After I was born we spent 1-2 years back in Switzerland, and although it is really hard to remember anything when you are that age, I do remember one thing very vividly – the taste and smell of Blutwurst. It was something I longed for growing up later on in Australia, but never really encountered. In every likelihood there were Swiss or German butchers that produced them, but access to those staples probably required membership in some underground charcuterie network. Most people don’t really like the idea of eating blood sausage, maybe because they are squeamish eaters? The reality is, unlike some of the processed junk we eat, blood sausages are filled with protein, iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Black pudding on a “full Scottish” breakfast (at The Old Bakery, in Carrbridge, Scotland).
In Canada the Blutwurst is better known by its French appellation, boudin noir. The English have a variant known as black pudding (or blood sausage), the Iberian peninsula, morcilla. Regardless of its origin, the main ingredient is of course, blood. This usually means pigs blood, but some places they use blood from cows, oxen, or sheep. To the blood are added fillers, usually to give the sausage substance. The Scots add oatmeal, or sometimes barley to it, while in Europe, potatoes or rice. In Denmark, it is known as Blod-Pølse and contains sheeps blood in combination with ingredients such as fat, bacon, barley, brown sugar, raisins, rye flour, applesauce, spices, and, salt. Austrians make it using the roasted meat from a pigs head, pigs blood, dumpling bread, and root vegetables. The French like to add onions, pork cheeks or bacon, and lard pieces. The Swiss use a combination of pigs blood and milk (or cream), in addition to a small amount of fat, and maybe onions, giving a very smooth textured sausage.
Boudin noir slowly sautéing in the pan.
Blood sausages date back to a time when a select number of animals were butchered in the late fall or early winter to provide food during the winter months. Nothing would be wasted, so the animal’s blood was mixed with fat, oatmeal and seasonings, and packed into a length of the animal’s intestine. This was then boiled, and could be stored for a few weeks. In Scotland, the black pudding is a breakfast treat, usually prepared as a slice from a large sausage which is then fried. In the Germanic countries they are cooked as whole sausages, sometimes fried, or gently cooked in hot water. In Europe they are eaten with potatoes and sauerkraut, or potatoes, or maybe just sautéed apples. The modern tradition of boudin noir in France is more diverse than other regions. Dishes include émincé de boudin noir aux pommes (et aux pommes de terre), where the blood sausage is sliced before grilling and is served with caramelized apple wedges and fried potatoes, or tarte au boudin noir et aux deux pommes, which is boudin noir in tart form!
The cooked boudin noir with apples slowly sautéed in butter.
The thing is, blood sausages don’t actually taste or smell of blood. They usually have a deep, dark red colour before cooking, but after cooking they appear almost black, hence the name black pudding (the term black pudding however derives from the French boudin noir, with “pudding” being an anglicized pronunciation of boudin). Depending on the additions, they can have almost a pudding-like mouthfeel (obviously adding oatmeal belies a grainier texture). This is because as the blood proteins coagulate during cooking they form a gel, similar to that of an egg white as an egg is boiled whole.
Getting hold of a tasty boudin noir in Canada use to be confined to shopping in Montreal, where one can also buy boudin blanc, the fine-textured white version of the sausage which is traditionally French (it is made with pork meat, and can include pork liver and heart meat). In Montreal you can find it at Marche Jean Talon, or any number of the fine butchers at Marche Atwater. In Toronto you can find it made fresh at a number of select new generation butchers – Sanagan’s Meat Locker produces a fine version, at Cumbrae‘s you can typically find it in the freezer section, and I have also bought it from Butcher’s of Distinction on Queen East. If you want to eat blood sausage at a restaurant, head to Montreal, where you can order an extremely rich foie gras and boudin tart at Au Pied de Cochon.
Note that blood sausages are considered to be “cooked” sausages, whereby most of the ingredients, except the blood are pre-cooked. In the German-speaking regions of Switzerland there is a cousin to the Blutwurst – the Leberwurst, or liver sausage, made in a similar fashion.