Summon up the blood
This is not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s an important historical preparation all the same. Animal blood has been used in cooking for centuries. Boudin noir – otherwise known as blood sausage or black pudding – is a dark sausage or terrine that has pig’s blood as the major ingredient.
Cooked as a sausage, it can be sautéed whole or cut into slices and pan fried in discs. Cooked in a terrine or loaf tin, it can then be cut into a thick slab and pan fried. Often this method is topped with a fried egg – my personal hangover cure of choice.
Originating in Europe, there are countless versions of blood sausage. Each recipe contains its own combination of spices and pork fat. In Ireland and Scotland, oats are sometimes used to bind the sausage. In Spain, the local blood sausage, morcilla, has rice as a filler and uses a different combination of spices altogether.
This is a recipe that does require planning, and an order placed with your butcher in advance. Blood is not always readily available but can be easily sourced.
Blood is used for various techniques other than sausages and chefs have often used blood in original and unconventional ways. In Sweden, chef Magnus Nilsson makes a pastry tart flavoured and stained with blood before being baked and finally filled with local unpasteurised salmon roe. In Melbourne, Ben Shewry at Attica uses native wallaby blood to flavour pikelets that are served with Davidson plum jam. In Italy, a sweet blood paste flavoured with chocolate and spices is used to spread on bread.
Animal blood is often used as a thickening agent for soups and sauces, added towards the end of the cooking process.
One of the most famous examples of using blood in cooking is canard à la presse – a duck preparation that was developed in the fine-dining restaurants of France in the 1900s. A small duck is quickly roasted, fillets and legs removed. The liver is taken and pounded to a paste while the carcass is placed into a large ornate press, which is usually on display in the restaurant. The theatre of it all: the waiter turning the press, slowly crushing the carcass.
The press resembles a wine press and is wound down to extract a few tablespoons of duck blood. All this in the middle of the restaurant. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the duck meat is carved and served along with the sauce made with the liver, butter and cognac, thickened with its own blood.
Restaurant La Tour d’Argent is probably the most famous for serving this dish, and awards a numbered certificate for each person who orders it. Certificate number 112,151, for example, went to President F. D. Roosevelt. The number now is well above one million. It’s a souvenir I have not managed to bring home to the poolroom. Yet.
Boudin noir on toast with smoked tomato and parsley salad
– 450g brown onions (about 2 small onions), finely diced
– 100g butter
– 450g hard pork back fat, cut into 5mm dice
– 1½ Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 5mm dice
– 30ml brandy
– 1 egg
– 125ml pouring cream
– 500ml fresh pork blood
– pinch of quatre épices
– pinch of salt
– ½ baguette, thinly sliced on the diagonal into 8 pieces
– extra virgin olive oil
– 3 smoked tomatoes (recipe below)
– ½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely shredded
– 1 golden shallot, finely sliced
– squeeze of lemon juice
– pinch of salt
For the boudin noir, gently cook the onions in a frying pan with 50 grams of the butter until they are soft, taking care not to let them colour. Remove from the heat and leave to cool on a plate. Place the diced pork fat in a saucepan of cold water and rinse well. Discard this water, then cover the pork fat with plenty of fresh cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a colander, then rinse well under cold running water. Melt the remaining 50 grams of butter in the frying pan, then add the apple and sauté for a few minutes until just cooked through. Deglaze with the brandy and continue to cook until all the alcohol has evaporated and the liquid has reduced.
Preheat the oven to 130ºC. In a large bowl, whisk the egg with the cream. Add the blood and quatre épices and whisk until well incorporated. Strain the mixture into another bowl to remove any lumps that may have formed. Add the cooled onion and the sautéed apple to the blood, stirring well. Pour the blood mixture into an ovenproof dish about 30 centimetres by 25 centimetres to form a layer about two centimetres deep. Cover with foil and place in a deep roasting tin, then pour enough hot water into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Carefully transfer to the oven and cook for 25 minutes or until set.
Remove the dish of blood custard from its water bath, then remove the foil and place in the fridge for three hours to cool. Before using, transfer the blood custard to a bowl and stir well, seasoning with a pinch of salt.
When almost ready to serve, preheat the oven to 190ºC. Brush the baguette slices with olive oil and lightly toast them in the oven. Cut each tomato into eight even-sized wedges. Spread two tablespoons of the blood custard onto each slice of the toasted baguette and bake for about three to four minutes or until the custard is just cooked – it should become slightly darker and firmer. Place a wedge of smoked tomato on top of each slice of toast then bake for another two minutes, just to warm the tomato through.
Meanwhile, toss the parsley and shallot together in a bowl. Dress with one teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice, and season with a pinch of salt.
When the boudin noir on toast is ready, brush the tomato with a little olive oil and stack a good pinch of the parsley salad on top of the boudin. Serve immediately.
– 6 vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled
– pinch each of salt and sugar
– 1 tbsp finely ground smoking chips (sawdust)
Pat the tomatoes dry with paper towel and season with a pinch each of salt and sugar. Place the tomatoes on a wire rack that will fit inside a wok – preferably a large, heavy-based one. Heat the wok on the stovetop over medium-high heat then, working quickly, sprinkle the smoking chips into the wok and add the tomatoes on their rack. Cover tightly with a double layer of foil and turn down the heat to low. Smoke for two to three minutes before turning off the heat. Leave the tomatoes to continue smoking in the residual heat for 10 minutes. Once smoked, the tomatoes are best used immediately.
2014 A. Rodda Cuvée de Chez cabernet blend, Beechworth ($38) – Mark Williamson, wine buyer for Cumulus Inc, Cumulus Up and the Builders Arms Hotel
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 15, 2016 as "Boudin noir on toast with smoked tomato and parsley salad". Subscribe here.