Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I heard angels sing …

Year after beautiful year as winter peeks over the horizon and the first chill presents itself, I experience a shift. About late October as things transition from languid warmth and lush green to icy bone chilling cold and desolate bare drudgery (a little resentful here), I need comfort. And warmth. And wine. Especially (lots) wine. And …well …fat. All kinds of fat. Crispy fat, soft fat, gelatinous fat …Duck fat, pork fat, back fat, lamb fat

Part of the changing of seasons is learning to recognize and of course, acknowledge what our bodies (and souls) crave: fat! fat! fat! (I am talking as if I were some sort of bear about to go into hibernation … I know …) Anyhow, in my world, this acknowledgment usually means I am about to get myself into some kind of mess and will drag all kinds of good, unsuspecting people with me.

One very ordinary day, as I stood in my kitchen admiring the antique cabinet we purchased a few months ago (I love this thing it brings me back to my Aunt’s farm kitchen and every day I walk past it and give it a kiss … no no, just kidding … but I do tell it how nice it looks …) I knew I was in trouble. I really knew it when (as if there was some kind of gravitational force pulling me) my hand landed on Martin Picard's Au Pied de Cochon.

Long parenthesis alert: (What was I so worried about you ask? I must be exaggerating you say? Here is "step one" in one of his recipes: “Using a saw, cut the top of the piglet skulls to remove the brains” … I dare you not to shiver ...)

I remember standing there, opening the book, looking at the recipe I wanted to make long and hard, and thinking to myself (long and hard) do I really want to get involved in this? I mean we are talking about 1 Liter of pig’s blood here. Not to mention chestnut flour, very precise cooking techniques (there is a temperature measuring gadget involved) and a crazy move of hand funneling the pig’s blood mixture into the sausage casing. It took about a week of debating before I decided Au Pied de Chochon’s Boudin Maison was my charge. This itsy-bitsy decision dear readers, is how I found myself, on a perfectly lovely Wednesday evening, elbow deep in pigs blood.

Pigs blood ...

Here we go ... Once (lunatic project) decided, the first thing I had to do was secure some guests. As much as I am in love with this magnificent recipe, I did not fancy the prospect of eating Boudin on my own every day for two weeks.

Another long parenthesis alert: (I must confess though, that I did give the thought of eating Boudin on my own every day for two weeks some serious consideration - I find myself a bit of a lone ranger within my close circle of cow and fowl loving folk especially when it comes to matters of … shall we say … a sanguine nature …).

You may not believe this dear readers but not everybody loves Boudin. So, I had to be crafty. I had to be persuasive. I had to pray. I pitched it as a tasting and sent out an exploratory e-mail titled “Who’s with me …”

I fessed up to the star of the tasting, gave them a three week window (the God’s saved me with this) to prepare themselves and gambled that the adventurous culinary spirit of the invitees and their curious palate would ensure at least a foot in the door. “A night of nibbles” I claimed. “Please eat first as this is not a supper” I pledged (could not have them thinking I wanted them to eat a whole supper of Boudin). And slowly, if a little hesitantly, the confirmations trickled in …

Guests secured, I immediately wondered where I would pick up my pigs blood. My first thought was to call Jean-Pierre (Ferme le Crepuscule) and just ask him for it. My back up plan, in case they were not killing a pig that week, was to just pop by my local butcher and ask him. Frankly, I was more concerned about where I was going to find chestnut flour. Oh my ... how little I knew…

My biggest concern ...

To get this blood dear readers turned out to be a community effort of herculean proportions. Getting this blood, dear readers, wound up taking three weeks, two farm trips, countless searches online, visits to almost every butcher in Montreal, visits to fish mongers (I thought if the meat people could not come through perhaps the fish people ... I do not discriminate), seeking council through Chowhound and all to no avail.

No blood.

The city was dry.

It was looking grim. It was looking like despite my best efforts, I would have to cancel my “tasting” and claim defeat. Then, it hit me. Poff! It was clear. There was no other choice. I had exhausted all my other options. I was going to have to go to the source. To the mecca of all things pig. To PDC. I dear readers was going to plead my case, throw myself at their mercy and beg for their suppliers.

Once on my way I was plagued with thoughts of would they laugh at mewould they ask who is this lunatic and why does she just not buy her Boudin like everybody elsewould they yell at me … would they throw me out ...Then, I arrived, stood outside for a moment, gathered my courage and … Ahem ...excuse me please, do you know where I can find some blood in this city? I want to make your Boudin Maison but have been looking for three weeks and nothing …

There was discussion, debate, disgust (at not being able to freely access quality blood) and at once, all of a sudden I saw hands moving, heard when do you need it, gave the two wrists up I am at your mercy salute and I, was saved dear readers. Saved. A certain chef, made certain arrangements, and a week later, vast grin on face, there I was again collecting my thick, dark prize. I heard angels sing …

As I headed home with my goodies, panic struck. Who did I think I was going home with blood and casings! I had gone too far this time! What had I done! How would I do it!
A little voice whispered … just follow the recipe …

Dear readers, if you will allow me to paint you a little picture:

Me, guests in home, casings in water, blood mixture ready, wine in hand, ready to go. Then: “ummm … don’t you need some kind of machine for this? I think my grandmother uses a machine …” (again the machine predicament! I do not know how I keep doing this!). I had intended to use my big yellow plastic funnel … so … I confessed to no machine (again), begged for help and silently prayed…

Now, the simple act of eating Boudin these days is seen as a “big deal” (hence preliminary exploratory e-mail). Asking friends to hold casings and ladle blood mixture into big yellow plastic funnel while you squeeze it through with big giant toothpick is a whole other ballgame. Steph (who had never eaten Boudin before) was a champion. She grabbed her courage by the collar, stood right beside me and feet planted firmly on the ground, ladled away until four feet of casings were plump and glistening with beautiful chestnut colored blood mixture.

The result ...

I then plopped the plump sausage into the water (all the while imagining it smashing to the ground and splattering everywhere) with the thermometer waiting to alert me to any temperature fluctuation (I checked it every 30 seconds for a half an hour).

Obsessive checking ...

Once done, I took the Creuset off the heat, looked at the beauty that was inside, placed a creamy morsel in my mouth and tasted heaven.

Tasting ...

Heaven ...

Wine, candles and newspaper ...

Debates ...

Rosso Cornero ...

Time to dish:

**dear readers, please make this if you can, I promise you it will be worth every effort and is much easier than you think**

Martin Picard's Boudin Maison 
From celebrated cookbook Au Pied de Cochon

Here is what you need ...

  • Pork casings
  • 1 liter of pig's blood (good luck oh adventurer!)
  • 3 medium onion, minced
  • 10 ounces of pork back fat cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 300 ml 35 % cream
  • Fresh thyme, leaves from two sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon of 4 spice mix (grind your own! you've come this far! you can do it!) 
  • 1/4 cup of chestnut flour (warning, this stuff is incredible you will become addicted)
  • 2 cups of bread, crusts removed and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon of salt

Here is what to do ...

  1. Soak the bread in the cream (what a first step n'est ce pas?).
  2. Blanch back fat in boiling water for about 25 minutes, chill and set aside.
  3. Sweat onions in a pan with thyme, 4 spice and salt until translucent but not brown. Add chestnut flour and stir for about 2 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Check to make sure the casings have no tears by running cold water through them, measure out 4 feet and then tie one end with butcher string.
  5. Using a large funnel (or machine! for heavens sake ...) pour in blood mixture until you have plump, gorgeous sausage. Then tie the other end.
  6. The sausage must be cooked right away as casings are permeable.
  7. In water that does not go above 80C or 175F (they may burst on you otherwise) cook the sausage for 25-30 minutes depending on the size. Make sure to poke tiny toothpick holes in them at the beginning of cooking (once in water) to avoid tearing.
  8. Once done, stop cooking by dunking glorious sausage in ice water.
Remove. Enjoy.

For those of you who care to know what else was on the Menu, it was:

Hearts, livers & blood, oh my ...

  • Crostini of turkey hearts seared in butter, quartered and slathered with tarragon cream.
  • Crostini of turkey livers sauteed in butter and served with maple and balsamic glazed figs.
  • Crostini of beef livers sautéed in butter (of course) and doused with a lemon, tarragon and maple cream sauce.
  • Mini frisee cups with lemon and olive oil dressing.
Lettuce cups ... hands only please ...

An expression of gratitude … I have always loved how food unites people in a common adventure and this was no exception. From the many butchers, fishmongers, old ladies, chowhounders and farmers who guided me, gave me advice and tips and stories of how their ancestors made “Blood Sausage” to Stephanie helping me through the whole process with her voice of reason and bravery to Nicolas at the SAQ who so lovingly chose our wines after asking what was on the menu and salivating with glee to Marc and Emilie at PDC for their time and conversation to Mr. Picard and his kindness and sheer generosity without which this Boudin would not have seen the light of day there was a whole community of people behind this beautiful evening that we were lucky enough to share together.

Thank you.


  1. Thanks for this unforgettable evening Oana, it was bloody delicious!

  2. I like, I like ...

  3. Thanks guys, you bloody rock! Bloody good! Bloody ... okay, I'm done.

  4. Bloody courageous!!!!!! Great storytelling.

  5. “Using a saw, cut the top of the piglet skulls to remove the brains”
    My God. Who wrote that?! Hannibal Lecter?
    However the result, at least in the pictures, looks amazing.
    May I suggest a wine for this dish?

  6. Rodrigo: No, better, Martin Picard! Well, how else do you propose getting brains out of a skull? :)
    It was lovely and quite fun and easy to make. The result was sublime - it is an excellent recipe as is everything he does... bit of a culinary crush I have on Mr. Picard ...

    Wine - Please propose, please propose!!

  7. Oh I wish I was on that invitation list, I love boudin and never had homemade boudin before. Awesome adventurer Oana. I know how you feel with an overwhelming recipe...I have a cassoulet in the oven right now....pushing the 3 day recipe into 2. Great pics

  8. lovely meal. you are good Oana. im glad that i ran into this blog.

  9. Well, after watching the pictures carefully, I'd say that looks like a Chilean "prietas" which is basically the same but this is more bourgeois. Prietas are made from pork meat and blood which is something I do not need to know. In Spanish we say "ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente".

  10. Rodrigo: Of course you need to know! Thanks Rodrigo, will do some research on that and when I make it I will require your taste buds ... and you, naturally. Where is my wine recommendation? Hmmm? Where?

  11. Cheap Ethnic Eats: Next time, for sure! Oh my goodness ... I LOVE cassoulet ... hail hail Evelyne! can't wait to see how it turns out and hear about your process ... If I may mirror, I wish I was on that invitation list ...

  12. Silvia: Thank you! It is so great to wonderful of you to let me know. Come back soon :)