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

Brion: How long does that cook?
Brian Ricci: About an hour and a half to two hours.
Brion: I would picture that going all day long.
Brian Ricci: You’re not cooking that through a bladder, so it doesn’t take as long.
Brion: You’ve basically got the sausage out of the casing.
Brian Ricci: There’s more control in almost every way.
Brion: Then you’re portioning it with the caul fat.
Brian Ricci: Yeah. We cook it so that when it’s cool, it’s pretty tight. As the oats and barley absorb moisture, they help to seal it together. Also, we’re adding spices as it’s cooking. The main components are clove, cinnamon, paprika, coriander. Then it cools down and into the bundles it goes. We wrap it, let it chill out. That’s where it sits, awaiting its chance to go into the hot pan.

Brion: Are you then giving it a sear?
Brian Ricci: Yeah, you get it hot enough to sear meat or to roast the skin of fish to where it won’t stick. It has to be that hot and you add oil. But once it’s in there, you don’t want it to continue cooking at such a high heat. You want to get that nice caramel-y dark brown all the way around, modify the heat, lower it a little bit. Turn it once or twice. Put it in the oven for a few minutes to get the ambient heat of the oven to warm it through to the middle. Pull it out of the oven. Baste it with a little bit of butter. Let it rest for a minute or two and then plate it up.

Brion: How long does all of that take?
Brian Ricci: Searing 3-4 minutes; in the oven for maybe 7 or 8. You’re talking 12 minutes front to end.
Brion: As opposed to much longer in the stomach or bladder.
Brian Ricci: Several hours, I believe.
Brion: Is that over a fire?
Brian Ricci: They put it in a pot. Submerged in a pot for the most part. I suppose after it’s cooked you could put it over a fire and try to caramelize it on the outside but you risk it exploding.
[both laugh]

Brion: What kind of flavors are you getting?
Brian Ricci: It’s pretty complex because the offal flavors generally have an overtone of minerallyness to them, especially something like kidney or liver. The heart I think is actually something that—l don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to eat calve’s heart. Lamb’s heart I feel is a little more specific because anything that comes from a lamb has that specific lamb flavor. We’ve done blind tastings with a lot of our staff and I’ve marinated calves’ hearts in wine and grilled it, served it to them at staff meal and asked them to tell me what it was. Oh it was this and oh, it was that. When I tell them it was heart, they’re like no way, that’s crazy. Hearts generally tend to be very mellow in flavor.

Brion: I was just picturing a kalli-mah on a sheep. MMAAAAAA—AAAHH—AAAHHHH and it just falls over. Dead. Guy eats the heart.
Brian Ricci: That’s an interesting story. Sounds like an X-Files episode.
So, yeah, don’t forget the spices. You’re talking about liver, you’re talking about minerals. Then [to that] the cinnamon, the clove, the pepper, the paprika. Some of the sweetness of the sherry comes through. Some of the smokiness of the Scotch.

Brion: How much Scotch is going into that?
Brian Ricci: Not a ton.
Brion: From the curing?
Brian Ricci: Exactly. It absorbs a lot of that. The oats and barley—you get some of the flavor from that but the texture they add is great. Otherwise, it’s very monotone texture wise. It becomes a flavor and texture thing. The meat gets super soft. The heart not so much, but definitely the liver and the kidney. Without the texture contrast, it would almost be like cutting through butter.

Brion: What’s the closest comparison you would give people?
Brian Ricci: I think it’s relatively unique. I don’t think there’s a lot of people who say, hey let’s eat all the organs together. This is gonna be great. The fact that it’s unique is what makes it so cool—because it’s not like a lot of other stuff. To try and make it really well and put your own spin on it makes it really fun, especially if you can draw from memory. A lot of cooking for me is you can’t put out a dish until you know when something is too salty or too sweet or too spicy. Until you know that, you have to cook for someone else for a really long time. Once you learn that—and hopefully at the same time, you’re learning all the other things like the techniques of cooking something, how to cook it and cut it properly—but until you understand where your palate is, you’re going to be reproducing…hopefully other things and reproducing them well enough that you’re consistent at doing that and then you know it’s too spicy, it’s too sweet, it’s too salty. It’s the whole, let’s take 10,000 hours to do that.

Brion: So you don’t have a Scottish last name. Your only connection to it is just through travels?
Brian Ricci: Yeah. The closest connection I have is that my mom grew up in a town called Kearny. It’s in North Jersey, right next to Newark and Harrison. Super working class. She grew up amongst a huge population of Scots. So whenever we used to go visit family back there, we used to always go to the chip shop. We used to go to Argyle—the place to be.
Brion: You didn’t grow up with it though?
Brian Ricci: No way. Other than that rare specialty shop that sold UK imports, you couldn’t find it. There were probably butchers that would make it but would probably only make it once or twice a year.

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