For those of us who aren't vampires, blood is inherently sensationalist and a challenge to our perceptions of cooking, but it's both wonderful to eat in restaurants and a great tool to use in home cooking.
Nordic Food Lab's foray into working with blood was inspired by a meal at Mugaritz. While there, we were served a pig's blood macaroon with blue cheese in the middle. It was fantastic and we really enjoyed the idea that the meringue had been made without eggs. We were eating with one of the guys in their research kitchen and he explained (although I'm not sure he was meant to) the basic principles of replacing eggs with blood and we left off from there. I say we, but I didn't do any of the research myself—it was a girl named Elisabeth Paul who was doing an internship with us while she completed her masters in meat science. As it turns out, she wrote the most-read post we've ever put up on our site.
Blood is inherently sensationalist. It's the carnal, visceral reminder of death. But meat comes from death and people forget that their blister packs of chicken from the supermarket once came from a little beast; a bird with feathers, a beak, and blood. This is part of the reason why—as well as exploring its flavor and properties—working with blood is so interesting to us. We like to challenge and open perceptions.
In terms of flavor, people are probably more used to the taste of blood than they think. For those that eat boudin noir or enjoy black pudding for breakfast, despite the other flavorings in the mix, the rich, sweet, livery taste of blood is strong. It's familiar and comforting, even if the immediate association isn't there.
People's perceptions of flavor are totally different, though, and one of the most interesting questions that came out of our research was how women's attitudes to the taste blood differed from men's. There wasn't enough data to come to any kind of conclusive result, but I'd be interested in exploring how women's sensitivity to blood changes during menstruation. When the body is losing blood, does one become more sensitive to the taste? Is the idea of consuming blood more palatable if the body is seeking iron? Maybe we'll look at this area down the line somewhere.
When it comes to encouraging to people to work with blood, to me it's not a question of how to cook smart in times of austerity. If we want to aim for any reasonable food system, people should be aiming for a practical approach to cooking meat anyway. If you just take the back and the belly off a pig, for example, it becomes a two-fold dilemma: Firstly, it's a huge disrespect to what you're eating and secondly, there is no financial logic. This should be basic common sense, though; not a trend or a solution.
Most people that go to eat in St. John to eat lamb's kidneys and liver, for example, probably aren't going because they want to eat cult products—they're going because they understand that a sheep has internal organs as well as shoulders and legs. It's worth saying here, too, that this isn't about being the most carnivorous person possible—in fact, it's the flip side. I am basically a vegetarian because I won't eat shit meat. When I do eat it, I'll eat the whole animal (although not usually in one go) and that'll do me for a while.
A wider awareness of the beast—be it pig, cow, sheep, or chicken—as a whole is imperative along with the acceptance of death. We have a fuckload of pigs in Denmark—around 20 million—compared to five million people. Twenty thousand die every day and almost all of that blood—I don't know the exact figures—is getting flushed down the drain. Even so, it was a bit of a headache to get hold of fresh blood for our experimentation, as Danish laws on the distribution of it are pretty strict.
People should not be discouraged from working with blood, though. That is just our experience with it in Denmark. If you are thinking about it, get it fresh. Go to your local butcher and ask when slaughter day is—it might be a bit of a faff for them to get fresh blood for you, but they should have the means. Don't buy the frozen stuff from the Chinese supermarket—it'll taste awful once it's thawed. The purity and sweetness is lost. Freeze-dried blood (the stuff that's like milk powder) could be used to increase the protein content in something, but is no good for cooking purposes. You need the virulent, bright red stuff and you have to be quick. It coagulates. Fast.
Once you have your blood, a good starting point for cooking with it in terms of the experiments we've done at Nordic Food Lab, would be the blood pancakes or the blood cake—they're easy enough and will get you to grips with the taste. Making black pudding (a blend of the fresh blood, oats, fat and spices) is the Holy Grail, though. You will need some sort of filler contraption and natural runners (pig intestines), but it's pretty simple and, when people come round to try it, you will look like a fucking dude.
As told to Eleanor Morgan