Blood soup: two words that aren’t commonly listed on Australian menus. But for many around the world, it’s a hearty, tasty dish. In Poland, it’s called czernina and consists of duck blood. In Monterrey, Mexico, it’s called fritada, and it’s made of goat blood. In Korea, haejangguk soup is considered a local hangover cure, and its star ingredient is ox blood.
Closer to home, if you find yourself at any traditional Vietnamese joint, chances are the menu features bún bò huê, a beef broth with vermicelli noodles and cubes of coagulated pork blood. Many delicatessens sell black pudding or boudin noir, a sausage made from the red stuff, as do fine-dining institutions such as Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney and British-style eateries such as the Duchess of Spotswood and The Last Jar pub in Melbourne.
Across Europe, almost every country has its own version of black pudding. Romeo Baudouin of Sydney’s Victor Churchill butcher says, “It’s all about the philosophy of using the nose-to-tail of the pig – you don’t waste anything.”
In French cooking, Baudouin explains, blood is also used to thicken sauces, as with civet de lapin – a rabbit stew.
Indeed, Australia’s European diaspora never entirely stopped cooking with and eating blood, a tradition that has been passed on to younger generations born in Australia.
“I have often asked myself the same question – why do so many Australian clients have a negative reaction when I tell them morcilla contains blood?” says Maree Rodriguez. She’s using the Spanish name for black pudding, which she describes as a cornerstone of Spanish cuisine. She runs Sydney-based Rodriguez Brothers, a producer and importer of Spanish smallgoods.
Morcilla burgos is a traditional blood sausage with rice, which people use for breakfast or a provincial Spanish dish called fabada. Morcilla dulce, meanwhile, is made with sugar, sultanas, pork blood and fat – a variety Rodriguez says is particularly popular with the Uruguayan and Philippine communities.
“We all grew up eating morcilla,” says Rodriguez, who is half Sicilian and half Croatian. “My mother would add pan-fried black pudding to pasta dishes or boil it in Croatian-style stews. It carries the flavour of the dish.”
“My husband is from Extremadura in Spain,” she adds. “And they eat black pudding every other day.”
In addition to a long list of delis, Rodriguez Brothers supplies morcilla to a number of Sydney’s Spanish restaurants, but also to a growing number of chefs outside that cuisine. “Spain is a popular travel destination for Australians,” she says. "I feel this has contributed to the local demand."
Mr Wong chef Dan Hong got his culinary start in the kitchens of his family’s Vietnamese restaurants in Sydney, and says he uses blood when making his own black pudding. “I don’t see the big deal. I’ve grown up eating blood jelly in Vietnamese noodle soups my whole life,” he says. "It’s delicious, and has its own minerally, earthy flavour.”
Not surprisingly, the taste of blood changes from animal to animal. “We generally use pig’s blood for most things because it’s readily available,” explains Luxembourg Bar & Bistro’s Chris Watson. “It’s traditionally the type you use for black pudding.” He’s also used hare blood (“quite gamey”) and venison blood to make boudin noir.
Watson recently served a dessert called sanguinaccio, which he describes as similar to chocolate custard, but thickened with blood, as well as eggs. Needless to say, he says it’s super rich.
Of course, certain communities consider consumption of blood not just unappealing, but highly taboo. Jewish and Islamic religious lore, for example, both include rules about not consuming the blood of animals.
Riding the paleo wave and a string of celebrity endorsements, bone broth has recently become a food of the moment. “I don’t know if someone’s trying to market it a certain way, but all soup stocks are based around the bones,” Watson says.
Certainly the bone broth appearing on blogs and Instagram feeds is no different to the stock cooked for hundreds of years in Jewish households for matzo-ball soup, or Vietnamese kitchens for pho.
“Soups and broths are a part of everyday South East Asian cuisine,” says chef Dan Hong. “When I make a chicken stock, it’s always Asian style. It consists of whole boiled chickens, ginger and spring onions.” He uses the broth as a base for noodle soups, stir-fries or sauces.
Kate Harris at Cherry Tree Organics can barely keep up with the increasing demand for bones, which like the rise in offal requests, she attributes to the broth trend and paleo dieters. But for many chefs, using bones is not trendy – it’s simply good cooking.
“Every cuisine makes chicken soup,” says Neil Gottheiner, chef and owner of Sydney restaurants Lox Stock & Barrel and Brown Sugar. “Go to the most remote village in Vietnam and they’ll be cooking chicken or bone soup. Everyone has always done it out of necessity – it gives a lot of body and flavour to food.”
“We’ve always had people buying bones for soup,” says Alec Watson, a butcher at Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, echoing the responses of poultry vendors at Prahran Market. But Gary McBean of Gary’s Quality Meats in Prahran is now consistently selling out of bones such as lamb neck, especially as it starts to get colder.
“Five years ago we were throwing them out – they were for dogs,” he says of lamb necks. He adds that it is only in recent years he has left meat on the bone in the display window, because before it simply did not sell attached to the bone.
At his diner, Lox Stock & Barrel, which serves New York deli fare and thus has matzo-ball soup on the menu, Gottheiner uses a chicken-broth recipe that took him six months to perfect.
At his bistro Brown Sugar in Bondi, Sydney, he cooks up robust stocks and rich, French-style sauces using bones from lamb, chicken and other animals.
It’s not a quick exercise, however. It takes a few hours to cook. And Gottheiner – like Chris Watson – believes the lack of food scarcity that accompanied the post- World War Two years, and the concurrent industrialisation of food, had a lot to do with why younger generations are not so bone-broth savvy.
“It was just the way you cooked – you used every part of the animal,” Gottheiner says of the earlier part of the 20th century. “Now, cooking with bones and offal and blood is not something you teach children,” he says. Gottheiner estimates he uses roughly 25 litres of fish stock each week, and he puts veal stock on the stove every morning, and it disappears every day.
“If you’re going to have a French or Italian kitchen you have to start off with the bone broth. Those flavours are not going to come out of nowhere. You just can’t keep adding salt and porcini powder.”
As a child, Chris Watson remembers being disgusted by the idea of eating ox tongue – a revulsion that has long since dissipated. While he admits more generic cuts of meat, such as chicken fillet or lamb loin, can be delicious, he thinks offal is a lot more fun. “Once you start delving into offal you get a much broader range of taste and texture,” he says.
That is one of two main reasons he’s such a fan; the other concerns his belief that it’s ethically wrong for meat-eaters to avoid it. “If a cow is slaughtered, it gets a bolt gun to the head and dies, and I think its pretty unethical to say, ‘Well, I like beef fillet – I’ll eat that – but the rest of that cow I’m not interested in’. I’ve been to an abattoir and I’ve seen it all the way from start to finish and it’s confronting. When you see that, I feel eating the flesh of animal is no different to eating its organs or its blood.”
It is one thing to agree with that sentiment, but another to change long-held tastes, and Gary McBean of Gary’s Quality Meats at Prahran Market believes widespread aversion to offal in some parts of Australia is highly visceral, and related to aesthetic.
“When you slice into liver, it’s a bit more gory, because it’s blood and has a blood colour,” he says. “But to see bone marrow, it’s not so squeamish. It’s all visual, I think.” McBean is selling more of it to home cooks, however, with a noticeable rise in the demand for brains, sweetbreads, liver and tripe. He suggests this may be associated with a nostalgic return to traditional recipes, or culinary adventurers inspired by gourmet food shows such as Masterchef.
Watson admits that some offal does have, “Pretty funky flavour profiles and weird textures.” His advice is to ease into eating it, beginning, perhaps, with dishes such as chicken liver pate or smoked ox tongue. “We’ve got a braised-tripe dish on the menu at the moment. It is probably the least offensive way to eat offal – it doesn’t have any weird textures – it’s just delicious,” he says.
For Watson, the main reason many in the West – not just in Australia, but North America, too – are squeamish about parts such as kidney and heart is that a large portion of the population has simply not been exposed to it. “The industrialisation of food production has had more impact than anything else,” he says. “As premium cuts became cheaper and more available, people didn’t have to eat offal. People would eat chicken breast because they didn’t have to eat chicken hearts. Now people don’t have to eat it, they don’t.” The majority of customers who order offal at Luxembourg are an older demographic, he says.
Does he think Australians are more squeamish about offal, and also blood, than other Western cultures? “For sure,” he says quickly. “I’ve travelled through Europe quite a lot. When you go through France it’s nothing. A piece of terrine with liver in it or tripe sausage – they all eat it.”
Danny, who gave no last name and works at Max Thompson Butchers in Queen Victoria Market, has noticed the same thing. He agrees that it’s usually older people who buy offal at the store, many of whom are Spanish or Greek. “It’s been part of their cooking all their lives and they hand it down from generation to generation,” he says.
Watson might be happy to know that Kate Harris, who sells offal to home cooks at Cherry Tree Organics in Beaconsfield, has noticed a steady increase in demand over the past year. She puts the increased demand down to the popularity of health programs such as the paleo diet, which recommends organ consumption. She also thinks the growing popularity of nose-to-tail eating is a factor. “I get lots of requests for organic chicken feet to make broths with,” she says. “Organic chicken feet are very hard to source.”