Blood Thirsty: Everything You Need to Know about Collecting and Cooking with Blood

Blood Thirsty: Everything You Need to Know about Collecting and Cooking with Blood

A Scottish breakfast typically includes eggs, beans, bread, and, if you’re lucky, some tomato. It’s a simple dish (some might say boring) that doesn’t reflect the rich history of castles, whiskey distilleries, and regal stags associated with Scottish culture. But redemption for this tired dish sits on the edge of the plate as a slice of blood sausage. Known as black pudding to the Brits, this semi-sweet, iron-y delicacy had me questioning my own animal processing methods. A year later, I found myself dangling the carcass of a doe pronghorn by its hind legs like I was trying to shake the change out of its pockets.

Blood has become taboo in the American kitchen. Regarded as repulsive by many, its place as an ancestral link to the early American’s need for food has been forgotten. Though we now consider it waste, some cultures have stuck with it, perfecting distinctive recipes using blood as the defining ingredient, and in some cases, the only ingredient.

Blood Thirsty
The Maasai in Africa are well known for their rudimentary practice of consuming raw blood straight from a live cow’s necks. Blood drains from the jugular vein into a cup and when full, they plug the lesion with a piece of dung. After the tap is sealed, they immediately drink the blood, often mixing it with milk. Filipinos have a taste for blood too, celebrating their dish called dinuguan. This stew incorporates blood, vinegar, spices, and offal in a mixture that wastes little from the animal. And likely the most approachable method, Scandinavians make Blodplättar pancakes, frequently topping them with sweet lingonberry jam. These methods only scratch the surface of what’s possible. A simple internet search of “blood recipes” will lead the curious down a rabbit hole of fascinating preparations. Suffice it to say, those who turn their noses up at blood are missing out on a versatile, bountiful, and valuable ingredient according to global standards.    

But before hanging up the camo jacket for a cloak and dagger, hunters must consider a few things. The double-edged sword of chasing wild animals is the inherent unpredictability and lack of control. It’s not as simple as shooting a domestic animal in the forehead with a bolt-gun, but that’s why we love it. Shot placement, cleanliness, and timeliness are principal concerns if the goal is to bring home blood. A poorly placed shot into a bacteria-rich organ like the intestines will introduce an array of unappetizing pathogens into the cardiovascular system. Consequently, a solid lung, heart, or head shot should be a prerequisite.

Once you’ve pulled the trigger, it’s a race against the clock. The longer you wait or chase a wounded animal, the less blood you have to work with as it quickly clots or drains out. Animals that drop immediately or soon after the shot provide the most yield.

Out for Blood
After death, blood rushes out of the afflicted area and no longer pumps through the veins. This means in a heart or lung shot situation, the animal will have great quantities in the chest cavity. Referring back to my pronghorn last year, I simply used gravity to my advantage, draining the blood from the entrance wound into a mason jar by holding up the hind legs. I filled the jar with plenty of blood to spare. However, I likely contaminated the blood as it ran over the musky pronghorn hair.

Nick Phillips, butcher and owner of Sweet Cheeks Meats in Jackson, Wyoming, said you should clear a patch of hair around where the blood will drain to reduce the possibility of contamination when you’re harvesting blood. Another option would be to use a turkey baster to draw blood from the shot wound. It would solve the issue of hair contamination but I can’t attest to its effectiveness.

One last noteworthy method is the “stitch and scoop” I witnessed during my time in Nepal. In a strange order of events, I was asked to join and photograph a group of Himalayan butchers while they processed a cherished yak. The animal was stabbed in the heart with a kukri sword and then the wound stitched closed with its own wool to keep the liquid gold from draining onto the dirt. Then they set the yak on its back and opened the chest cavity along the sternum and used a bowl to scoop the blood into a large vat. If the shot is not a through-and-through, or the animal is not visibly draining, a hunter could apply the same principles without carrying sutures. You could brace the animal on its back and open up the bottom of the ribcage, or leave it on its side and remove a couple ribs behind the shoulder in order to scoop blood into a vessel.

After collecting the liquid in a water-tight container, it should be handled with haste in the field. Meat contaminated with bacteria can be remedied by removing the outer layer of exposed muscle, but since blood is a liquid, any pathogens that may be present will be evenly distributed. For this reason, any cooking you do with blood should always reach 160˚F in order to kill harmful bacteria. I have consumed raw blood, but that really pissed off friends and family who understand microbiology better than me.

Proof is in the Pudding
Heeding their concerns, I’ve since brought blood back to the kitchen to experiment. It’s an ingredient that stands out and has a tendency to overpower a recipe. The flavor does differ depending on the animal. Beef blood is strong and, for lack of better word: gamey. While pork blood, commonly used in sausage, is known to be sweeter and more mild. The flavor of wild game blood likely varies depending on species and individual animal, but is generally rather mild.

It can be helpful to think of blood as egg with a bottle of purple food dye mixed in. Blood can be successfully substituted for egg in conventional baking due to its binding properties. This same principle can be applied to making sausage. In the casings, blood sausages will look runny and glossy until they are poached. After they’re cooled, the links feel firm and take on a muddy brown color. Often these sausages are packed with animal fat, oats, or rice depending on the culture making them.

Blood begins to congeal quickly after the harvest and clots with the appearance of gunshot lung tissue will form in the container. This can be resolved with a sieve; a quick straining will return blood to its original form. You can refrigerate it for a few days, and I froze some of mine for about a month with no ill effects. You probably want to err on the side of caution, however.

As a smooth liquid, blood makes a thick, silky broth, giving the richness of flour without the associated heaviness. Coagulation that works to the bakers’ or sausage-makers’ benefit, however, causes issues when the goal is a soup or broth. To keep it from curdling in a soup, cooks will incorporate vinegar or another acidic ingredient before putting blood on heat. In addition, blood should never reach a rolling boil, though the cook still needs to be conscientious of the cautionary 160˚F minimum.

The truth is; hunters are limited by how much blood is lost after the shot, the size of the animal and how much they are willing to haul. To give context, the average amount of blood in a medium-sized domestic sheep is only about 1.5 gallons. Extrapolate that to a 700-pound elk and you could estimate that there would be roughly 5 gallons to work with. This means that each animal on the ground, if shot in a food-safe manner, could produce a little or a lot. Keep in mind, less may be more on your first blood harvest. The flavor isn’t for everyone. My first interaction with blood in food was positive, while an acquaintance reported the sensation of a bloody nose throughout the day.

Cooking with blood has an inherent savagery to it. While some unfamiliar readers may find this article on par with Satanic preaching, blood it’s merely just another ingredient—one more part of the animal that is healthy, delicious, and above all else, wasted by most.

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