Eating Blood Shouldn't Curdle Yours
Eating blood leads to collective gasps of horror. But why? Is the process too confrontational? Is the intense flavor too much for the average tastebuds to handle? Cooking with it is making a comeback in the kitchen—or at least on the dessert plate.
Alice den Boer is a trained artisan baker and pastry chef, but her culinary experiments stretch far beyond flour, water, and sourdough. Blood is one of her favorite baking ingredients, especially when it's used instead of the obvious protein or cream in recipes. Recently, Alice and nose-to-tail chef (and boyfriend) Baaf Vonk spent an afternoon coloring their hands red. The pair visited a Netherlands butcher who slaughters animals himself, bought some blood, and made a couple of stunning desserts. We discovered that bloody spatulas and red spots on the wall are their idea of a romantic afternoon together. Charles Manson would approve.
Five years ago while I was living in Norway, I drastically changed my semi-vegetarian lifestyle. During the first week of my year-long education in becoming a Viking at Fosen Folk High School in Rissa, large numbers of sheep were slaughtered. Anyone who wanted to eat to meat ought to participate in the butchering, or at least not look away. After having personally skinned five sheep, it seemed self-evident to me that we should not waste any part of the animal. We collected the blood and immediately made into a batter. We enjoyed the spicy pancakes, but my friends at home shuddered at my story.
Eating blood leads to collective gasps of horror. But why? Is the process too confrontational? Is the intense flavor too much for the average tastebuds to handle? Or do we just think blood is dirty? According to Ben Reade, the problem with blood lies with the fact that we associate it with death—a topic we'd surely rather avoid thinking about while eating pancakes. In a world where where absorbent towels are used to conceal the sight of the blood leaking out of our supermarket cuts, cooking with blood seems like a tradition best suited to ancient hill tribes.
Two hundred years ago, things were completely different. When you study old recipes, you'll find that not a single part of a slaughtered animal went to waste. Blood went into sausages, which was fried or poached to deliciousness. But nowadays, the idea of eating blood sends shivers down our spine.
But the reality is you're eating more blood that you think. There is, in fact, a flourishing trade in the stuff. Meat-packing factories wouldn't dare waste such a valuable commodity by washing it down the drain. They sell it to specialist companies that isolate the different components of blood. Two sought-after substances are Fibrinogen and Thrombin, used as adhesives or binders in the production of pre-packaged meats. They're used to glue pieces of meat together, so as to offer consumers a uniform product. The main offenders are breaded items such as cutlets, but the technique is also applied to products like cold cuts. Other isolated substances obtained from blood are used in animal fodder, by the pharmaceutical industry, and even in the production of cigarette filters.
I think blood is making a comeback. And it's time for blood to claim its rightful place in our kitchens, rather than being wasted on the production of dog food and uniform meats. Preparing beautiful dishes with blood is a sign of respect for the slain animal. Recently, you can find blood increasingly present on restaurant menus of restaurants: think black pudding with scallops. Last summer, sausage makers Brandt & Levie sold their famous "bloodhound" hot dog from their traveling food truck, I ate blood ganache in Turin as part of a head-to-tail dinner, and contestant Karin made a tarte Tatin with black pudding on the Dutch TV show Heel Holland Bakt.
Fascinated by the idea that blood can replace egg whites and cream, our hands were itching to get started—but where to get the blood? In Scandinavia, you can buy it in any supermarket. Many students eat blood because it's both cheap and nutritious. They use it not only pancakes, but also in sauces for pasta or noodles. In the Netherlands it's not so easy to come by: you need to visit a butcher. If you shop for blood, make sure you pick it up on the day of the slaughter. Keep it refrigerated at 40°F for up to four days, or freeze it right away. Because there are proteins in blood, it will start to clot. For that reason, an anticoagulant is added, consisting of blood phosphates, emulsifiers, and salt. In days of old, a splash of strong alcohol or vinegar was used.
After a boisterous afternoon in the kitchen, our counter was splattered in bloodstains and we were covered in sweat. It was great. One taste of these bittersweet desserts we made might just convert you, and eating blood will no longer make yours run cold.