Monday, March 12, 2012

Cooking with Blood

Pasta, potatoes and rice may be staples of the Mediterranean, northern Europe and Asia, but there's another, older food that's almost never mentioned in connection with these places: blood.

Before explorers brought potatoes to Europe from North America (that is, a few hundred years ago), people in harsh climates used blood for food: it's nutritious, and the animal doesn't have to be killed. Jennifer McLagan writes in Odd Bits,
In harsh northern climes where food was often scarce, both Scandinavians and the Irish survived on animal blood. The growing antlers of reindeer were a source for Laplanders, while in Ireland they turned blood into a national dish. The French writer Henri Misson de Valbourg wrote about his voyages through England, Scotland and Ireland in the late seventeenth century in Misson's Memoirs and Observations in his Travels over England (1690). In Ireland, he recalled eating 'one of their most delicious dishes' made from blood mixed with milk and butter and flavored with herbs. He was describing drisheen (see p. 222), a blood sausage very popular in County Cork. All over Ireland similar puddings were made: in Tipperary turkey or goose blood was the main ingredient, and in Tyrone and Derry they preserved blood by coagulating and layering it with salt.
All over Europe, McLagan adds, there are variations on the theme of blood sausages; in Italy, they make sweet dishes such as sanguinaccio alla napoletana with blood. In Scandinavia, "they make bread with blood, rye flour, and beer and season it with cloves, allspice and ginger."

Asia has a tradition of using blood for food as well. "In Asia, cooked blood is cut into cubes and sold as a snack or added to soup," writes McLagan. "A well-known Filipino dish, dinuguan (euphemistically called 'chocolate meat'), is a stew of pork and tripe cooked in blood with vinegar and hot peppers." She continues,
Marco Polo describes in detail the ability of Mongol warriors to traverse large distances quickly without being spotted. They didn't stop to make fire and cook their food, because firewood was scarce on the steppes and the smoke from a fire would reveal their location to enemies. Instead each man traveled with eighteen horses and survived by drinking their blood. 
With all this in mind, I've stopped pouring blood down the drain. You can't buy blood off the shelf here in the U.S., but a package of liver typically contains a good deal of blood. Using one of McLagan's suggestions, I substituted some blood and cream for milk in a soup recipe tonight. The blood really was a good thickener--certainly more nutritious than flour and a good substitute for eggs if you're allergic to them. It gave the soup (cream of celery) a hint of a flavor of liver and a reddish brown cast, and I found a bowl of it every bit as filling as a quarter pound of beef.

Source: Odd Bits by Jennifer McLagan, Random House, New York, 2011, pp 216-226.


tess said...

now, there's an interesting thought.... i knew blood was used "culinarily" (is that a word?) in puddings and such, but if you aren't in charge of your own butchering, i had no idea where people might get it. next time i buy liver, i'll have to collect it.

Lori Miller said...

McLagan says blood will keep in the freezer for three months.