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Photo: Jonathan Pincas on Flickr.
Morcilla is the Spanish take on blood sausage. (Photo: Jonathan Pincas on Flickr.)

Food Republic’s column Ask Your Butcher seeks to answer FAQs in the world of butchery. Ethically minded butcher Bryan Mayer founded Philadelphia’s Kensington Quarters and helped develop a renowned butcher-training program at Brooklyn’s Fleisher’s. Today, he consults with farmers, chefs, butchers and anyone else who will listen. In each column, Mayer tackles a pressing issue facing both meat buyers and home cooks. This week, he tells us all about the culinary uses of blood and why you should be using it more in your home cooking.

I often wonder about the “ick” factor of some foods. We’ve recently been talking about offal, fats, skin and bones, which are all things that the average American tends to be a bit squeamish about consuming. However, if you look at the ingredients on the back of a package of hot dogs or some of your deli meats, there’s a lot more “ick” in there than you’ll find in a lamb kidney or beef heart. And that’s not including all those antibiotics and hormones. Furthermore, it’s fairly difficult to avoid animal by-products — both edible and inedible — in the items that we routinely purchase. So why don’t we add another one to the list? Blood.

Once again, we turn to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Economic Research Service to highlight some of the extensive uses of animal blood — outside of edibles. At this point, you’re probably well versed: Adhesives, ceramics, cosmetics, animal feed, fertilizer, insecticides and foam in fire extinguishers are some of its many nonmedical uses.

Medically speaking, purified animal blood is fractionated (separated into its component parts — plasma, white blood cells and red blood cells) into products like thrombin, used for blood-coagulation agents and skin-graft procedures, as well as fibrin, used as a surgical repair for internal organs, and fibrinolysin, used to help heal burns and to clean wounds.

While it’s difficult to determine exactly how much blood is in each animal due to variables like weight and age, we know that the blood volume of cattle and hogs is approximately 55 and 65 milliliters per kilogram, respectively. That’s anywhere from three gallons of blood for a hog to eight gallons for cattle. Multiply that by millions, and once again, you can see why both the industrial models — and those on a smaller scale — have found lots of uses for blood.

Dinuguan (pulaw)
It’s becoming harder to find that blood to make dinuguan at home. But it’s still possible. (Photo: pulaw/Flickr.)

I’m sure this is all making you hungry. So let’s switch gears. Your typical homesteader values blood just as much as meat, fat and bones. Blood can be part of breakfast, lunch and dinner — or even a snack. And while it has fallen out of use for some time, many butchers and chefs are bringing blood back to their cases and menus. Those that can get it, at least. While it’s not illegal — just like offal — many slaughterhouses have created a revenue stream for themselves by selling blood to rendering companies. And even though you might want to make your tiya’s dinuguan (Filipino pork-blood stew), you might have a bit of difficulty procuring fresh blood. Your best bet might be to make friends with a farmer. In fact, that’s always your best bet.

Blood can be extremely healthy: It’s rich in protein and minerals, such as iron and vitamin D. You’ll want to make sure you’re sourcing blood from healthy animals free of hormones and antibiotics and, of course, raised on pasture. And that the blood you purchase is fresh..really fresh. Purchasing frozen blood is perfectly okay if an anti-coagulant like vinegar or salt has been added. You don’t want to purchase blood that has been coagulated and then frozen. Lastly, if we can talk about health for one more moment, iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world, according to the World Health Organization. It is prevalent in both developing and industrialized countries. Around 30 percent of the world’s population is anemic. That’s 2 billion people! So let’s eat more blood.

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A juicy, homemade take on boudin noir. (Photo: Naotake Murayama.)

But how? Well, how about as an egg substitute, for starters? Blood and eggs have similar protein compositions. According to the Nordic Food Lab, created by famed chef René Redzepi, one egg is equal to roughly 65 grams of blood. And while I feel that blood has a rich, almost chocolate-like flavor, some of you may perceive a slight metallic-like taste. No worries, as that can be masked with aromatics and spices. Try using blood in anything from ice cream to sourdough to pudding to pancakes to your favorite cocktail. Yes, drinking blood is not just for the Anne Rice set! And while you can experiment with many types of blood (duck, rabbit, lamb, et cetera), beef and pork are the most easily procured.

(Photo: Chun Yip So on Flickr).
Korean soondae combines blood sausage with a variety of ingredients, including cellophane noodles. (Photo: Chun Yip So/Flickr.)

If all that seems a little too intimidating, why don’t we just stick to good old-fashioned blood sausage? Almost every culture has some sort of blood sausage. And let’s be honest, blutwurst (German), boudin noir (French), soondae (Korean), morcilla (Spanish) — you get the point — all sound better than calling it “blood sausage.” In fact, take a rolled pig face and call it porchetta di testa and people will line up to eat. Have an issue with head cheese? No problem — just name it fromage de tête and watch it disappear off plates! More on this in an upcoming column.

I’m partial to the German blutwurst, and more specifically the rotwurst. And while blood sausage is great any season and any time of day — breakfast with eggs, a snack with some mustard and rye and perhaps a bit of applesauce, or a heartier dinner with potatoes and sauerkraut — the warm spices associated with rotwurst seem perfect right about this time of year in the northeast U.S. While not traditional in any sense, the traditional thüringer rotwurst has PGI status — Protected Geographical Designation — something like Champagne or Parmigiano-Reggiano’s AOC and PDOs. It’s the combination of spices like clove, cinnamon, allspice, marjoram and caraway that evoke the tastes of a region. As with most of my sausage recipes, fresh or cured, it’s about paying homage to the process and showing respect for a craft that has lasted centuries. One could never reproduce the sensation of eating such a meal in the eastern part of Germany from recipes handed down, generation to generation. The best we can do is to try (yes, there’s a recipe included below).

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Blutwurst is commonplace throughout Germany. (Photo: Roberto Verzo/Flickr.)

So let’s make some sausage!

The rotwurst that I’ve grown to love over the last few years is one that’s prepared as part of a yearly event called La Taude. In late November, we gather at Wyebrook Farm, a 365-acre farm that pasture-raises beef, lamb, goat, chickens and pork in Chester County, Pennsylvania, to harvest a pig and pay respect to an age-old tradition. I start by walking the day’s participants through the slaughter of one of Wyebrook’s woodlot-raised pigs. The blood is collected and mixed with vinegar to prevent coagulation. It’s handed off to chefs Andrew and Matt, who transform not only the blood but also the offal and other cuts from the hog into a feast, bringing us full circle, in the true spirit of pasture to plate.

Thüringer rotwurst

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The Thüringer rotwurst has Protected Geographical Designation status. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it at home!

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds groats (I like barley or rye berries)
1 pound pork shoulder (fatty)
½ pound fresh pork belly (skin off)
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons marjoram
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon caraway
6 cups blood
2 cups chopped onions
12 hog casings, 18 inches long

Directions:

  1. The groats in blood sausage help to give the sausage body and absorb the blood. You’ll want to cook your groats, simmering for about an hour, in salted water, until they are soft.
  2. Finely dice the pork belly and shoulder so that they are small enough to fit into a casing. Something like 1/8 inch, so get those knives sharpened.
  3. Add the pork to a pan with ¼ cup of water and begin to render. After our last few columns, you should be an expert at this.
  4. Once most of the water has been evaporated and you’re cooking in mostly pork fat, add your onions. This process should take roughly 45 minutes.
  5. When your barely is tender and your pork and onions are cooked, combine. Make sure to scrape all those delicious bits out of the pan. Add your spices and allow to cool.
  6. Once your mixture is cool (you can place in the fridge to speed the process), you can add the blood. But make sure that mixture is cool. Adding blood to a warm mixture will cause it to coagulate. Carefully fold the blood into your mixture. Remember that the albumin in blood is similar to egg. We don’t want foam.
  7. Now you’re ready to stuff. This is a fairly easy process, as you don’t have to worry about emulsions or breaking casings. Get your funnel ready (purchased beforehand from a hardware store) and a large spoon. You’ve got casings on hand from making sausages before, and at this point I’m sure they’ve been rinsed and are ready to go. I like a good 16 inches in length, which will get you two eight-inch sausages when we twist them off to poach.
  8. Tie a knot in one end of the casing and use a little bit of olive oil to lubricate the other end. It’ll be easier to fit over the funnel tip. Add your mixture to the funnel and allow gravity to do its job.
  9. Fill the casings about ¾ full to allow some expansion during poaching. If not, prepare for your kitchen to look like a scene from Dexter. Tie the open end of the sausage like the closed end, pinch and twist in the middle, and poach away.
  10. Not a boil, something like 170°F for roughly 15 to 20 minutes. If you notice any air pockets, prick them, as the blood will coagulate and fill the holes. Once they are cooked, allow time to cool. I like to shock them in an ice bath.
  11. The only thing left is the final crisp! I like to brush them with some bacon fat and roast in a 350°F oven for 40 minutes.

It’s a bit of a process, but no more difficult than changing your car’s oil, and you’ll use some of the same tools. With Halloween fast approaching, why don’t you forgo all that sugary crap and invite the neighborhood kids in for a meal of blutwurst and sauerkraut. Treat indeed!

If you’re interested in finding out more about Wyebrook’s annual La Taude or just visiting for a tour or a meal, check out their website.