An Ode To Haggis: A Robert Burns Day Dinner by Chef Brian Ricci of Brick and Mortar

Brion: So it’s this celebration of this weird Scottish offal dish that most people aren’t familiar with. How is it a celebration of what you’re doing at Brick and Mortar and what you’ve done elsewhere in your career?
Brian Ricci: My personal history is that I did a lot of traveling in Scotland about ten years ago. I’m actually going back this summer. My wife and I, we did a lot of backpacking and traveling. We stayed in a couple cities and we went to some of the islands. We fell in love with it, but also with the food. That was when I realized I wanted to do less fine dining and more elevated pub fare or tavern fare which is I think what we’re doing at Brick and Mortar. Something so simple can be really good. Once I had haggis at the first inn we stayed at after a long hike, I was like, alright, this is pretty good. Why don’t I just order this every time I see it on the menu. So I did that for like two and a half weeks straight. I was able to eat ten or twelve different versions of it. It was really cool because I had some real stinkers, some real delicious ones, but they’re all unique and different because people cook them slightly differently.

I put that in my brain and after a bunch of time working in different kitchens in the city[Philly], I was able to do things like that. Settling down here and getting a larger repertoire of different cuisines to cook from and pull from for a menu, it always seemed to make sense to me in the winter months that you want to do something with this kind of cuisine. Especially bringing out a glass of Scotch and having haggis. The end of January is pretty much where I would see it. I wouldn’t see that as throw it on the barbeque, July 17th kind of menu item. It makes perfect sense to me. I also think it’s a great opportunity to throw a party when everyone is just getting over the winter holidays. It brings people back out.

Brion: You did it at Southwark?
Brian Ricci: No, I didn’t do it there. We did it at Kennett every year I was there, which was like four years. And I did it one time at the Cook space. When we were talking about planning different types of menus for this place, that was always something where I was like, well I’d like to do it if it makes sense. A few weeks ago, we talked about it and said this week instead of featuring some particular kind of meat, let’s do this entire set menu for at least three nights.

Brion: How many days of prep is it?
Brian Ricci: It’s a few days because what you want to do is bring in your hearts, liver and kidneys and clean them up. Hearts especially will have lots of fatty pieces you don’t necessarily want. Also, like tendon-y pieces, things linking one part of the liver to another, all that kind of stuff. So you have to go through it, degorge it a bit. We drain the organs of all their blood. Then we soak it all in Famous Grouse [Scotch]. We soak it all in herbs (sage, thyme, bay) and Scotch, which is my first thing. It’s almost part marinating, part curing. Then, it’s already broken down, it’s partially cured, I wash that a bit. We season it up pretty well and I start cutting it down from larger pieces to pieces that are about the size of a dime. Just rough cutting all that stuff. The rest of the filling is the pinhead oats, barley, onion cut very small. I’ll use a bit of rendered animal fat that’s on hand—usually it’s beef fat. A little bit of butter and I’ll mix that [the grain, onion, and fat] and I’ll slowly toast everything in a really big pan. The barley, onions, and the oats, slowly toasting, kind of getting a really nutty aroma. Constantly moving it at a medium heat. Salt, pepper. I’ll use a little bit of white peppercorn as well. It kind of gives it more of a barnyard-y flavor which fits with the animal thing.
Brion: And you can tie all that to the toasted malt of the Scotch.
Brian Ricci: Yeah! I suppose, why not. That’s an interesting point. Depending on the flavor and strength of the Scotch—the Grouse was pretty sharp so I added a touch of sugar while I was cooking it—like a tablespoon—to an entire batch, which is about two kilos worth of haggis filling (the meat and everything else).

I heart Scotch. by Cailee Dennis.

I heart Scotch. by Cailee Dennis.

We’ll add the meat to the toasted oats and I’ll add a little bit of cream sherry, a little bit of stock, and I’ll cover it with fine parchment and let it go on the stove at a low temp, a gentle simmer. That will allow everything to cook real gently and the oats and the barley to absorb all that excess moisture.
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