Even among eager meat eaters, there is a thin red line, drawn in blood, that some cannot bring themselves to cross. For some, the reluctance boils down to ancient cultural taboos. For others, it is perhaps a little too ‘elemental’ for them to stomach. No matter how well seasoned and cooked, there is something about blood in soups, cakes or sausages that can make us feel we’re dining out on a raw, almost primeval side. For some, that’s all part of the satisfaction, for other not so much. Indeed, many even feel revulsion at the mere prospect. But there is much to savour in blood’s rich, nutritious flavours.
Humans have long had a different relationship with blood than with other parts of the animal or human body. In our minds it is an uncompromising element, symbolising our closest kinships and brotherhoods, our wildest passions, most monstrous detachment and deepest terror. It is bound up with our desire for bloody revenge, and we “smell” it the moment before a kill, literal or metaphorical. It defines our darkest sins. Small wonder that human reactions towards eating it can sometimes also tend towards the visceral.
Yet blood is a fundamental ingredient in many national and even celebratory dishes, indeed the vitamin and mineral-rich byproduct of an animal slaughtered for its meat is likely one of the oldest ingredients for prepared meals we have and there is barely a nation that does not integrate it somewhere within its traditional cookery.
In Cambodia, it is a key ingredient in two of our most important soups, Kuy Teav and Num Banh Chok, where it can be mixed in to enrich and thicken the soup or added in jellied chunks, a kind of blood ‘tofu’ that is popular across the region. Blood is also used in some noodle dishes and bobor where it becomes a basis for the creation of a rich, thick and flavoursome rice porridge.
Some writers suggest that blood sausage may be the first “recipe” that humans ever developed. It even makes an appearance in one of Europe’s first literary works, Homer’s Odyssey, written towards the end of the 8th century BCE. Five-hundred years later, the Greek philosopher Aristotle described blood (consumed straight up) as the “ultimate food”. The old Irish, who used to drink blood from the neck of their cattle in order to gain much-needed sustenance without depleting their stock, would have known this well.
Across Europe, you will find as many variations on the humble blood sausage as you will find kinds of cheese, from the traditional soft French boudin noir, enriched with onion and cream — which you will find at Khéma’s deli counter — to the Italian sanguinaccio, made with pig’s brains and blood or German blutworst, some of which also contain calf or pig’s lungs and bacon. Meanwhile, Sweden’s blodpudding,made with milk, rye or barley flour, beer, treacle and onion, and sometimes raisins, is commonly served with lingonberry jam and grated carrots.
The Spanish blood sausage may be smoked, poached or cured. The most common, morcilla, is made with rice and onions (in Burgos, Leon and Valladolid), sweet potato, currants, thyme, almonds, sugar and breadcrumbs (the Canaries), dried fruits, walnuts and breadcrumbs (Galicia), herbs, spices and nuts (Aragón). In Rioja, a sweet morcilla dulceis made with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, aniseed and black pepper, while in Asturias, the dominant flavours are smoked and peppery. The possibilities are seemingly endless.
But blood has wider uses too. Many countries use it as a thickening agent for casseroles, such as coq au vin or a civet made with wild rabbit, hare, wild boar or venison. The latter depends on the addition of pig’s blood to create its distinctive oily texture and colouring. In Sweden and Finland, a soup made almost entirely from warm, spiced goose blood laced with wine or cognac and fruit is served in celebration of the Feast of St. Martin.
All of which is to say, few of us come from a culture that is a stranger to eating, or drinking, blood. Sometimes we may hesitate when we encounter it in different forms from those to which we are accustomed. But if you’ve eaten black pudding at home, now may be the time to take the plunge and tuck into a hearty bobor enriched with blood at your local market or, if that is your customary breakfast treat, then we can wholeheartedly recommend Khéma’s boudin noir, with a little mashed potato and apple sauce on the side.