“Too much blood”?

Back in the last century — 1983 to be precise — with some of you, gentle readers, as yet un-born, The Stones sang about this subject. Earlier still, Lady Macbeth of course thought the old man (Duncan) too full of it.

Life is fuelled by blood — unless you’re a mollusc (blue blooded) or flatworm or nematode (no blood!) of course  — circulating around the veins, oxygenating and bringing nutrients to all parts of the body; red because it contains an iron-rich substance called haemoglobin. The ancient Greeks considered hema (“blood”) as synonymous with life itself. I think this is why a lot of people have a problem with eating their meat rare — still with the blood showing — a terrible reminder to them that this hunk of deliciously lightly charred & hugely tasty protein was — not that long ago possibly — part of a living, breathing animal, with that red stuff keeping it alive.

The Greek Keres on the other hand had no such scruples:

The black Dooms gnashing their white teeth, grim-eyed, fierce, bloody, terrifying fought over the men who were dying for they were all longing to drink dark blood. As soon as they caught a man who had fallen or one newly wounded, one of them clasped her great claws around him & when they had satisfied their hearts with human blood, they would throw that one behind them and rush back again into the battle and the tumult.

I have to say I’ve seen people who still eat like this…

Watch out though: blood, when drunk can be toxic. So, as in all things, moderation eh? Because blood is so rich in iron — and because the body has difficulty excreting excess iron — anyone regularly consuming blood runs the risk of iron overdose. Iron’s necessary for all animals (and indeed most life); but high doses can give rise to a condition called haemochromatosis which in turn can lead to a wide variety of diseases and problems, including liver damage, buildup of fluid in the lungs, dehydration, low blood pressure, and nervous disorders. Vampire bats are able to dump excess iron; you, however, are not a vampire bat and because humans haven’t evolved such an iron-extracting mechanism, drinking blood can kill…

In Britain we have “black pudding”; made from (any guesses?) blood and filler grain and spices (often oatmeal) and blood pudding is common across all of Europe — inc. Spain with their wonderful morcilla & botifarra. There, the Galicians have blood pancakes (called filloas), Andalusia produce sangre encebollada whilst the Valencians eulogise their sang amb ceba. The production of blood pudding ties in neatly in Spain, with their matanzathe right time to slaughter is in the winter when the animals are at their peak weight. And of course there’s France’s boudin. Europe isn’t alone though as pretty much every country & race around the world use this resource in their cooking.

© The Fruit Pig Company

The Irish used to bleed their animals as a prophylactic measure and then mix it with butter, herbs, oats or meal; a typical hearty rural food for the poor. In Northern Germany their pig’s blood is mixed with vinegar, meat scraps, spices and sugar to make schwarzsauer; eaten warm or it can be preserved in jars. Portugal’s blood soup is named papas de sarrabulho  (“papas” translates as “mash” and “sarrabulho” is a popular expression for coagulated blood, so the literal translation would be “mashed blood”). Made up of pig’s blood, chicken meat, pork, ham, salami, lemon and bread scraps and then sprinkled with cumin, helping to produce its distinctive odour.

Like the heart that I talked about before that keeps it all circulating, blood is both a mystical substance and one that’s hugely important to life. I can understand the qualms some people have about eating blood products but if you have any respect for the animal that you’re eating, then you shouldn’t waste it — respect the source, eat (or use) everything.

There are a few (well, numerically quite a lot I guess) bearded sky-pilot religious nutters who refuse to eat blood of course. Or pigs. As I said before, their loss… If Mark Essig is to be believed — and I’ve no reason to doubt his deeply scholarly chops displayed in “Lesser Beasts” — then one reason was because pigs were animals that the poor could rear, on their own, with no reference (or deference) to a central authority. Anathema to those early religious types and their governments.

Eating pigs as subversive resistance to an over-bearing & over-weening government? Works for me.

Stepping back closer to the subject in hand, I’d commend you to chef & author Jennifer McLagan, talking here to Tim Hayward on R4’s Food Programme about Blood. She suggests thinking of blood as a substitute for egg whilst cooking; the same proteins and binding abilities apply and if you can get over the sheer REDNESS of everything you use it in, then it’s a great idea.

I’d also give a shout out to the fine people at Fruit Pig Company; they use only fresh blood in the black pudding. And that improves the taste and texture. Dramatically. So much so that they supply a stellar list of great eating places inc. The Hand & Flowers, Hawksmoor, The Duck & Waffle & Hambleton Hall. They also do mail-order. Buy from them; you’ll never go back to dried blood (which some people estimate makes up 95% of the blood used in the UK — which is insane. No provenance, no idea of the source whilst at the same time, there’s no shortage of local blood that shouldn’t be wasted).

And finally? Finally, as Neil Young said in his 1974 classic “Vampire Blues” –from one of his triumvirate of genius records, “On The Beach”:

Good times are comin’,
I hear it everywhere I go
Good times are comin’,
I hear it everywhere I go.
Good times are comin’,
but they sure comin’ slow.

Don’t damn the Danes darling…

I may have been doing down those dastardly Danes; definitely did Denmark a disservice. As it turns out, a significant portion of the imports from there — inc. their pigs — are actually excellently organic.

© Danish Crown

They’re doing it right. And it isn’t just so that they can be labeled ‘organic’. It also means that the welfare of the pig suddenly becomes much more important again, instead of the animal just being a cog in an industrial factory as is so common in the US and other countries — we have a high level of animal welfare in the UK — the Brexit fire-starters want this to be removed in a “bonfire of the regulations”.

The Danes’ system demands a minimum of 300 m² of outside space per sow. The pigs live and forage and dig & snuffle around on this ground (which as a side-effect helps improve the soil quality) and their piglets have to remain with them for at least 7 weeks. And any use of antibiotics means the pig can’t be sold as organic.

I’ve been more than a little scathing about their pigs in the past, here and here. The inexorable rise of the Danish Landrace pigs — like the similarly large, pink ones that came to dominate all corners of the porcine farming industry since the 1950s — and their takeover of the English farm landscape was a direct result of national governments post-war policies encouraging a move away from slower growing (more expensive) heritage breeds towards fast-growing, fast-to-market hybrid breeds.

In the early 1800s there were still two main types of pigs in Denmark. On the islands the pigs were relatively small, stocky and with erect ears, known as the “Island-pig”. In Jutland the pigs were bigger, with an elongated body and large drooping ears; “The Jutland Pig”. The Danish Landrace pigs are derived from the latter. Fast growing, lean, you can see why they were (and remain) so hugely popular and were exported across the world.

There’s 40 minutes of an interesting Radio 4 “You & Yours” that you can listen to here.

And finally? Some images that I came across this week. The first one, an old trade card, for Lea & Perrins’ Worcester sauce; a vital ingredient in dishes from many of the best chefs around, inc. Marco Pierre White.

I think of it as an English take on the Roman liquamen. Romans fattened up pigs livers by feeding their animals on large quantities of figs. These they then marinated in liquamen – also known as garum, fermented fish sauce – wrapped in caul fat & grilled. I do a similar thing nowadays but with their kidneys.

Oh, and that exclusive story about the original recipe being “found” in a skip? It was flagged by both the Daily Heil & The Torygraph so huge pinches of salt are probably needed; read this good slam-down from the Grauniad which pretty much kills off any idea that it was a factual report…

and the second is the (great design) label used by Marky Market (“your man at the market”) on his pork items that he buys for his customers, early in the morning at Smithfield market.

© Marky Market 2017

An ex-PR man, Mark White was made redundant and, after starting working with a friend, Johnnie Mountain — a chef I’ve written about before who also loves pigs — set himself up as a food buyer. His ethos is nicely summed up below. If you’re in London, you really should check him out…

“I’ll get you the best fresh meat, fish and shellfish that Smithfield and Billingsgate can offer, delivered straight to your office before you’ve had a chance to enjoy your first cup of coffee.”

The best sous-vide ribs in the world?

Via @John_Barlow_LS9, comes a recipe by @PepeSolla, a Michelin starred chef and owner of the eponymous Casa Solla, the former a great writer on all things Spanish (but most especially Galicia, as witnessed by his excellent “Everything But the Squeal: A Year of Pigging Out in Northern Spain“).

© J. Kenji Lopez-Alt 2015

It’s just 3 steps to eating heaven…

1.Take ibérico pork ribs (quantity is entirely up to you), a bay leaf, some crushed fresh garlic, some chicken stock, a little olive oil and a pinch of Szechuan pepper & seal in a sous-vide bag

2. Cook in the water bath for 11 hours at exactly 70°C.

3. Bone ribs, then pan-fry, briefly, to toast the skin.

And then? Then grasshopper, you just eat them. John described his experience thus:

“… they make you cry when you eat them. They are about the best thing I have ever tasted.”

Or if this process seems just a little too easy for you, then you can always follow the more involved version by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt guru of all things sous-vide at The Food Lab — whose photo I’ve used above. Pretty damn sure either will be the bomb though.

Me? I’m off to get some Mangalitsa ribs; I’d pitch them against ibérico any day. I’ll keep you posted.

An umami tusnami explodes into your life…

Here’s another genius creation by Mathew Ramsey @mathewramsey. For a real umami taste-bomb, why not let this beauty just roll straight over you? Accept it into your life – there’s no way to fight it off or escape its savage beauty.

He’s also written a book which I’ve strongly urged you to buy before. Keep an eye on his Facebook page.




Remember children — don’t shop at Tesco!

Not at @Tesco or indeed at any of the monolithic factories called “supermarkets”. In the name of “customer choice” they are in the process of ruining our food, our communities and the planet.

Does anyone (apart from the neo-feudalist, neo-liberal knaves in power) think this is sane? Partly fuelled by the insanity of austerity and all of a piece with the Brexit free-booters…

2016-03-27 at 11.56