Why Chefs Are (Finally) Cooking With Blood

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rom Austin to Boston to Portland, some of the nations’ best-known chefs are embracing an oft-maligned ingredient: blood. What has become, in recent times, the final frontier of all things offal is now a culinary darling. Well, almost. Chefs like Andy Ricker (Pok Pok; Portland, New York, Los Angeles), Jamie Bissonnette (Toro; Boston, New York), Alex Stupak (Empellon; New York) and Paul Qui (Qui; Austin) are using blood in more than a few of their dishes. Although the chefs’ styles are all very different, they share one thing in common: Each strives to cook authentic iterations of global cuisines that have all relied on blood as a supporting ingredient for centuries.

Pok Pok’s Northern Thai influences, Toro’s Spanish roots, Stupak’s Mexican flavors, and Qui’s Filipino leanings all feature blood as a thickener, a rehydrating agent, coloring agent, or simply enough, a flavor enhancer. These are not the only global cuisines that feature blood: It’s also used in Taiwanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Irish, Portuguese, Swedish, Peruvian, and Mexican food—to name just a few. More cuisines use blood than not. Although one can certainly find blood in American kitchens—if one looks hard enough—it’s most likely in a nod to other cuisines.

“It’s definitely an acquired taste,” says Andrew Knowlton, BA’s restaurant and drinks editor, and big-time blood fan. “Maybe we’ve just seen too many horror films, but if you can get past that, it’s got this intense minerality that I really crave.” He cites about-to-reopen Aska’s blood cracker, and Estela’s blood croquetta (both in Manhattan) as prime examples of how a little blood can add richness and depth to a dish. But that’s not the only reason chefs are choosing to cook with blood.

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Blood is prized for both pleasure and efficiency. It’s a superb thickener, provided it hasn’t been frozen and congealed, says Bissonnette, who makes a sausage of roughly 40 percent blood at Toro. Pig’s blood is typically favored for its sweeter, lighter flavor. (Beef blood can be gamey, and although gelatinous and mild, chicken blood is hard to source, says Ricker.) Whatever the animal, blood’s deep, rich color is not lost on chefs who prize it for its aesthetics: At Sen Yai, Ricker’s Thai-influenced noodle shop, they “add a little [blood] to boat noodles to make the broth rich and the color nice.” Stupak is experimenting with blood to rehydrate house-made masa harina into crimson tortillas for a potential menu offering later this year. (Masa harina is a dried and powdered form of corn.)

For Qui, who serves a version of the Filipino pork blood stew dinuguan at Qui, it’s all about the richness blood adds. “Blood gives you that richness and flavor you want, without being too heavy,” he says. “And, I think it’s healthier [than butter].” Qui uses both rabbit and duck blood in addition to the more typical pork blood. He notes that the best quality blood is a deep, almost-black color; bright red means it’s been oxidized.

And for the increasing amount of chefs who are purchasing whole animals direct from farmers—say, a whole pig rather than a dozen shrink-wrapped tenderloins—making good use of every part of the carcass is just good financial management. Bissonnette purchases whole pigs direct from farmers who, when requested, will also include the blood (many farmers let a pig “bleed out” after slaughter, not bothering to capture and save the blood because, well, until recently it wasn’t desired). “It keeps the food costs down if you can find ways to use the cheek, the tail, the ear, the marrow…and the blood,” he says.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>