Finnan Haddie, Cullen Skink, Haggis, black pudding . . . all sound like things that normal people don’t eat, or if they do eat them, it is only out of either politeness at a formal event, or from dire necessity. Having tried three of the four, and liked them, well, you know me. I’m also one who eats regional German and Polish meat products with unseemly gusto, and am pretty much willing to try most things once.
Haggis was once described as “a sheep’s stomach stuffed with what you’d think people who ate a sheep’s stomach would stuff it with.” (Brent Olson). In other words, bits of sheep meat, a filler (oatmeal is traditional), other meats, and some spices of some kind. It’s a loose-meat sausage that features as the central dish for Burns’ Night suppers, when it is piped into the room and someone recites Burn’s poem, “Ode to a Haggis.” For a while, you could not import real Scottish haggis because it includes organ meats not approved by the USDA. Approved kinds are now out there, including vegan. No, I don’t want to know how you make a no-animal-product sheep and pork sausage.
Haggis appears on breakfast menus, on burgers, and as part of the “Full Scottish*” or “Traditional Scottish” breakfast. I tried it, in part because the first morning in Hexham I was eating on my own and could be daring**. It is fattier than most sausages, with a dark flavor, but not as dark as the blood pudding slices. After some munching, I decided that I liked it. It has a loose texture, a bit like ground beef. I did not ask the particular ingredients, but it is dark, so I suspect liver is on the list. After that, if it was on the breakfast menu, I had some. All jokes aside about herds of haggis and the dangers of cornering a large, adult haggis, it’s good if you don’t mind the slightly greasy mouth feel.
The blood pudding came in rounds like a thick patty of breakfast sausage. It was spicier than I’d expected, more pepper and other things. Again, I liked it, and had it with eggs, or in breakfast bap. I didn’t see it on many supper menus, unlike in parts of Germany and Austria. Main-dish blood pudding (or blood sausage) is probably more seasonal, or not considered standard pub food. A quick recipe search only turns up blood-pudding, not a sausage-shaped version.
Salmon also appeared at breakfast, and I had some. However, I really liked the smoked haddock (hot smoked, so not finnan haddie) and poached or scrambled egg. The egg tamed the salty side of the fish. Haddock is a firm, white fish that came in short-thick fillets or chunks when served at breakfast. I wasn’t sure about the combo, but to me, haddock is salty. Granted, I don’t eat much salt or use it in cooking, so most people would find it about right. Anyway, it went well with egg and a toast “pusher.”***
Cullen skink, alas, is not a small, lean lizard in a Balmoral hat. Nor is it really spelled “Colin,” despite what some computer programs keep trying to correct it to. [Grrrrrr] It is a creamy fish soup with smoked haddock. It is wonderful, at least the samples I tried. The name comes from Cullen, a town credited with the origin of the recipe, and a Scots word for beef knuckle (skink). When hard times meant that no one could afford beef, but fish was still cheap, behold, a new fish soup. It’s a bit like a thin chowder, unless you can get “the good lumpy bits from the bottom of the pot.” I suspect the exact thickness and ingredients vary from cook to cook, and region to region.
*A Full Scottish breakfast is: eggs, haggis, black pudding, farmer’s bacon [ham], baked beans, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, a scone, and toast. Oh, and small link sausages. The portion size determines if you are ready to work for a full day without getting dinner, or if you roll away from the table and fall asleep again as your arteries clog. I approve of this breakfast. The English version omits the haggis for bacon-bacon, at least according to the menus.
**I got up at 0500 or earlier, because of sunrise. I’d go walking, or read, or write, then get breakfast as soon as it was available. The first morning in Hexham, the kitchen staff were listening to symphonic metal. My table was near the kitchen door, and I enjoyed Within Temptation, Leaves’s Eyes, and others until the boss lady realized that music “was too loud.” So she put on light jazz. I preferred the earlier soundtrack.
*** Yes, the toast came on a toast rack, with butter on the side for you to add later. By the end of the trip, I decided that, given how I used the toast, drier, cooler slices worked just fine. I still prefer American pre-buttered, hot toast in a stack on a plate.