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Key Ingredient: haggis

Ariel Bagadiong of Aja goes Asian with a traditional Scottish dish

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The Chef: Ariel Bagadiong (Aja)
The Challenger: Kristine Subido (Wave)
The Ingredient: Haggis

"Haggis" stew with lamb heart and liver served in oatmeal soda bread - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • "Haggis" stew with lamb heart and liver served in oatmeal soda bread

Haggis doesn't have a very good reputation in the U.S.: most people just think of it as a weird Scottish food, whether or not they actually know what's in it. Traditionally, it's made with sheep's "pluck," or internal organs—heart, liver, and lungs, most commonly. They're minced and cooked in the sheep's stomach (or casings, which are now more common) with onions, suet, stock, spices, and oatmeal to make a kind of sausage.

Most U.S. consumers haven't exactly had a chance to judge the relative merits of haggis, though—importing it has been illegal for the last 40 years due to a ban on foods containing sheep lungs. Earlier this year, according the BBC, the Scottish government invited a U.S. delegation to their country in an attempt to convince them to overturn the ban, but there have been no reports of further progress.

Ariel Bagadiong had never tried haggis before getting this challenge—and still hasn't. While he considered preparing it in the traditional way, he wasn't able to track down sheep parts, and lungs of any kind also proved to be unavailable. Instead he chose to deconstruct the dish and give it an Asian spin, using most of the traditional ingredients with a few additions and substitutions, like lamb offal instead of that from a full-grown sheep. "My goal was to show that you can take the traditional ingredients, which kind of have a bad reputation for being funky and smelly and all of that, and create a dish that is actually very palatable," he said.

Bagadiong steamed and chopped the lamb hearts and liver, cooking them with smoked pork belly (which he subbed in for the traditional suet), onions, and garlic in veal stock and vinegar. He also added Thai chiles—"just to incorporate a little bit of Asian into it"—along with daikon for crunch and fish sauce for flavor. The oatmeal went into soda bread rather than being combined with everything else; Bagadiong made bread bowls out of it so that the stew would be "wrapped in something" like traditional haggis.

And while his dish was untraditional in some ways, it was supertraditional in others. One of the first known written recipes for haggis, published in 1615, calls for blood to be mixed in with the oatmeal. Virtually no modern recipes include blood, but Bagadiong decided to add some lamb's blood to his stew. While he'd never used it before, he was familiar with cow's and pig's blood, and said the main difference between the two is in the way they change the texture of a dish when cooked. "Pig's blood for some reason coagulates a lot more, so when you use it as a thickening agent it tends to have a chunkier texture, and the color becomes different as well," he said.

Aja Chef Ariel Bagadiong - JULIA THIEL

Bagadiong added the lamb's blood near the end of the cooking process to thicken the stew, adjusted the seasoning, and finished it off with a couple tablespoons of fish sauce before ladling some into one of his bread bowls and adding a few sprigs of microcilantro. "I think it's a lot better than the traditional one," he said. "Not that I've had the traditional one, but from what everyone says."

He won't be putting it on the menu, though: he doesn't think his customers are quite ready for offal and blood. Still, he was happy with the adjustments he made to the recipe. "I think the acidity balances out the funkiness of the liver and all of that," Bagadiong said. "Liver does tend to have a very distinct flavor to it. So the vinegar, the daikon, the chile, the garlic—all of that really balances it out."


Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Who's Next:

Michael McGill of Old Oak Tap, working with grass jelly, which is made from the leaves of a plant in the mint family (Mesona chinensis). Bagadiong said it's common in a drink sold in Asian stores, a kind of soda with bits of the jelly in it. He's never tried it any other way, though.

"Haggis" Stew

1 pound smoked bacon, cubed
1 lamb liver, boiled in salted water
2 lamb hearts, trimmed and boiled in salted water
12 cloves garlic, sliced
1½ cups onion, minced
2 bay leaves
½ cup rice wine vinegar
3 T fish sauce
2 cups beef stock
2 cups lamb blood (beef or pork blood may be substituted)
2 Thai chiles, sliced thin
1 cup daikon radish, sliced
Salt and pepper

Cube the lamb liver and heart into bite-size pieces. Heat a saucepot over high heat and add a little cooking oil and crisp the bacon. Add the garlic and cook until edges start to turn brown, then add the onion. Cook until translucent. Add the vinegar, liver, chiles, bay leaves, lamb hearts and liver, and beef stock and bring to a boil.

Season with salt and pepper and add the daikon and the blood. Bring to a boil again and finish the stew with the fish sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Oatmeal Bread

Makes 4 round loaves

3½ cups flour
½ cup rolled oats
1 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 cup sour cream
¾ cup buttermilk
1 T sugar
¼ cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the dry ingredients. In another bowl, combine the sour cream, buttermilk, honey, and sugar. Add the dry ingredients and the melted butter. Mix and knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Cut into four pieces, shape into rounds, and bake for 45 min to an hour.

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