Blood seems to have acquired a negative connotation in cooking in the last few years. Despite the huge amount of iron, and other valuable minerals in blood, getting hold of it is becoming harder and harder. On more than one occasion over the last year I have been informed that it is mandatory now for abattoirs to throw away the blood from slaughtered animals. This is not true. I also read that a huge amount of the commercially made black pudding uses imported dried blood (I would not be surprised if this was true). I was pleased then to be told that my pigs blood could be collected at slaughter time and kept for me to use. There was plenty of it, almost 7 litres, collected in two large sterilised milk cartons, and then frozen ASAP.
And so last week I decided I was relaxed enough to have a go at making our first ever black puddings. I was by now getting used to the idea of the amount of preparation needed for anything ends up in a sausage casing. The cereal content (oats and pearl barley) had to be soaked/cooked. The hard back fat had to be cut into tiny pieces. I am learning about hard back fat, and the best way to get it small is to cut it into inch by inch chunks, then into the freezer for an hour, just to harden it up, then it will go through the mincer and come out as small pieces, not as a melting mush.
Finally the casing had to be washed, cut into lengths and tied at one end. We only use natural casings, so washing the salt preserve from them is pretty important.
Now for the blood, I opening the container and poured it out. Some came out, a lot had thickened already. I cut apart the container and put the blood in the liquidiser. Finally straining it twice through a fine sieve to get rid of small particles that had clotted. I could now mix in the salt, pepper, spices, herbs and rum, with the feeling that at last a recipe was happening.
The recipe was quite easy to follow, but the amount was huge: onions, the minced fat, the oats, then the spiced blood, some cream and finally the pearl barley. I stirred it all together and indeed it looked like a big red mess with bits in.
(At this point I was going to insert a picture, but complaints from the vegetarian sector have meant it has been withdrawn).
Now for the fun part.
Unusually for Hugh FW, his recipe (which I followed to the letter) did not indicate HOW MANY black puddings we would get. I had made up 12 casings, and this looked far too few, we made another 12.
I now had to slide the open end of the casing over the thin end of a funnel, while Maria scooped out a jug full of the mix and poured it into the funnel. Hugh was right about one vital piece of equipment, a chopstick to push the mix down. At some point I decided we had enough filling and attempted to tie a knot in the end. It is a bit like blowing up a balloon, there is always the temptation to go a bit too far then spend ages trying to tie the knot without spilling it all.
Once we had 6 ready I wanted to try cooking them. A pan of water is brought to a gentle boil, and three of the puddings were carefully placed in a basket and lowered into the water. After 10-15 minutes, using a pin to prick and test, they were declared done and plunged in cold water before drying on tea towels. We carried on filling the puddings, only to find that the knots at one end would undo just as we had finished filling. At first we laughed.. “what are we like”. After the fourth time it happened it was more like cries of anguish as we started again one more time (I am convinced it was the ones Maria tied, she was thinking the opposite). Finally we had 23 puddings ready to go. The kitchen meanwhile looked like a scene from Sweeney Todd on a bad night.
It was now 9pm and we needed to eat and sit down.
Back in the kitchen we were thrilled to see the drying puddings looking “just like the real thing”.
I spent another hour and a half poaching the rest, and went to bed tired and quite happy.
The big test was breakfast. I cut one open. It was actually not the hard pudding I was used to, but a softer, slightly sticky texture, and more delicate in taste. We fried up a few slices each and ate them with scrambled eggs. Yummy.
This was one of the longest days of the pig processing so far, and one of the most rewarding, AND we still have another 3.4 litres of frozen blood to play with.