fiddlehead definition

fid·dle·head [ fídd'l hèd ] (plural fid·dle·heads) noun
Definition: edible fern shoot: the coiled frond of a young fern, often cooked and eaten as a delicacy

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Blood Dinner

When I first saw the question posed on twitter- Is Atlanta ready for blood?- I was a first responder with "yes." My thoughts not only flooded with the organoleptic properties of blood but of the cultural significance and religious implications the consumption of blood carries. I was intrigued, to say the least. Besides being an experiment with an underutilized/taboo ingredient, the dinner would be crafted by a collection of some of Atlanta's best chefs, including Zeb Stevenson of The Livingston and Proof & Provision, Tyler Williams of Abattoir, Ryan Smith of Empire State South, and Josh Hopkins of STG Trattoria.

Blood is an ingredient infused in the eating habits and cultures around the world yet held as an aversion by Americans. It's confounding, especially with the American obsession with all things vampire. As pop culture overflows with the vampire genre, we neglect and abhor a ready made, nutrient rich, liquid meal. Do we put it in disfavor because it makes us squeamish or because of its supposed sanctity?

Blood sausage is probably the form blood takes on most plates around the world- black pudding in Ireland and the UK, blutwurst in Germany, moronga in Mexico,  morcilla in Spain, and boudin noir in France are all very similar preparations. Soup is also a great way to utilize blood. Besides being a great thickener, it can also be the main component of the dish, like in swartsoppa (duck blood soup) in Sweden and czernina (duck blood and poultry broth) in Poland. In Taiwan there is a special soup with "dark tofu," which is actually cubes of congealed duck blood. Sangre frita in Spain is a dish of cubes of coagulated blood boiled then pan fried with onions.

Some cultures even drink blood,  not a practice of hematophagy (subsisting on blood) , but more for rituals and medicinal benefits. Mesoamericans drank human blood to appease the gods. The Masai of Kenya and Tanzania drink blood on special occasions like circumcisions, birth, or to help the sick. The Mursi of Ethiopia mix blood with milk as a drink. In Nepal there is even a blood drinking festival where the Nepalese trek up a mountain for a yak. The yak is not killed, but its throat is cut. After a drink of hot yak blood, thought to have medicinal qualities, they set the yak free. In Mongolia, shaman drink a mixture of sheep blood and vodka in hopes of connecting them with the souls of their ancestors. Eskimos drink seal blood for nourishment and also in an effort to honor the seal and waste nothing.

Nose to tail eating hearkens back to early times, but apparently not as early as biblical times. Inside the bible can be found many passages strictly prohibiting the eating of blood.  "Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. " (Deut. 12:23) "But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood." (Gen. 9:4) Not only are we no supposed to consume it, we should "take heed not to eat their blood, but pour it out on the earth as water." (Deut. 15:23) Commingled with the prohibition of all things blood are rituals that mimic hematophagy. “…eat my flesh and drink my blood….” (John 6:53-56) Transubstantiation of wine as the blood of Jesus during the Christian Eucharist quickly comes to mind. And yet we sat anxious for our first course of blood.

The evening began with drinks in the bar area of The Livingston with a Blood and Sand cocktail- one of few classic cocktails made with scotch. Blood and Sand, named/created for the bullfight movie of the same name with Rudolph Valentino, is a delicious concoction of scotch, blood orange, vermouth, and Cherry Heering. Chef Zeb Stevenson welcomed us, ushered us into the dining room, and assured us that we would be enchanted with the dishes and the chef ensemble. His hope was that dinners like this could enlighten us and remind us of our connection to food. I was enchanted from the start with the introduction of currant bread mixed with bacon and pork blood and served with bone marrow butter. Hot damn.
Hamachi Bloodline

The blood line (chiai)  is a streak of dark meat running the length of the fish near the spine. It is very dark red when fresh, has a stronger taste, and even a different consistency. Sushi tsu have a penchant for it. I have always thought it was a piece to avoid because of the strong flavor it produces. Enter the first dish of the night (also my favorite) with a brief cure on the hamachi, satsuma, crisp lardo, radishes, white soy, and cured blood frozen with liquid nitrogen that was dusted onto the plate. Bright, unctious, and memorable.
Pairing: Piper Heidsieck cuvee 1785 Brut, France. Fresh, with citrus notes.  

Coddle Egg
The coddled egg course, prettiest dish of the evening, included beets, puffed farro, foie gras & pork blood torchon, and bits of white chocolate. Individually, the ingredients were pretty spectacular and became more so when combining the elements. The table was pretty quiet while we tasted and though about these flavors.
Pairing: Loimer 'Lois" Gruner Veltliner, Austria 2010. Pale yellow in color, crisp, lemony. Great food wine.
Eel blood on rim before dashi was poured
Eel Dashi

 Inside this bowl rimmed with eel blood was a delicate broth, smoked eel, mushrooms, a quail egg, and pickled lotus root. It was perfect- savory, umami, tangy, light yet rich. It had depth, complexity, and balance. I would love this to be on a menu somewhere in Atlanta, sans the blood rim.
Pairing: Glen Carlou Chardonney, South Africa 2009. Fruity, oaky, rich.

Ox Blood Strozzapretti

Pastas and the way they are named for the objects they resemble make me happily don my etymology hat. This shape is a favorite; "Strozzapretti" means "priest strangler" in Italian. Not only did we have priest stranglers on our dishes, but they were made from ox blood and accompanied by rabbit sugo. Not strangling on my end, just smiling as they slipped down my throat.
Pairing: Solena Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2010. Spicy notes.
Blood Sausage
Our table was very chatty and giggly at this point. All preconceived notions of a blood dinner were put to ease with the dishes we had tasted so far. I loved the simplicity of this one- blood sausage, glazed radishes, and barrel cured apples. My favorite moment of the night happened while eating this dish when a table mate wondered aloud "these are so apple-y; I wonder what they are." Apples.
Pairing: Felino Malbec, Argentina 2010. Deep red, peppery, berries, spice aromas.
Pressed Squab
 This dish was also a performance in that diners watched as the squab was pressed in a meat press. The blood gravy was stirred next to it and eventually poured onto our plates. Roasted carrots and stewed prunes were served family style. 
Pairing: Charles & Charles Cabernet-Syrah blend, Walla Walla Valley 2010. Inky with dark cherry flavors.

Bloody Pebbles
A special pre-dessert interlude of bloody pebbles-pork blood creme anglaise drizzled into liquid nitrogen then mixed with pomegranate seeds was paired with a piece of blood styrofoam. Yep. Blood styrofoam. The pebbles were interesting in a super cold, iron-like, slippery mouth-feel, afraid to bite into them kind of way. I liked the inclusion of pomegranate seeds. It was kind of tasty. Weird, but tasty. The styrofoam tasted like, well, blood.
Flaming Crepes
Resplendent blood orange crepes arrived with beef blood ganache. Before I read the menu, I predicted a chocolate dessert with blood as a thickener. I had read about the tradition of making sanguinaccio, a chocolate pudding made with pigs blood, during the time of pig slaughter in Italy. Descriptions of it were just as the ganache tasted, just like dark chocolate only richer.  The pairing with this last dish was my favorite of the evening, L'Arco Pario Veneto 2004. It was succulent, rich, and velvety with a lingering finish. I enjoyed my glass (or two) with fellow diners and the chefs as we discussed our favorite bites of the evening. Enchantment, check. By the way, enchantment is also prohibited in the bible (Lev. 19:26).

Both my palate and my mind were heightened by this experience. It wasn't merely the food or the inventiveness of the chefs, but also the conversation a meal like this evoked. Dialogue stemming from a taboo topic and listening to different worldviews created an evening of intellectual growth. And that brings me back to blood. Said Rilke: "...if you set this brain of mine on fire, then on my blood I yet will carry you." The night set me afire and I will carry it with me.

Blood Dinner Menu