Heeding blood sausage’s primal call
I confess that I have some freaky food interests, but I’m not a “foodie.” That label not only sports an infantile suffix, but is also somehow rich and skinny. For instance, the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow is a foodie. We walk the same earth, but she ate at El Bulli and probably had special appetizers sent out gratis from the chef. Porcini mushroom foams containing the penultimate breath of an endangered species are technically vegan, right?
I first tried blood sausage not with bravado, but in ignorance, as I stood in a commercial kitchen wearing a dirty apron and grimy Danish clogs. The esteemed chef (my boss at the time) who made the dark links watched me consume one and scanned my features for the signs of pleasure before revealing the defining ingredient. You either accept the warm, liquid facts or you don’t: The connotations of eating the drained spirit of another animal are impossible to ignore.
A little too late, I noticed that the shiny links sliding around the pan looked like blood clots in a test tube. My pleasure receptors were already humming before I could weigh the grim reality.
If blood sausage were music, it would be The Gourds hillbillying up Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” because this food’s look and taste are wholly disconnected. Accessible, soft and sweet, it is by volume largely pork meat. Recipes differ, but usually suggest combining the pork with some kind of grain (such as rice or barley), sweet spices, onions and even grated apple, and then adding blood. The result resembles a sausage-shaped meat pudding.
The cow’s blood (or pork blood, in Europe) adds the same unctuousness to this food as it does to a medium-rare steak: a vaguely trace-mineral flavor some people call umami. This phantom fifth flavor makes blood sausage really satisfying, and that satisfaction causes moral amnesia—or earnest “mindful carnivore” soliloquies.
I first tried morcilla de cebolla (Spanish blood sausage with onions) at La Boca in Santa Fe. Completely smitten, I later tracked down packages of it for sale in the refrigerated cases at The Spanish Table retail store on Guadalupe Street. The morcilla it offers is created in southern California (ersatz northern Spain), where, after baking, it spends time drying in a room equipped to replicate the cool, dry mountain air of its Spanish motherland.
This drying process intensifies the flavor and makes this sausage suitable for the hearty stew composed of the holy trifecta of large white Spanish fava beans, morcilla and chorizo: fabada asturiana. It’s the second most popular dish in Spain after the famous seafood paella, according to Spanish Table Manager Karen Squires, the soft-spoken—what? Epicure? Foodist? Table pleasure bunny?
According to sausage manufacturer Alex Montamedi of La Española Meats in Harbor City, Calif., everyone in the neighborhood knows when La Española’s morcilla de cebolla is cooking. He reports that the canine residents of the dog hotel—literally a block away—howl with longing when the airborne meaty molecules flood their sensitive scent receptors. They know they want it.
I should call myself a food dog(g).
72 W Marcy St.
The Spanish Table
109 N Guadalupe St.
Karla Helland, a former pastry chef, writes the FILC (Food I Like to Cook) blog on SFReporter.com.