Blunz’n – Austrian Blood Sausage

A healthy portion of Blunz'n at an Austrian heurigerWhen I first had Blunz’n at a tavern in Austria I had a very narrow idea of what blood sausage was.  Most of the blood sausage I had eaten before this moment I had made myself, following recipes in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie and the Au Pied de Cochon cookbook.  These versions are simply pork blood studded with cubes of pork fat and onion.  The Austrian Blunz’n before me was radically different: it was soft and moist, but closer in texture to a dumpling then boudin noir, and it was burgundy, not black.

Before I left Austria I got a Blunz’n recipe from one of my chaperones.  I read through the recipe and thought there must have been some kind of miscommunication, as the ingredients list include “cracklings” and “pig head”.

Since then I have done a bit of reading, and Blunz’n is actually one incarnation of a broad style of blood sausages, variously called pressack, boudin, and so on.  What is distinctive about this style is the inclusion of cooked meat and skin, usually from the head and trotters of the pig, that are ground or pulled and mixed into the sausage filling.  The meat adds flavour and texture, and the skin a healthy dose of gelatin that helps to bind the interior.  This is the “crackling” that was in my recipe that I found so confusing: not the crispy pig skin that North Americans are familiar with, but soft, poached pig skin.

While the meat and skin from the head are traditional, truthfully any fatty, slow-cooked meat can be used.  One of the best blood sausages I ever had was made from leftover corned beef and beef blood.

Some manner of starch is added to the meat and skin, the exact ingredients varying widely from region to region and from house to house.  Whole grains like barley and buckwheat are common.  I was told that in Hungary they use rice.  Where I was staying, in the grenzland between Lower Austria and Styria, they use stale bread.

Everything is combined and run through a grinder.  The nexus of protein and starch, a strange but comforting unity of meat and dumpling.

 

Blunz’n – Austrian Blood Sausage – The Skeleton of a Recipe

  • 1 part minced, sauteed onion
  • 1 part bread
  • 1 part pork stock or milk
  • 3 parts cooked, chilled meat and skin
  • 1 part pork blood
  • salt and spices to taste

General Procedure

  1. Soak the bread in the stock or milk.
  2. Combine the soaked bread, onion, meat and skin and grind through a 1/4″ plate.
  3. Stir in blood to achieve a mashed potato consistency.
  4. Stuff the mixture into a broad casing (2-3″ in diameter) and poach gently to an internal temperature about 72°C.
  5. Let chill overnight before cutting.

Homemade blunz'n, Austrian blood sausage

 

 

Austrian Charcuterie

For starters let me say that Austrians don’t use the word “charcuterie.”  To some of you that may seem obvious, as Austrians speak German.  Yet for some reason most of the English-speaking world uses the French term “charcuterie.”

While French words do weasel their way onto fine dining menus in Austria, they are nowhere to be found in descriptions of butchery or cured meat.  For these, Austrians have their own, precise way of speaking, belying the strength and individuality of their traditions.

In contrast, the charcuterie renaissance in North America uses a grab-bag-blend of terms from across Europe.  Bresaola (northern Italian), is mentioned in the same breath as saucisson sec (French), and jerky (Plains Indian).

Despite all this, I still use the term “Austrian charcuterie,” in the hope that North Americans curious about Austrian cured meat will be more likely to stumble across this page.

Charcuterie has a very special place in the Austrian diet.  Breakfast, for instance, invariably consists of bread, cheese, coffee, and some form of cured meat or pâté.  The larger cities are dotted with würstlstände (sausage stands, which will be discussed in a future post).  To my mind, the greatest place to sample Austrian charcuterie is at certain taverns called heurigen.

Heurigen (“HOY-ree-gen,” singular heuriger)

Austria produces a lot of wine.  Most of this wine is consumed within the country while it is relatively young, (which is why Austrian wines are very rare in this part of the world).  The word heuriger literally means young wine, but the term usually refers to a special kind of tavern.  Winemakers will open up shop for a couple of weeks so that guests can come to drink the young wine, which is served with plates of cold food such as cheese, spreads, bread, and charcuterie.  The word for these savoury accompaniments is brettljause (“BRET-tel YOW-ze”).  Brett means board, as the food is usually spread out on a wooden board.  Brettl, I think, is some kind of dimunitive form, though I’m not entirely sure. Jause means snack.

While heuriger usually implies wine, there are also most heurigenMost is a type of cider, usually made from apples, though sometimes pears are used.  Mostis quite different from the commercial ciders we know.  It has a pronounced sourness, and in my brief experience it is usually not heavily carbonated.  Sometimes it’s straight up flat.

Since heurigen are open irregularly for short periods throughout the year, the owners will hang an evergreen bough (busch “BOOSH”) over their door or signpost so that passersby will know when they are open.  For this reason, in the province of Styria, heurigen are called buschenschänken (singular buschenschank).  Schank means bar, as in the place where the bartender stands.  The implication is that the wine, intended to be drank young, is stored in barrels and poured from the bar, instead of being bottled for long storage.

I suppose the star of the heuriger show is supposed to be the wine or most, but for me the main attraction was always the charcuterie.  So, without further warbling I would like to introduce you to the main players of Austrian charcuterie, as they are served in traditional heurigen.

 

Blunz’n (“BLOON-tsin”) – Blood Sausage

This is the infamous blood sausage, which we have toyed around with a couple times here on Button Soup.  In Germany it is called blutwurst.  In Austria it is called blunz’nAustrian blunz’n is a very different creature to English black pudding or French boudin noir.

I attribute the success of my last attempt at blood sausage to the inclusion of a panada, a mixture of milk and bread.  Austrian blunz’n is very heavy on the bread content.  In fact, the first piece I ever had was riddled with white cubes that I assumed were pork fat, but turned out to be bread.  While English black pudding has a pronounced blood taste, and a pastey texture, blunz’n is subtle and light, somtimes more like a dumpling than a sausage.

My favourite blunz’n so far had a pleasant acidity to it.  I’m not sure whether this was from added vinegar, or if maybe rye sourdough was used in the panada.

Besides being sliced for cold platters, blunz’n is surprisingly common in the kitchen.  There is a traditional dish called blunz’n gröstl, which is a blood sausage hash.  We also had blunz’n baked into an eggy bread:

 

Grammel (“GRAM-mel”, plural grammeln) – no translation

This is a weird one, as you may have guessed by the fact that there is no satisfactory English translation.

The first time I had grammel was in a dish called grammelschmaltzbrot.  It appeared to be rendered pork fat spread on rye bread, with tiny, crunchy flakes that resembled bacon bits, only much smaller, maybe the size of kosher salt crystals.  I asked a handy Austrian what exactly I was eating.  She said, approximately, that when pork fat is rendered and then “pressed” (strained?) you are left with grammel.  I wondered aloud. Bits of skin?  Bits of meat?  She wasn’t sure.

When searching the internet, I came across this explanation, which is well-written, but I think entirely inaccurate.  The author says that grammeln are mineral deposits in the fat of Mangalitzas, an Austro-Hungarian heritage pork breed renouned for its eating quality.  I don’t buy this, simply because I ate plenty of grammel that was not from Mangalitzas.

By Occam’s razor I’m more inclined to believe the sources that say grammel is a form of connective tissue in the fat that cooks out in the rendering process.  Whatever it is, it’s crisp, golden brown, and sinfully savoury.  Its existence is all the more surprising to me because I have rendered a lot of pork fat in the last couple years, but hadn’t thought to skim through the residue to look for something as small and delicous as grammel.

Grammel is also used in the kitchen.  When there is a bit of residual lard on the grammel, it binds to form a paste, which can then be rolled into a knödel (roughly, “KNUH-del,” a dumpling).

 

Hauswürstel – (“HOWS-voors-tel”, literally “house sausage,” in fact just dried sausage)

Similar to French saucisson sec, this is an essential component to any heuriger spread.  The most interesting version I had contained the delicious green pumpkin seeds common in Styria.

Preßwurst – (“PRESS-voorst,” headcheese)

Austrian preßwurst is very similar to our headcheese, though I would say the meat is packed much more densely (ie. there is less jelly between the pieces of meat).  Even so, it holds together extremely well, and can be sliced very thin.  It’s usually doused in vinegar, then called “saure preßwurst.”

 

Kümmelbraten (roughly “KOOM-mel-BRAT-en,” literally, “caraway roast,” roast pork belly)

This was a pleasant surprise: pork belly, usually lightly cured, roasted with caraway seeds, and served with the skin on.  A fantastic crunch from the crackling, which splinters into little nuggets during the slicing.

 

Schweinsbraten – (“SHVINES-brat-en,” roasted pork shoulder)

A simple roast, sliced and served cold, is a very common brettljause.  Sometimes the meat is cured, sometimes not.  Somehow the only picture I got of a cold pork roast was this haggard slice below, which I had already prodded with my fork.

 

Bratlfettnbrot – (“BRAT-tel FET-en-brot,” approximately “roast drippings, with bread”)

One of the fantastic byproducts of roasting meat is the drippings.  They are comprised of two parts.  First is the highly gelatinous meat juices.  Second is the fat rendered from the meat.  There was a time not so long ago when every housewife would pour the hot pan drippings from a roast into a jar and keep them for later use.  The fat can been scraped off and used to sear meat.  The juices, which solidify when refrigerated, can be used to fortify pan sauces.

In Austria the whole mix, that is, the partially solidified meat juices and the rendered fat, are served as a spread.  It is called bratlfettnbrot, which is possibly the most amusing word in the Austrian language.  Or any language.

In the picture below you can see the bratlfettnbrot in the plastic jar on the right, with the spoon sticking out.  The picture is not from a heuriger, but rather at Dominik’s house.  Dominik was the student Lisa and I hosted last summer.  You may remember him from the fantastic Austrian dinner he and his friends cooked for us while staying in Edmonton.

Some photos.

Heuriger meals are finished with mehlspeisen (“MAYL-shpeye-zen,” literally “flour food,” baked desserts) and schnapps.  Austrian baking and distilling will be covered in future posts.

Blood Terrine

This cake is based on a recipe from Fergus Henderson’s book The Whole Beast. The procedure and recipe are almost identical to those for blood sausage:

  • sweat onions, garlic, and spices in butter;
  • add blood and heat to thicken;
  • add cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly to prevent clumping;
  • heat the mixture until it thickens;
  • add diced backfat;

the only difference being that the mixture is cooked in a loaf pan in a water bath instead of casings.

This cake set beautifully. It was tender, but held up to slicing. This experiment reinforces my theory that there was too much moisture in the other blood sausages. (The cornmeal in the cake was cooked directly in the blood, while the oats in the blood sausage were cooked in water first.) Henderson’s recipe would make a fantastic stuffing for blood sausage. Maybe a polenta, fennel, and chili blood sausage…

Slices of seared blood terrine

Blood Sausage

Blood sausage is, as I have written before, pretty much what you would expect: pig’s blood and fat, seasoned and stuffed into casings. The sausages are almost always flavoured with onions, and often contain a starch like oats or cornmeal or rice.

I have only come across blood sausage twice in Edmonton. My first taste was at Charcutaria Micaelense on 118 Avenue, but they have since stopped making their own and instead carry an inferior commercial substitute. More recently I have tried the blood sausage at Old Country Meats.

There are a few reasons we don’t see it very often here. First: our timorous approach to eating. Second (and closely related to the first…): the hassle of obtaining pig’s blood. I started asking at farmers’ markets, only to find that the farmers themselves couldn’t acquire their animals’ blood from the abattoirs. Apparently health inspectors are worried about the wholesomeness of the blood after transport. Blood certainly needs to be used while very fresh; if left in the fridge for, say, a week, it will coagulate and develop the same sour odour as wet-aged meat. To my mind, this is a food quality issue, and not at all a food safety issue. Blood deteriorates rapidly, but that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous to sell or consume.

It’s unfortunate that we don’t cook with blood more often, as pigs are always bled after being stunned, and harvesting the blood is simply a matter of putting a bucket beneath the hanging animal, instead of letting it drip into the bleeding pit.

Kevin was my fellow charcutier on the first day I tried making blood sausage. He shot and edited some footage of the basic procedure, which goes like this:

  • sweat onions
  • cook backfat, either by poaching or sweating
  • combine onions, fat, blood, and any other flavours
  • heat mixture to thicken blood (optional, but apparently helps suspend onions and fat evenly throughout the volume of the casing)
  • funnel into casings
  • poach
  • chill
  • slice and fry

On Blood Sausage Recipes: A General Condemnation

When searching blood sausage recipes online, it’s obvious that few of them have actually been tested. They are all pretty much the same and completely lacking in details.

Over the last couple years I’ve tried about four different recipes, including the ones from Larousse and Ruhlman’s Charcuterie.  Those sausages tasted fantastic, but after poaching the blood-curd was very loose. They had a smooth texture, but the sausages tended to fall apart when slicing for pan-frying. The blood did not properly bind the ingredients like the apples and onions in the Ruhlman recipe.  My first guess would usually have been that the blood was undercooked and didn’t fully coagulate, but my probe was above the recommended finishing temperature, and the juices ran pale brown instead of red.

My theory for the oatmeal sausage is that cooking the oatmeal before mixing it with the blood introduced too much moisture to the mixture and prevented a good, firm curd from forming. Next time around I’ll cook the oatmeal in the blood, no water added.

As for the Ruhlman apple blood sausage recipe, I’m stumped. This is the first time I’ve had a problem working out of his book, Charcuterie. I wonder if the blood we used is somehow different than his. Ours had been frozen, for instance, though I have not heard of that affecting coagulation.

Far and away the best recipe I’ve made is from the Au Pied de Cochon cookbook.  My only departure from Picard’s recipe was using oat flour instead of chestnut flour. The major difference between this recipe and the last is the inclusion of a panada, which is bread soaked in milk. The final sausages held together beautifully, and were tender and smooth to boot. This is now my default blood sausage recipe. Thank you, Martin.

Blood Sausage
adapted from Au Pied de Cochon

Ingredients

  • 375 mL pig’s blood
  • 1 medium onion
  • 113 g fat, ¼” dice
  • 113 mL cream
  • leaves from 1 sprig thyme
  • 1/3 tsp quatre epice
  • 11 g oatmeal, finely ground
  • 19 g white bread, crustless, ¼” dice
  • 12 g salt

Civet – Stew Thickened with Blood

Civet of elk with morelsThis week I had the opportunity to cook with pig’s blood. There’s actually more classical applications for blood than you may think.

Fresh blood has a beautiful colour, similar to red wine, but with an opalescent sheen. When heated, the blood turns burgundy, then brown, and eventually black. It coagulates somewhere around 75°C, which makes it ideal for thickening liquids.

Civet: A Gateway Dish

If you’re at all squeamish about cooking with blood, this is probably a good dish to start with.

The two things that make a civet a civet are: one, that game is marinated in wine which is later used to braise the meat; and two, that the braising liquid is thickened with blood and used as a sauce. In some cases this is the blood of the animal you are cooking. Collecting the blood of true game animals is difficult because of how they’re killed, so pig’s blood often stands in as a substitute.

In this case I had some stewing meat from a calf elk that Kevin hunted. Here’s the basic procedure.

  • Marinate the meat in red wine (I used a Syrah) with sliced onions, carrots, garlic, bay, and black pepper.
  • Remove the meat and let it drip dry in a colander.
  • Cook bacon in a braising pot. Remove and reserve.
  • Brown the game meat in the bacon fat.
  • Return the bacon to the pot. Pour the marinating liquid (with sliced vegetables and aromatics) over the meat. Scrap the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to capture the delicious fond.
  • Cover and simmer until meat is tender, maybe two hours. I also added some reconstituted dried morels partway through the braising.
  • Separate the liquid from the meat and vegetables. Remove the bay leaf. Reduce the liquid to concentrate the flavours.
  • Use maybe two tablespoons of blood per cup of braising liquid. Temper the blood, then add to liquid. Heat while stirring until the sauce thickens. Be careful not to bring the liquid to a boil, as the blood will curdle and ruin the smooth texture of the sauce.
  • Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

The purplish brown of the finished dish is from the wine, though the cooked blood happens to have a similar colour.

The blood adds a very pleasing mineral note that works well with the flavour of the meat.

It’s also a dead-simple thickener to use. Even quicker than cornstarch or roux, as it doesn’t need to be cooked out. It brought my braising liquid to a nappé consistency in a few moments.

I don’t think I’ve used the word “nappé” on this blog before. Let me explain. “Nappé” (said “nap-EH”) is one of the those fantastic French cooking words that doesn’t have an acceptable substitute in English. Napper (also pronounced “nap-EH”) is the infinitive form of a verb meaning to coat evenly with a thin layer of sauce. When thickening a sauce, the most common way to judge consistency is to simply dip a spoon in the pot, remove, and observe how the sauce clings to the back. In the early liquid stages the sauce will simply slide away, perhaps leaving a few streaks behind. Once the sauce has thickened, it will cleave to the spoon and leave a perfectly even coating. This is a nappé. You should be able to run your finger across this coating and leave a clearly defined streak.