What Is Black Pudding And Why Is It Such A Useful Cooking Ingredient?

“No one really knows the origin of black pudding: it must be as old as slaughter. There is certainly mention in Homer of stomach filled with blood and fat and roasted on fire, so Achilles ate it.”

A A Gill, Breakfast At The Wolseley

Necessity is the mother of invention, and necessity was certainly the inspiration for the invention of the black pudding. It pops up everywhere. Impoverished peasants in all parts of the globe sought ways to use the goodness provided by all parts of the animals they slaughtered and included the blood (usually of pigs) which is the principal ingredient – its raison d’être – and the reason why it is sometimes also called blood pudding.

Black pudding abroad

In Spain and Latin America it’s known as morcilla, in Italy it’s sanguinaccio, in German Rotwurst, the French love their boudin noir, in Eastern Europe it’s a type of kishka (sausage made by stuffing an intestine – see song below) known as kaszanka….even the Koreans have their own version which they call soondai.

Blumenthal’s experiences with black pudding

In Heston Blumenthal’s Fantastic Feasts he describes how the film crew have set him up to create a gothic horror feast. He heads off to Transylvania in search of culinary inspiration linked to Dracula only to be told that “this is not possible because there is no literary tradition of Dracula in Romania. This is something invented by you British”. Heston is deeply disillusioned, “You’re kidding me” he laments “this is like finding out Father Christmas doesn’t exist”.

If Blumenthal had read my post Finish Your Meal With Dracula he could have saved himself a journey, but as it turns out all is not lost. Heston asks his gide to confirm that there is a tradition of cooking blood in Romania and yes, the guide confirms, no only that but he’s turned up just at the right time “it’s not very economical to feed pigs through the winter so farmers tend to kill and cook their animals instead. They make it a kind of celebration  – The Winter Feast – and the whole family gets involved.”.

Heston witnesses the making of the sausage and then comments rather sadly, “Eventually I got to try the sausages. First up was the one with blood as its main ingredient. Not surprisingly it looked much like blood pudding, and, when I took a bite, it tasted pretty much like one too. Full-flavoured and well-balanced, it was very enjoyable but I realised this was way too familiar to give my guests a Transylvanian thrill.”

Stornoway black pudding

Nearer to home, in Stornoway (in Scotland’s Western Isles) they think their own traditional recipe is so special that they have registered the name ‘Stornoway Black Pudding’ as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). It contains no pork ‘trimmings’ (better not to think what those might be) and no label will declare ‘contains meat products’ – another indication to shun if you are looking for quality. It does, however, contain Scottish oatmeal (as a thickener instead of the Roman pinenuts) which is the ingredient which gives it its rough texture. It also contains beef suet, onions, and of course, the essential blood – the only ingredient in common with the Roman version (before the Romans, Odysseus feasts on a dish of she-goat blood cooked in an intestine).

Stornoway black pudding is not the be-all and end-all however. At The Wolseley in London, they serve the smaller, Lancashire-made version.

What should black pudding taste and feel like?

Black pudding should have a velvety texture and a rich, slightly sweet taste.

How to cook black pudding

Remove the skin, slice the pudding and fry for about five minutes on both sides. You can also grill it, or roast it in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes.

What to do with black pudding

I am a huge fan of black pudding, and in my view the great British cooked breakfast is a lot less great if it is not included with the eggs, the bacon, the tomatoes and the mushrooms. But black pudding is also excellent with a whole host of other food.

  • In a salad with goats’ cheese, raspberries, dry-fried pine nuts, lambs’ lettuce and a dressing made with honey and sherry vinegar
  • In a salad with blackberries, cassis, rustic bread and a buttermilk dressing.
  • In a salad of chicory, radiccio and lots of roughly chopped parsley with a mustard-based dressing
  • Aubergine stuffed with black pudding, dried sour cherries, dried oregano, cinnamon, banana shallots and tomatoes
  • In a salad with bacon, walnuts and mozzarella
  • In croquettes
  • with roast parsnips
  • with foie gras as in Andrew Pern’s eponymous book
  • stuff a boned joint of lamb with skin-removed black pudding, roast
  • In filo pastry with cinnamon and chopped chicken or minced meat
  • Add to mashed potato – the German name for this is Himmel und Erde (heaven and earth), there is a similar dish also in Scandinavia and Ireland. Go here for a rather lovely exhibition ‘Between Heaven and Earth’, of items by jeweller and sculpter Dashi Namdakov
  • with rhubarb chutney (rhubarb goes well with black pudding for the same reason that apple and quince does – the tartness cuts through the richness of the black pudding)
  • With chickpeas and chorizo
  • Add to coq au vin
  • Crumble over humous
  • with broad beans and mint, as in The Moro Cookbook, by Sam and Sam Clark
  • Substitute for the ham in an eggs Benedict
  • With scallops in a salad of rocket; or with scallops and a puree of peas and mint
  • As fritters with bacalao (salted cod)
  • Crumbled over roasted asparagus
  • Crumbled into the bottom of oeufs en cocotte
  • Nigel Slater includes black pudding in his recipe for Sunday Breakfast Toad-in-the-hole
  • and he also fries it with red and white cabbage and dresses it with mustard, double cream and red wine vinegar
  • and another idea from him is to roast with new potatoes and then drop in eggs and return to the oven until the eggs are as cooked as you like them
  • For information about the Norfolk-based Fruit Pig black pudding and a recipe with quail, go to this excellent article
  • try it in the Brazilian way with cod and banana
  • it goes well with rhubarb compôte
  • The Port House in London serves it with piquillo peppers and fried quails eggs
Quails eggs, black pudding, and piquillo peppers at The Port House in London.

Music to listen to while you cook black pudding

The only music to listen to while you sizzle your sausage is obviously Man On Wire, by Stornoway.

Can you identify Fred Astaire in the video clip below?

This post is dedicated to Robert Paterson.
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