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What is Burns Night?

If you’re not Scottish, Burns Night might be a bit of a mystery to you. It’s celebrated every year on the 25th of January in honour of our national poet, Robert Burns (1759 – 1796).

Known for works such as Tam o' Shanter, A Red, Red Rose, and perhaps most famously Auld Lang Syne, he was recently voted 'the Greatest Scot' of all time and even has a crater on Mercury named after him! He remains one of the leading poets to write in Scots, a Germanic language which developed from Anglo-Saxon alongside English. He also wrote a lot in Standard Scottish English.

We celebrate his life and works with a Burns Supper on the date of his birth. This can range from big formal events to a cosy night in with friends, but it's always based around the same thing - haggis.

Traditionally served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) and washed down with a dram of whisky. It's richly spiced and packed full of flavour. It makes a delicious meal on a cold winter's night.

It’s simple to cook, but we’ve asked Chef Eddie for his top tips to take it from a’richt to affa fine – high praise indeed!

Read to the end for his professional advice.

What is haggis?

Wild haggis (Haggis scoticus) roam wild in the hills of Scotland. Small reclusive creatures with shaggy hair and, unusually, one leg longer than the other. This allows them to move around Scotland’s highest peaks with ease.

They’re easily caught by hunters acting as pair: one runs up the hill to scare the beast until it tumbles down where his partner catches it.

Sadly, that’s not even slightly true - but we really wish it was!

Before we get to what haggis really is, we’ll admit – it doesn’t sound very appealing. In fact, if we were to read a description without tasting it, we might think it was something to avoid. But we’d be wrong. So wrong.

MyName (StaraBlazkova), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s made of lamb pluck. That’s the heart, liver and lung, mixed with a blend of oatmeal, onions, suet, seasoning and spices. Traditionally this would be stuffed into the stomach and cooked. Nowadays, synthetic casings are often used.

This was a great way to use up parts of the lamb which aren’t as desirable as the chops and roasts and also spoil faster. It’s a warming, nutritious meal for farmers, shepherds and anyone else who spent a lot of time in the Scottish outdoors. 

What does haggis taste like?

It’s often described as being a sort of crumbly sausage, similar to black pudding. The oatmeal makes the texture quite different and provides a very filling meal. It adds an earthiness to the sweet lamb flavour, which is complemented by the rich spices. All of this makes a deliciously warming meal which is bursting with flavour.

If you'd like to give our haggis a try, you'll find some of Chef Eddie's recipes below.

What happens at a Burns Supper?

In 1801, on the fifth anniversary of Burns’ death, his friends decided to hold a meal in his honour – and what else would they serve but the dish he’d famously written a poem about – haggis.

Since then, people in Scotland and across the world have celebrated on the 25th of January with a Burns Supper. The biggest, most formal events follow this structure.

Piping in guests – a bagpiper greets the guests with traditional tunes.

Host's welcoming speech

Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat an canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae the Lord be thankit.

Soup course - normally a Scottish soup, such as Scotch broth, tattie soup, Cullen skink, or cock-a-leekie, is served to kick off the meal.

Haggis – now comes the main event. The haggis is brought in by the Chef, lead by a bagpiper, and puts it down at the host’s table. The host then recites Burns’ famous poem To a Haggis.

At the line His knife see rustic Labour dicht, the host draws and sharpens a knife. When he reaches the line An' cut you up wi' ready slicht, he plunges the knife into it, slicing it from end to end.

At the end of the poem, a toast will be proposed to the haggis then it is served with the traditional neeps and tatties.

You can watch the haggis being piped in and addressed in this video from Edinburgh University:

Dessert – this is often a traditional Scottish recipe such as cranachan or tipsy laird.

Toasts – as guests enjoy coffee or tea, several toasts are given. Often in Scots.

Immortal memory

The host gives a brief speech on some element of Burns’ life or works. Often light-hearted, it can include the recitation of one of his poems. A toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns then follows.

Address to the Lassies- originally a chance to thank the women who had prepared the meal, this is now much broader and tends to be fun and light-hearted.

Reply to the Laddies - A female guest will reply to points raised in the last speech. These are often both written together to allow this interaction. Works by Burns

After the speeches there may be songs by Burns and more poetry.

Finally, the host will ask one of the guests to give a brief thank you to everyone involved.

Then, as is the tradition for these events, everyone is asked to stand, join hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne together to close the night on a high note.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, many people might have some friends round to enjoy a meal of haggis with no formality or speeches to be seen. Everyone can enjoy it in their own way.

Different ways to cook haggis

Beef Wellington with Haggis

Give this classic luxury dish a Burns night twist with the addition of haggis. Its natural richness is a great addition to the earthiness of the mushroom duxelles.

Try this recipe from Chef Eddie and serve up a taste of luxury.

Speyside Chicken Supremes


This Balmoral chicken recipe has more than a little Scottish influence. Chicken stuffed with haggis and a punchy whisky cream sauce that is delicious and easy.

Try our Chef's recipe and serve with your favourite sides.

Haggis Bon Bons


The perfect buffet treat - and a great way to try haggis if it's new to you.

Crisp on the inside, with a juicy warming centre - the addition of whisky is a match made in heaven.

Try our Chef's recipe for your next party food.

Our Chef's top tips for cooking haggis

If you’re hosting your own Burns Supper – or enjoying haggis, neeps and tatties any time of the year, here are Chef Eddie’s tips based on many years of Burns Suppers:

  • A wee touch of brown sugar in the neeps helps to deepen and enhance the flavour.
  • If your neeps look a little pale in colour add a tiny touch of turmeric, this will make them more vibrant. A little goes a long way, so only a pinch as you don’t want to flavour them.
  • Traditionally, you would serve chappit neeps (coarsely mashed) but I like to purée them to make sure they are really smooth.
  • If you’re microwaving the haggis, break it up first to ensure it heats more evenly. Cover the dish with cling film and mix occasionally.
  • Here’s a tip for the best mash. I like to bake my potatoes in the skins, scoop out the insides and then mash them.
  • It’s normally just loaded onto the plate, but for a dinner party presentation, use Chef’s rings and stack the different elements in a tower.