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It's in the Blood: A Fading Legacy
With plenty of Poles, Italians, Irish, French and Filipinos in the United States, you might expect this tradition to be growing, but this kind of cooking dies out from generation to generation. "Years ago, we carried blutwurst and had older people inquiring about blood," recalls Fuchs. "Nobody asks about it anymore. I order three blutwursts, sell one and throw two away."
Still, there is a glimmer of hope for a form of cooking that was once the domain of peasants trying not to waste a bit of precious food. Upscale restaurants featuring authentic cuisines are building on success with once-reviled organ meats and selling blood dishes.
Brasserie Les Halles on Pennsylvania Avenue serves boudin aux pommes (blood sausages with caramelized apples and mashed potatoes), says manager Matthew Murray, who adds that the charm of the restaurant is its authenticity. "Customers know what these dishes are, and they come for them." Les Halles makes its own boudin at its flagship butcher shop in New York and regularly features specials that include blood in their preparation. "Blood is a very common ingredient in French cooking," Murray says.
Thomas Keller's bistro Bouchon in Yountville, Calif., serves a boudin noir with potato puree, caramelized apples and browned butter. The sausages are made by Marcel et Henri, a charcuterie in South San Francisco. Yvette Etchepare, the shop's director of marketing, says Argentines, Finns, Italians and Swedes have come to the charcuterie after trying the sausage at Bouchon. " Boudin noir is a flavor from their past," she says.
To Etchepare, blood sausage only makes sense: "When you slaughter an animal, you want to use as much of it as you can." Marcel et Henri combines the blood from a large pork producer with a mixture of spices and coarsely chopped snout, tongue and jowls from Niman Ranch pigs, then stuffs the mixture into natural casings.
Niman Ranch produces all-natural, hormone-free meats, but John Peterson, Niman's vice president of pork, says the company's harvesting of pig blood happens "rarely and on a small scale." The key to the process, he says, "is to keep the blood from coming into contact with the hair or skin of the animal -- or anything else. Blood from a healthy animal is very sterile."
Trendy entrees in upscale restaurants notwithstanding, blood cooking might never become popular in the United States. Wagshal's Market's Fuchs thinks he knows why. "People here can afford good cuts of meat to feed their families," he says. "They don't have to make something -- even something that tastes good -- out of the rest of the animal."
Still, if you're in the market, he can get you a gallon of beef blood for about $20.
Shawn Cunningham is a freelance writer living in Vermont.