There Will be Blood
Swedish Pig’s Blood Rye Bread
Chef Brad Farmerie of Public – New York, NY
New Zealand Venison Black Pudding, Poached Eggs, and Curry Hollandaise
Chef Brad Farmerie of Public – New York, NY
Chocolate Blood Pudding
Chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto – San Francisco, CA
Blood Sausage with Pear
Chef Ryan Farr, formerly of Orson – San Francisco, CA
Blood may bring to mind the prom-nightmare finale of Carrie before it brings to mind delectable gastronomic delights, but it plays a starring role in any number of global dishes, and has practical use way beyond shock value. Blood is a key player in traditional dishes from around the world, from Spanish morcilla to Scottish black pudding to Ukranian krov’yanka and Polish kiszka. The Masaii warriors of Kenya simply use their animals as a portable live food source, mixing a small amount of blood extracted from the animals with the animals’ milk.
Public and Double Crown Chef Brad Farmerie—one among a number of chefs bringing blood back to the culinary fore—points out that 7 percent of an animal is wasted when you let blood just drip down the drain. Any chef in his right mind would balk at the idea of wasting that much usable product, and what better product to experiment with?
Tapping the Roots of Blood
Blood is not what comes to mind when you think of traditional French cuisine, but it has storied roots. Lièvre à la Royale, for example, is a rabbit stew with a rabbit blood-thickened sauce. It was published in Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire, though it’s doubtful it was an Escoffier original. Escoffier in turn took inspiration from Carême (who published a slightly different copy of the recipe before him), Dubois, and Taillevent for his recipes, and also turned many a peasant dish into haute cuisine, so it’s probable the origins of the dish are more humble. Not long after in 1907, Ali-Bab, noted gastronome, and amateur cook published a version of the dish with foie gras, truffles, and brandy in addition to the blood, which some considered a sacrilege, saying that the sauce should contain cream, garlic, and blood only.
Years later, Paul Bocuse and Pierre Gagnaire both became well-known for what was actually at that point a fairly traditional dish—the same Lièvre à la Royale. Bocuse specified that it must be a male, red-haired French hare weighing 5 to 6 pounds, killed cleanly so as not to waste a drop of blood. His sauce contains red wine vinegar, Chambertin wine, and hare’s blood, rather than the cream mixture. The one constant seems to be the blood. The recipe has seeped its way into the traditional sector of French cooking, no longer just associated with one chef. The dish continues to spring up for a few weeks a year in restaurants in France, particularly in Paris, with Parisian diners booking in advance to be sure to taste the delicacy.
Interestingly enough, that icon and ambassador of French cuisine in the United States, Julia Child, never touches this dish in any of her published recipes, even though she published and broadcasted recipes on brains and other offal. Perhaps because of the specific breed of hare used, and perhaps because of the gradual education of Americans in French cuisines, the technique of thickening with blood did not touch the mainstream for many more years.
Although it has traditional roots, boudin noir (a French blood sausage preparation) started popping up everywhere in the United States fairly recently. Now that the Daniel Bouluds of the world have introduced dishes like boudin noir to the American mainstream, a whole slew of chefs are eagerly stuffing blood sausage mixture into casings and incorporating it into recipes—traditional and innovative alike. We’ve seen a surge in morcilla and boudin noir over the past few years, in particular in Chicago (notably the Morcilla, Apples, Watercress, and Apple Saba from Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig, and Sea Scallops, Celery Root Puree, Tangerine, Pistachio and Black Pudding from Sepia’s Andrew Zimmerman), and New York (boudin noir from 2010 New York Rising Star Chef Bobby Hellen of Resto). And let’s not forget Chef Jamie Bissonette’s Boudin Noir demonstration.
Splattered on the Menu
Now that offal is more chic than awful, the dining public has become less squeamish about the “nasty bits.” Still, “[blood] seems to be very misunderstood about what it can offer a dish and how it’s actually used,” says Farmerie. At Double Crown and Public, Farmerie uses blood in recipes ranging from his own version of Boudin Noir, featuring a special Public spice blend, to dishes that are less well-known but have equal potential for mainstream and forward-thinking eaters alike.
Take his Taiwanese Blood “Popsicles.” Coated with crushed peanuts, Farmerie describes them as being “like a savory Snickers.” There might not be chocolate candy coating, but they do have that savory-sweet balance and fudgy texture of the beloved candy bar. Intimidated? If the blood-candy connection is too much to dive into, try what Chef Farmerie describes as “blood with training wheels,” blood pudding. At the 5th Annual StarChefs.com International Chef’s Congress, Farmerie demonstrated some of the techniques behind his blood work, and presented tastings of dishes like Swedish Blood Rye Bread.
There are numerous pitfalls and advantages of cooking with, storing, and sourcing blood. Techniques and ingredients for blood recipes vary from country to country, but they run the gamut of cultures and culinary interpretations. In some countries blood represents the soul of the creature it is sourced from and is therefore taboo. In others, you attain a special type of romantic (ahem) strength when you consume it, making it especially apt around Valentine’s Day, kind of like those little blue pills in much tastier packaging.
Farmerie, in all seriousness, has occasionally seen purveyors pack animal blood in hospital IV drip bags so they don’t run into any legal issues when transporting the blood. “Um sir, what’s that cooler in your back seat?” For his own supply, Farmerie prefers D’Artagnan and Nicky USA for pig’s and cow’s blood, but they both provide the blood of other animals upon request, and Debragga and Spitler also carry pig’s blood. New York Chef Bobby Hellen whose charcuterie-heavy menu at Resto frequently features Boudin Noir, gets his blood from Debragga and Spitler too, but is considering experimenting with the blood of different breeds of pig to see the difference in flavor. Many butchers provide pig’s blood on request. Like anything else, fresh is best—two days is about the limit for blood, Farmerie estimates. However, some purveyors add an anticoagulant and freeze their product, which can then be kept for up to 20 days.
Cooking with Blood
Farmerie warns against defrosting blood by heating it. Let it thaw before use. Another common misstep, he says, is overheating, which separates the liquids and the solids in blood and results in a grainy texture. All animal blood is chemically similar, but, just like animal proteins, each animal’s blood has its own unique flavor profile and viscosity, so experiment with different types of blood until you achieve the desired effect. For example, sheep’s blood is quite thin, while cow’s blood is thicker and more widely available in the United States than pig’s blood. Cow’s blood has what Farmerie describes as an “insipid” flavor. Farmerie suggests this is the reason Americans are disappointed when they taste blood sausage and other blood recipes from other cultures that use cow’s blood in lieu of pig’s or sheep’s blood.
Drinking Blood (Not in a Vampire Kind of Way)
On our recent trip to Spain, we saw blood—especially sheep’s and pig’s blood—used at restaurant after restaurant, from traditional morcilla to more challenging forms like at El Bulli, where Ferran Adrià’s “Hare Ravioli with Bolognese and Blood” paired a wine glass of thick blood with the Bolognese. At first glance, the glass is similar to glass of red wine, but, when swirled, the coagulation of the blood becomes apparent as the blood clings slightly to the glass. The experience of drinking blood here is far removed from Dracula territory. It verges on religious ceremonial drinking of the wine to resemble the blood of Christ as part of the Eucharist.
Stripped of the “ew” factor—blood is a nutritious ingredient that packs a flavor punch. Although it hasn’t been the product of much experimentation in the United States, it’s likely that with its long history in traditional cooking, its appearances in avant-garde cuisine, and its local champions like Farmerie, the blood’s ready to start flowing stateside.