How My Kids Learned to Love Blood Sausage and What I Learned About Parenting in the Process
Experience is the teacher of all things.
Our kitchen looked like a scene from Dexter, but far more disturbing than anything the writers for the Showtime series ever came up with. Maybe I should have expected it to play out like this, but that particular morning, as my brother-in-law Mike and I were plotting how the evening would proceed, it just didn’t occur to either of us. Turns out, in hindsight, that a gallon of pig's blood is a lot of blood.
And my daughters were covered in it up to their elbows, laughing uncontrollably.
It all began several months earlier when, at an event I was emceeing—I host wine, spirit, and food seminars around the country for corporate clients—I had the chance to speak with one of the principals of Mangalitsa by Møsefund, which grows some of the best Mangalitsa pigs I’d ever tasted. One thing led to another, as the old cliché goes, and I ended up being invited to visit their farm in northern New Jersey to check out their operation and acquire one of their heritage-breed beauties for myself.
The Mangalitsa, I should add, is a truly remarkable thing, a massive animal with shaggy gray hair and reddish meat, marbling so gorgeous it could easily compete with the stone from Carrara that Michelangelo carved David from, and a flavor somewhere between ambrosia and manna, if we’re going to stick with the biblical theme here. Modern Farmer once called it “the kobe beef of pork.”
As a result, it’s not cheap—good meat rarely is. Fortunately, when I told my friend Scott and my brother-in-law Mike (a sort of Mr. Miyagi of barbecue) about it, they were more than happy to each take a one-third share.
So, after a trip to the farm with Scott, and then a second trek a week or two later to the facility where it had been slaughtered, drained, and split in half lengthwise, we were were ready to begin our journey of piggy discovery. That afternoon, Scott and I dropped off the two halves (we had named them Pork and Mindy) at his butcher, who would then break it all down into primal cuts and render its fat. I returned home that afternoon with everything I needed for the first project: A gallon or so of freshly drained blood, a pack of ground pork shoulder, and a plastic bag of natural casings.
Which brings us back to the bloody kitchen.
I’ve always believed that parenting is equal parts love, tenderness, understanding, and brainwashing…at least when it comes to food. And we’ve succeeded, despite the occasional phase during which either Sophie or Olivia just wouldn’t eat one type of food or another. (The I-only-eat-tan-stuff one was especially bewildering. Thank goodness neither one has ever gone through an I-won’t-eat-bacon jag. Something like that actually might kill me; broken-heart syndrome is a real thing, I’ve heard.)
Indeed, their love for bacon and belly and ribs and sausage in all their infinite and tasty incarnations has, over the short stretch of their lives so far, become one of their culinary guiding lights, and one of mine and Steffi’s greatest points of pride as parents. (Also, they’re polite, kind, smart children. But mainly we’re proud of the bacon thing. Priorities!) So it didn’t take a whole lot of convincing to get them to help Mike and I whip up a batch of blood sausage.
“So, like, it is really made of blood?” Sophie asked, the skin at the top of her nose crinkling, as if she had just realized what ‘blood sausage’ meant. It was at that moment that I made the executive decision to start using the Spanish word, morcilla, for any and all future references, despite the fact that our recipe wasn’t exactly a proper morcilla.
“Uh-huh,” I said. “But also meat and bread and spices, too.”
Olivia chimed in, “But it won’t be spicy, right?” She wasn’t yet three years old at the time, but her food vocabulary was, to quote the Ben Stiller character in Meet the Parents, strong to very strong. Words for math and politics and cleaning up after she made a mess, not so much. But spices and baking terminology? That was, as the kids don’t ever really say anymore, totally her jam.
“No, just some of the paprika I brought back from Spain, and salt and pepper and garlic and some other spices, but it definitely won’t be spicy-hot.”
“I wanna see the blood!” Sophie started jumping up and down.
Mike took the plastic bag out of the fridge and set it on the counter, right next to the bowl of ground pork shoulder.
“Cool!” Sophie yelled.
“Eww!” Olivia yelled even louder, running to Steffi.
“If you want to eat the sausage, though, honey,” I told her, “you know the rule: You have to help Uncle Mike and Sophie and I make it.”
She thought for a second, weighing, I imagine, her repulsion at the bag of pig’s blood on the counter against her deep and abiding love of sausage. Eventually, she dropped her chin, slumped her narrow shoulders, and came over to the counter, climbing up on one of the kitchen chairs we’d pulled over for the girls to stand on.
“Okay,” Mike said, “here we go. Sophie, can you add the salt and garlic? And Olivia, can you add pinches of the paprika and pepper?"
They both began seasoning the meat with theatrical flourishes—they had recently been watching Ratatouilleon a more or less constant loop; it was the best money we had ever spent on Apple TV—and apparently believed that real chefs seasoned dishes with the sort of balletic histrionics that the movie implies they do.
“And now for the blood,” I announced, at which point they both widened their eyes in some sort of Platonic Ideal of fear. “Here we go…” I began pouring the vivid liquid, the occasional congealed clump glugging with a smack onto the meat, each one punctuated by a shout of “Gross!” or “Nasty!” or “Cool!”
“Alright, ladies,” Mike told them, “let’s get our hands in there and start mixing it up.”
They only hesitated for a moment, and before I knew it, the four of us were in there squishing the meat and spices and blood between our fingers, the girls red-armed up to their elbows and laughing uncontrollably.
Once mixed, it was time to fill the casings. Mike and I took turns spooning the cherry-toned meat into the top of the attachment on the front of the Kitchen-Aid; Sophie, with her better fine-motor skills at nearly six years old, guided the casings as they were filled.
“It feels like poop!” she proclaimed.
“How would you know?” Olivia asked.
“Fair question,” Steffi muttered from the kitchen table.
We filled the last of the casings 45 minutes later, at which point it was way past the girls’ bedtime.
“Oh, come on you guys,” Sophie begged, “we can’’t go to bed without trying one.”
So we cooked one up. A bit of blood trickled out as the casing split in the hot olive oil, setting off another round of screaming. I cut the sausage into five pieces, and we all sat at the table for the first taste-test.
“Yummy!” Sophie said.
“Bloody, but good,” Olivia concurred.
“Mike?” I said. “We forgot to add the bread.”
“Which is why it’s so dry,” he deduced.
Sophie took another bite and chewed thoughtfully. “It’s definitely a little dry, but I like it. And know what it’ll be great with tomorrow morning? Pancakes and syrup, which is sort of bread anyway!” She speared the final piece of sausage on her fork and contemplated the glistening nub. “My friends are gonna freak out when they hear about this tomorrow at school."
I had no doubt they would.