rate, the upshot is that I had half a pack of ox heart and half a pack of ox liver there to be used.
I had thought a week or two ago about trying to make my own haggis, or at least a version of it, and today seemed like a good opportunity as I was trying to clear up what could have been Mount Leftover had it been all piled up, rather than packed into the three shelves of my freezer. I’d looked at a few recipes for traditional haggis, which calls for heart, liver and lung of a lamb, mixed with oats, packed into the stomach casing of said lamb (or a different one, I suppose) and flavoured with a ‘secret blend’ of salt, pepper and spices. I didn’t have any lamb items, least of all the lungs which I suspect you might not be able to buy any more from your local butcher, but I did have some ox bits. So, hoxxis was born.
It was a bit of a long process to get the finished result. The first thing I did was to cook the liver and heart by boiling them for about an hour in water flavoured with onion powder, black pepper and white pepper, then turning off the heat and leaving them in the pot to cool down. So far, pretty easy. Most recipes I’d seen called for you to mince the heart (and lungs) but grate the liver. I don’t have a mincer, something I think I’d like to remedy, so I had to substitute rough blending. As anyone who has ever blended meat will know, it’s not that pleasant a process, and doesn’t produce an appetising result. However, as haggis (and hoxxis) is essentially a mound of slightly textured meat mush I figured this wouldn’t cause much problem. I blended up what heart was there, and then grated in about half that amount of liver.
Grating a liver isn’t nice. I won’t lie to you.
Once I’d done this, I added enough oats to the meat to give what looked like a good mix of the three ingredients. This is very much a guessipe in that I have no real idea of the weight of any of the ingredients and judged it by eye. I mixed the oats through the meat, then added enough of the reserved stock to make quite a wet mixture. I seasoned the mix with more black and white pepper, some paprika (in place of cayenne pepper), some nutmeg and a few turns of my favourite spice mix grinder, which is a simple mix of salt, pepper, chilli flakes and garlic. I had wanted to stick with traditional Scottish spices, but ended up at a bit of a loss as my collection of spices – extensive as I like to think it is – didn’t contain anything that fit the bill. I put the seasoned mix in a casserole dish and baked it at 200 celsius for twenty minutes or so. When I took it back out of the oven, it was really dry round the edges and the top – probably should have covered that casserole dish up.
I gave the hoxxis a good mix and tasted it. It tasted OK, and smelled kind of like haggis, but it wasn’t really right and didn’t give the tingly sensation that haggis does. I added more of both peppers and some salt, and tried again. It was better but still lacked depth of flavour. I added more stock and mixed it through with yet more salt. Still no dice. I am ashamed to admit it, but at this point I resorted to using a stock cube. If it didn’t make it too difficult to type, I’d be hanging my head in shame. I dissolved half a lamb stock cube in a tablespoon or two of the stock from earlier, and mixed this through. This made a big difference and gave a much more complex flavour, closer to what I was aiming for.
Now that I was pretty happy with the flavour, I wanted to address the texture. The oats had soaked up all the liquid, as I had expected them to, but it left a very bland texture. I toasted up some extra oats and added them to the mix, to give some bite. Then I felt that there wasn’t much more I could do with the mix – it had got to the stage where if I tinkered with it more I could go right over the cliff edge of cooking and ruin it altogether. I find that there’s a fine line between having something be pretty close to what you’re looking for, but not quite right, and being completely wrong because you added too much stuff in the quest for the right flavour.
So, that is my tale of hoxxis, and here is a picture of it too:
It doesn’t look very appetising, and it probably contains about three day’s worth of salt, but I’m going to fire it on a baked potato tomorrow for lunch and be well nourished, warmed and maybe even a little smug…
Tunes: To accompany the hoxxis, I’m going to have to say the Proclaimers. They’re Scottish, but not traditionally Scottish. They can have a bit of a bite to them – see ‘Don’t Turn Out Like Your Mother’ for one. They also contain heart and liver, if we’re going to get technical. They’re not really what you might call rock, but tell that to a slightly inebriated me in the kitchen on Christmas day – I was rocking out to ‘Jean’ as hard as I’ve rocked out to Motorhead. Maybe slightly less – I was in a kitchen, there were health and safety considerations. .. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8srPkl2PzJ4
Movie: For something to watch while tucking in, Gregory’s Girl. It’s definitely Scottish, but there’s a bit of a twist to it – the unexplained and in fact unmentioned penguin suited character is just one example of the film’s endearing unusualness. Watching it makes me feel warm inside, just like a good plate of Hoxxis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9U6jbe6pA8