Offal of the Week: Blood

Photo by Ryan Adams

It's part two in Eat Me Daily's new regular feature, Offal of the Week. Brought to you valiantly by Ryan Adams, author of the inimitable blog Nose to Tail at Home, each week highlights a different part of the animal that you've always wanted to cook, but were afraid to ask your butcher for. This week: Blood.

From chicken blood used to thicken coq au vin to the Masai of Tanzania who drink the blood of their cattle mixed with milk, almost every culture on the planet consumes animal blood in some form. It's used for making sausages, to flavor porridge, or even cured with salt and saved for times when food is scarce. So how is it, with its versatility and ubiquity, that it's been so highly overlooked and grossly under-used in American cuisine? There's no good excuse — with so many different uses for it in cooking, you're sure to find a way to enjoy its subtly meaty, gamey flavor.

Thicker (and tastier) than water

It's easy to see how blood can be something of a terrifying ingredient at first glance, and it can be a little unsettling when you realize that in some places you could end up eating blood... plain. In Hungary it's not uncommon on the day of a pig slaughter to take the blood, fry it with onions and serve it all for breakfast. In China they make a blood cake called xuě dòufǔ (literally, "blood tofu") with pig or duck's blood. The blood is allowed to coagulate and is then cut into blocks — a vegetarian's nightmare version of the friendly white soy product.

But no one's asking you to jump right in and eat blood plain. An easy, straightforward way to incorporate blood into cuisine is the coq au vin route: use it in soups or stews as a thickener. It's not just the French who do it: the Polish have a soup called czernina for which the one consistent ingredient, across hundreds of variations, is duck blood. The Korean hangover-curing soup haejangguk is made with congealed ox blood. Dinuguan is a Filipino soup that uses pig's blood twice: it's mixed in with the broth, and shows up again in your spoonful in blood-sausage form.

Dinuguan brings us to the second method we mentioned earlier, blood used in sausages. Personally, I love blood sausage in its various forms. Three of the most famous versions are the French boudin noir, made with pork and pig's blood; the black or blood pudding served as part of a traditional full breakfast in the UK; and Spain's morcilla, popular both served in on its own as tapas, and as an ingredient in stews. In most versions of blood sausage, the title ingredient is combined with a filler like cornmeal or bread, and then cooked until the blood thickens and the sausage becomes solid. At this point it can be used almost exactly like any other type of sausage, chopped up and used as an ingredient or sliced and served on its own as charcuterie.

My first blood

My blogging day job is over at Nose to Tail at Home, where I'm cooking my way through Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. Somewhere between nose and tail there's plenty of blood, and Henderson has included a few recipes that require it. Of his selection of bloody recipes, so far I've only made his Blood Cake and Fried Eggs — a dish that Anthony Bourdain tried in an episode of No Reservations. Bourdain declared the dish so painfully good that it was quite possibly his new death row meal. With an endorsement that decisive, I knew the end result was going to be something special. I carefully gathered my ingredients and followed Mr. Henderson's instructions to the letter. The next day I had a lovely fried piece of blood cake that was so dense with flavor, the egg was cutting the intensity. Now that's what I call rich!

How to buy blood

So where (setting obvious jokes aside) can you get good blood? If you don't know of a good butcher shop that either carries blood or will special order it for you, your best bet is to check out an Asian markets — the one near my home carries fresh pig blood every day. (The blood I get from that market comes coagulated — if you need the blood to be in liquid form for your recipe, buy it in liquid form and ask your butcher or grocer to mix in a little red wine vinegar, which will keep it from curdling.)

Blood is an ingredient that must be used immediately, so only buy it the very day you intend to use it. Leaving blood in your fridge for an extended amount of time is not recommended, and any dishes you end up making should be either eaten or frozen by the second day.

Some recipes to get you started

• Hank Shaw's Blood Sausage
Blodplättar (Swedish blood pancakes)
• Classic Southern Black Pudding
Dinuguan

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