I’m from New Jersey, and much of what I learned about how to interact with others I learned from my stepfather Frank. Frank’s main rule was, “always have favors you can collect on, and don’t be afraid to do other people favors.” I do something for you, you return the favor — scratching each other’s back is a way of life. It’s how I roll.
So last fall, when I drove down to Galt to collect a few hundred pounds of Touriga Nacional wine grapes from a Portuguese grower named Ron Silva, I wasn’t shocked when he told me not to worry about money. “No,” he said. “Instead, show me how to make morcella.” No problem, I said.
Morcella. I knew what he meant, although I refer to it mentally by its Spanish name morcilla. My neighbor from Argentina calls it more-SEE-zhuh, my other neighbor from Italy calls it sanguinaccio. Go to Louisiana or France and it’s boudin noir. But the first time I ate this odd delight was in South Africa, as part of a traditional English breakfast. And there it was stripped of any lyrical nicknames: The waiter called it “blood pudding.”
I’d only made morcilla a couple times, with limited success. Many versions are blood and seasonings and that’s it — they are brutal to stuff into casings and were the source of failure whenever I’d been around the process in the past. Besides, to my palate, the blood-only sausages were a bit too cakey; more blood cake and less sausage. They have a weird mouthfeel.
I know. Many of you are saying to yourselves, blood. As an ingredient. In food that you’d eat. I know I glossed over it in the first few graphs of this post, but if you are still reading I thought I’d stop to tell you that first, there is quite a bit of nutrition in blood (especially iron and other minerals), and the addition of blood in a dish will make it seem fattier and richer than it really is. Pork blood will solidify and stay moist, while beef blood becomes crumbly and dry — one more reason why the pig is God’s Gift. And blood is cheap, so if you are on a budget think about it. Finally, blood is also a spectacular binder, much like egg whites. Herein lies the secret to my morcilla.
I began researching blood sausages. Everyone who raises pigs or beeves makes them, it seems. Some are sweet-savory, others just savory. Some have pork fat in them, some a little pork meat, too. Onions seem to be a constant. In European versions, raisins and nuts are common, particularly pine nuts and walnuts. Parsley is almost always around somewhere.
So I decided to make a sausage bound with blood rather than a pure blood sausage. It would have pork shoulder and pork fat, parsley, onions and lots of ground bay leaves. (The recipe is below.)
Fortunately I live in Northern California, where obtaining pork blood is as easy as emailing my local hog farmer, John Bledsoe. I love hearing “no problem,” when I ask him for crazy stuff like, oh, a gallon of pork blood.
I woke up early Saturday, schlepped down to the Davis farmer’s market and picked up my blood, as well as a big slab of pork shoulder. I was eager to repay Ron for the wine grapes — not because I wanted to get it over with, but because I enjoy the interplay of favors that my world once revolved around. This is a life bound more closely to other people than is that lived by those who follow the principle of “neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Sorry Ben, I just don’t agree, at least when it doesn’t involve money.
I also enjoy teaching others some of the more esoteric things I’ve learned in my travels. (Thus this blog.) Even better, I learned when Ron and his wife Kathy arrived that Ron is a total morcella hound. “Morcella, morcella, morcella,” Kathy said. “When we were in the Azores, we’d go to Michelin-starred restaurants and he’d find the morcella.”
I think Ron was hoping I’d make more than five pounds, as he is a hearty eater. But all my recipes are about five pounds, and blood sausage is so rich non-farmers typically can’t eat too much at a sitting. But Ron was OK with it: I was teaching him to fish at the same time I was giving him some. At any rate, he watched the process intently.
Morcilla is an odd sausage to make. Instead of a solid bind that you want with a normal sausage, you pour in enough blood to make a loose slurry. It looks like the leftovers from a field hospital during the War of Independence.
At least the slurry is solid enough that I can use a regular sausage-stuffer to form the links, although you must tie-off those links with string; they are too loose to hold if you just twist them like a regular sausage. Another step you need to take is to poach the raw links in 175 degree water. Not a simmer, and definitely not a boil (the blood will curdle. Ew.), but hot enough to solidify the blood to make a firm sausage.
After the poaching, you can then do what you want. I smoked mine over almond wood, but you can then fry them, grill them, drop a few into a soup — whatever. They are delicious: Softer than a regular sausage but still meaty, with a taste you can only really describe as “dark.” You know there is blood in there, but you can also pick up the pork and onions and the bay leaves. The fresh parsley brightens the whole affair enough that you don’t feel awkward eating them on a sunny day.
Portuguese blood sausage
Call it what you will, this is blood sausage. My blood sausage recipe is a hybrid of many, many recipes for Europe’s versions, and is distinctive in that it is not a pure-blood product: I use quite a bit of pork here, and use the blood as a binder and flavoring agent.
And yes, I use pork and pork blood. Could I use wild boar? You bet, but getting wild boar blood is chancy. Better to use wild boar meat and domestic pork blood, which you can order from a reputable butcher’s shop or find at Asian markets. I get mine from John Bledsoe, a hog farmer nearby.
To make this recipe you will need hog casings (also easily available at a butcher shop, or even at a supermarket that makes it own sausages), and lots of onions, slowly cooked and cooled beforehand. You will also need Instacure No. 1 if you plan to smoke the sausages.
Makes about 5 pounds.
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 10 minutes
- At least 1 quart pork blood, and probably 1/2 gallon
- 3 pounds pork shoulder
- 1/2 pound pork fat
- 2 chopped onions
- 1/4 cup duck fat or fresh lard
- 38 grams kosher salt
- 6 grams Instacure No. 1
- 6 grams fresh ground black pepper
- 6 grams ground bay leaves
- 1/2 cup minced parsley
- 30 grams sweet paprika
- Cook the chopped onions in the duck fat or lard over medium-low heat until they are caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Remove and cool them. I do this step the day before.
- Freeze the pork fat.
- Mix the pepper, parsley, bay leaves and paprika.
- Cut the pork and fat into 1 to 2-inch chunks and put into separate bowls. Coat everything with the spice mix.
- Chill everything: bowls, grinder parts, sausage stuffer parts, and especially the meat, fat and blood. I put everything in the freezer for a few hours.
- Take the hog casings out and put what you need in a bowl of warm water. Depending on their width, you’ll need 10-20 feet worth. Many places sell casings specifically to make 5 pound batches. Be sure to drape the end of each casing over the side so you can find it later.
- Mix both salts. Take the meat and fat out of the freezer and add the salt mixture.
- Using the coarse die, grind the meat, then the fat (separately), into a bowl set in another bowl with ice set in it. Cold matters! If you wish, you can run everything through the fine die — but if you do, you will need to keep the meat and fat separate until then.
- Put the meat and fat into the freezer and clean up.
- Fill the largest pot you own with water and heat it to steaming, but not boiling. Ideally you want something like 180 degrees.
- Meanwhile, attach the paddle to your KitchenAid or other mixer, or, alternately, get a stout wooden spoon. Take the meat and fat mixture out and add the cooked onions. Pour in about a pint of blood. Stir on Level 1 on the mixer or with the wooden spoon. Add some more blood as you go; it’s not an exact science. You want a loose slurry that is quasi-emulsified — a consistency like pancake batter.
- When it is the consistency you want, put the mix back in the fridge and clean up. Get your sausage-stuffer ready and thread a hog casing onto it.
- Pour the mix into the sausage stuffer and begin making your sausages. Make the whole casing before you tie them into links. This is a little tricky, and it helps to have a second person help. You need to tie off blood sausage because it is very loose inside and twisted links will fall out. Repeat until you are done with all the sausage. Get the largest bowl you own and fill it 2/3 of the way up with ice and water.
- If you have some wooden dowels, use them to GENTLY lower the sausages into the pot of hot water — hot meaning about 160 degrees. Do one at a time. Let the sausages poach for 10 minutes and then place them in the ice water.
- When the sausages are cool, remove them gently and hang them to dry out for an hour or so. You can now smoke them, or cook in any way you’d like.