Almost every cuisine uses blood. Think of dishes like Spanish morcilla, Filipino dinuguan, South Korean soondae, Finnish blood pancakes, Taiwanese pig’s blood cake, Thai boat noodles, Vietnamese bún bò Huế, Italian sanguinaccio dolce or French sanquette (and we could go on).
But you don’t see blood very often on the menu of Australian restaurants, and even less often in home kitchens.
“It’s really about unfamiliarity,” says chef and author Jennifer McLagan. “It’s interesting we don’t get upset about eggs or milk, which are animal by-products, too. I’d like people to think of blood in the same way; you don’t think twice about using milk or an egg.”
McLagan has always been interested in nose-to-tail eating, having written award-winning books on offal, fat and bones. But she said her most recent cookbook on blood was a tough topic to sell to publishers.
“I figured that if you want to get Mrs And Mr Suburbia cooking with blood, you need to come in with something familiar, something they might like to eat. That’s why I wanted to introduce some sweet things, like recipes for brownies, ice-cream and pancakes. Blood is used, but it's maybe a bit more disguised so if people try it, they might not know there’s blood in the brownies or chocolate tart, they just like it because of the flavours,” she explains.
You might be surprised by how versatile blood can be in the kitchen. It can be used to colour macarons and pasta, and add richness to the taste of Laotian duck’s blood salad or cabidela, a Portuguese rice dish. Blood, which is high in nutrients, is often used to play with the texture of a dish. These days, most people use a roux to thicken the French coq-au-vin – but the traditional recipe uses chicken blood.
“The best way to think about blood is that the protein of blood is very similar to the protein of an egg, so anywhere you use an egg in a recipe, you can use blood,” says McLagan. It would work well in a cake, cookies and for a dazzling meringue. McLagan has even successfully switched egg white for blood in a whisky sour.
With little seasoning, blood can taste metallic, but that can easily be balanced with sugar, chocolate, citrus or spices and herbs like nutmeg, cloves, juniper, sage, rosemary, dill and fennel.
“The best way to think about blood is that the protein of blood is very similar to the protein of an egg, so anywhere you use an egg in a recipe, you can use blood."
McLagan recommends asking your butcher what blood they have available, which will most likely be pig blood. Advanced cooks might want to work with the blood of specific animals, like duck or hare, for certain recipes, but many recipes allow for substitutions.
“Blood has an advantage over things like tripe, liver or kidney – it doesn’t have a strong smell or a weird texture,” says McLagan.
“If we can get over that cultural hurdle and think about how we need to use the resources we have, we should realise we’re wasting this important resource and that we should learn to cook with it. It’s another way of respecting the animal, which I think is very important. If you’re going to kill an animal, you need to use every single part of them.”
And if you’re not quite ready to dip your hands into blood just yet, you can work your way up.
“Blood has an advantage over things like tripe, liver or kidney – it doesn’t have a strong smell or a weird texture.”
Morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage, is often fried with eggs at trendy cafes and can be bought from a deli like Sydney’s Rodriquez Bros.
“People need to forget about the word 'blood' when they hear the word 'blood sausage' and take it for what it is. If people are paranoid about blood in blood sausage, they should also be paranoid eating steak – it’s blood as well,” says Rodriguez Bros’ Rogelio Rodriguez.
Malatang restaurants, where you customise your own bowl, make it easy to add a small piece of blood tofu to your hot pot.
“In Scandinavia, there is blood pancake mix on the shelf at the supermarket. If we think about the food we eat today that we didn’t eat 10 years ago, there’s no reason that in 10 years' time, we can’t all be making blood pancakes for breakfast,” says McLagan.
“For me, this dish truly encapsulates all the flavours of Andalucía, especially the morcilla, a Spanish version of blood pudding flavoured with onions and spices. The jamón you use really just depends on how much you want to spend- I’ve used Spanish jamón which can be pretty costly, but locally made product will do just fine.” Shane Delia, Shane Delia’s Moorish Spice Journey
“Blood sausage, also known as black pudding, is a blend of onions, pork fat, oatmeal, flavourings - and blood, usually from a pig. In the United Kingdom, blood sausage is seen as a delicacy, and when married with pheasant, it makes a perfect combination.” Luke Nguyen, Luke Nguyen's United Kingdom
It’s the combination of chocolate and pig’s blood that is the base of sanguinaccio, with variations of nuts and fruits around Italy. Mic’s recipe is based on his grandmother’s and takes him back to his childhood when the blood sausage was made each year at the family celebration of breaking down a pig. Fresh pig’s blood is very hard to get hold of and may be replaced with dried blood.