The Curious Peasant

at Peasant Publishing

Lost skills in cookery, craft, and culture.

Black pudding from Leon, Spain

I love black pudding, or blood pudding to give it it's non PC name, and the variety available never ceases to amaze me. It is the peasant food par excellence made with the philosophy that nothing of an animal should be wasted, not even it's blood.

Some communities have an antipathy or moral objection to eating something made out of blood but others prefer to waste nothing, realising the immense nutritional value of what might otherwise be thrown away.

After slaughtering a pig the blood is collected and quickly stirred so that it doesn't coagulate. Later mixed with some sort of thickener, flavoured with herbs and spices and stuffed into casings tied at each end, it is gently boiled and allowed to cool. It can be eaten hot or cold and every community has their own variety. I have eaten black pudding in Scotland, large diameter circles that are quite fatty and thickened with oat meal. Irish black puddings, slender sausages thick with barley and becoming quite crisp when fried. In my opinion, the best black pudding in England comes from Derbyshire. Quite substantial rings of a soft mix, gently speckled with back fat. Delicious fried for breakfast with a runny egg or, even more so, combined with perfectly fried scallops; a marriage made in heaven.

The French boudin noir is usually softer than its English counterpart. The variety of added flavourings is also larger. Mixed with apple, combined with onions, or even a slightly hot version with chillies in, it is more normally eaten as part of a main course, served with Puy lentils for instance.

In Spain morcilla also comes in numerous varieties. One I bought from a butcher in Navarre was so strongly flavoured (it may even have been off) that we fed it to the crayfish in the local river. They went mad for it and we could see them advancing with raised claws before gobbling it up. In Burgos recently, a town famed for it's connection with El Cid, and of course for its morcilla, we ate rounds of a dry pudding, lightly flavoured with paprika. Very delicious. But in Leon, not that far from Burgos we were in for a bit of a shock.

As a 'one-off' experience we were staying the Parador de Leon. The hotel is in an astonishing building, once a monastery, and is attached to the Church of San Marco. The interior cloister of the hotel is glorious. A 16th century stone haven of peace and tranquility. We were looking forward to our dinner in the hotel dining room and were delighted to see morcilla on the menu. I like to think I am quite an adventurous eater - I will always try the think on the menu that I haven't tried before and I love offal but, in this instance, the old adage that one eats with ones eyes first certainly holds true.

My morcilla arrived as a large semi-liquid puddle of black sitting in a complicated bird's nest of micro chips. Not put off, despite the resemblance to something my very unwell dog might have produced, I tucked in. It wasn't very nice. Very rich, tepid, strongly flavoured with paprika and with a texture like sloppy porridge. Even I could only manage half of it!

Morcilla

Now in more normal accommodation, a tiny converted cow shed on the side of a deserted valley at 500m in the Asturian hills, we have just had morcilla for breakfast. A slender sausage with huge lumps of fat and heavily seasoned with paprika. Not terribly nice eaten in the English style but I can imagine the depth of flavour it would add to the classic Asturian Fabada.