Pigeon, blackberries, chicory, roast beetroot…and black pudding

The Potted Pig, Cardiff, Wales


Blood sausage is often presented simply – on a plate with some frites, on a slice of bread, or with your full English breakfast. But in the process of writing this blog, it has really struck that blood sausage can be a surprisingly versatile ingredient. And, once in a while I run across someone doing something really unexpected with the ingredient.

In this case, the clever folks at The Potted Pig have used blood sausage as an edible ‘dirt’ foundation for the dish.  I’ve had ‘dirt’ in a few dishes, mostly the chocolate sort in desserts, and by most accounts the concept can be traced back to French chef Michel Bras in the late 70s or early 80s (see this New York Times article for a quick history). But I’ve never seen it done with anything like blood pudding.

Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t think to ask more about how they made it, but the end result is a sort of crunchy crumble. The richness of traditional blood sausage disappears, but that’s actually fine, as it played nicely against the other textures in the dish.  I can imagine that a slice of blood pudding would have just been too much.  So instead of overpowering, it plays nicely with the other ingredients.

While I’m focusing on the blood pudding here, the pigeon component also deserves a mention. If you’ve never had pigeon, the flavor and texture are close to beef, but it’s far more sustainable. I also find it similar to duck. Many people envision city pigeons, and find that off-putting, but pigeons raised for food were once much more popular and widespread. Popular Science has a great history of pigeons as food in the USA, and BBC Food has a nice collection of recipes. (Last visit: May 2018)

Boudin Noir Terrine

La Cantine du Troquet – Dupleix, Paris, France


Boudin Terrine was a new (and very welcome) discovery for me at the Dupleix (15th arrondissement) branch of this collection of Parisian bistros run by Chef Christian Etchebest.  The menu is influenced by the food of South-west France, and this starter was a no-brainer to order. 

It’s great – delicious, less heavy and more delicately flavored that you’d guess by looking at it.  I’m a big fan of terrines generally, but this is the first one I’ve ever had based on boudin noir.  I look forward to encountering more.

This meal was about a year ago, (and one of the dishes that really got me thinking about launching this blog) so I can’t be certain this particular dish is still on the menu, but the rest of the meal was also excellent, so worth a visit in any case.  (January 2018).

Best No/Low-Alcohol Dutch Beers

cover1Nonalcoholic beers are the offal of the beverage world. Or at least that’s the premise of today’s post, the first to feature a ‘guest’ foodstuff. I plan to feature foods from time to time which have reputational problems similar to blood sausage. NA beer certainly fits the bill.

And for many years, that reputation was deserved. Low, and especially no-alcohol beers were pretty terrible. Most were lager wannabes, but usually ended up too sweet and/or really chemical-tasting. In many countries, however, NA beers have improved dramatically in the last 5 years. Lots of people have adopted Dry January, (hence the timing of this post), and while we’re not so strict at our house, we’ve started drinking a lot more low and no-alcohol beers over the last year. For us, the trend actually started during vacation lunches. NA beers with, for example, my lunchtime morcilla plate = a dramatically higher chance of actually seeing something in the afternoon.  And we’ve just kept on drinking them at home.

It has reached a point where many low/no-alcohol beers are a pleasure to drink, so today I’m highlighting six favorites from here in the Netherlands. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that none of these beers are modeled on generic pilsners. It makes sense that more strongly-flavored beer styles would lend themselves more readily to low/no-alcohol versions, as there is just a lot more going on, flavor-wise.

While there are a few 100% alcohol-free beers around, most are 0.5% or less, and should be clearly labeled as such.

Van De Streek Playground Non IPA. <0.5%

There are a number of NA IPAs being produced in the Netherlands, but Utrecht’s Van De Streek Playground Non-IPA is the clear winner. Nice and hoppy, you probably wouldn’t know it was non-alcoholic unless somebody told you.


Brothers in Law Hoppy Lager. 0.5%

A bit hard to find in Amsterdam (which is why it missed the photo shoot), but well worth the search. It tasted to me much like a good pale ale, which I do love.

hoppy lager

Van De Streek Non-Bock. <0.5%

On a cold winter evening, when it looks like a Rijksmuseum painting outside, a nice dark bock beer is the perfect thing to warm up with. Brewing up an NA Bock is such a good idea, perfect for dark winter months when you’re trying to reduce your intake. Strongly flavored, another winner from Van De Streek.



While the UK has a long tradition of low-alcohol beers, until recently the Dutch efforts were not very successful. But I am happy to share these three standouts with you:

Uiltje Habbekrats Session IPA. 1%

This Haarlem-based brewery has really done wonders with this cloudy, citrus-style IPA that comes in at only 1% ABV. Habbekrats translates as ‘pittance’, which is a pretty perfect name. Delicious, and it reduces the risk that you will walk into one of the infamous Amsterdam iron streetposts.  Unlike Uiltje’s poor mascot….

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Van Moll Wanderlust IPA. 2%

From Eindhoven comes this excellent, balanced 2% IPA, which also has all the flavor of a more traditional-strength IPA. The backpacking kiwi label art is an extra bonus!


Brouwerij de Molen Hugs & Kisses. 3.5%

De Molen is one of the oldest and most respected small breweries in the Netherlands, open since 2004. While well-known for their experimental and often very strong (10%+) beers, Hugs & Kisses shows how proficient they can be at the other end of the spectrum. Described as a ‘Session IPA-ish’, it is reminiscent of De Molen’s well-loved Vuur & Vlam IPA, but at half the alcohol.


And if you don’t live in the Netherlands?

I have seen several of these breweries stocked in specialist beer shops around Europe, so you might get lucky and find them nearby. If not, here are a few imports that we also enjoy, that may be more readily available near you:

Brewdog Nanny State 0.5% (UK): a hoppy, dark IPA, beloved by my wife.

Brugse Zot Sport Zot 0.5% (Belgium): So far the only NA Belgian-style blond I’ve found. Impressively close to the original.

Mikkeller Drink In The Sun 0.3% (Denmark/Belgium): Bright & citrusy, apparently designed as a hot-weather beer, but also nice in winter

In Praise of Pintxos (and other Small Dishes)

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Pintxos – the small, Basque bar snacks – are one of my favorite things in the world.  For those not familiar with pintxos, the most common form is something on a slice of baguette.  The platter above, from the excellent, low-key Bar Charly in Bilbao, begins to give some idea of the range of options, running from jamon serrano to squid croquettes to pate to, of course, morcilla. Charly’s blood sausage pintxo the night we were there in 2017 was: a tower of red pepper, goat cheese, a slice of morcilla, topped off by a sail of jamon Serrano.

Part of the reason I love pintxos is just because of the extraordinary food cultures in Spain generally and in Basque areas in particular. Those cultures result in thousands of different little delicious bites in thousands of bars and restaurants. Much has been written about those cultures, and I’ll refer you to the experts for more information. (For example, check out Matt Goulding’s Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels through Spain’s Food Culture).

However, the other part of the reasons I love pintxos, is that they offer a low-risk method of trying new foods.  I think one of the reasons we can be limited in our food choices is that trying new things is often a risky investment.  It’s not hard to see why most people are reluctant to go out to a restaurant and order a full entree of blood sausage, or cuttlefish, or chicken liver, or whatever new food represents the next frontier you might like to cross.  It’s expensive and wasteful and potentially embarrassing if you really don’t like it – or don’t like it enough to eat a whole plateful. And trying to cook something new at home has similar issues, plus the time investment, plus uncertainty over what the new ingredient is supposed to taste like.

Pintxos are a couple of bites, and a couple of euros.  And so, to borrow from economics, the ‘barriers to entry’ for unfamiliar-food pintxos are therefore pretty low, both financially and in terms of potential embarrassment.  Plus, I’ve also found it’s much easier to acclimate yourself to something unfamiliar a few bites at a time rather than trying to force down a whole plate at once.  Over the past few years I’ve really come around on both boiled eggs and sardines, for example. I’ve been lucky enough to have semi-regular visits to pintxo bars in that time, and I credit those small-dose pintxo exposures to helping move me along towards liking both.

Authentic pintxo bars are a great place to expand your horizons, because of both the quality of the food and the Spanish openness to offal, a wide range of seafood and some unusual vegetables. But of course, most of us don’t live in Bilbao. Nonetheless, the growing popularity of ‘small-plate’ restaurants (Spanish or otherwise) in the US, Northern Europe, and other parts of the world that have long had a starter + entree dining tradition opens up opportunities. They lower the barriers to trying something new.

And of course, Spain is far from the only country in the world with a culture of small dishes. It’s the one I know best, and so the once I chose to focus on here, but the same principle applies to everything from Mexican tacos to Japanese yakitori chicken skewers. If you want to try something new, seek out whatever small-dish restaurants are nearby, and see what’s on offer, for low risk and potentially big reward.

Beuling, asperges, algenboter

Schnitzel Restaurant, Antwerpen, Belgium


Given how rich blood sausage generally is, it’s not an obvious choice as the basis for a springtime dish. On the menu, this was described simply as ‘Beuling, asperges, algenboter’ (blood sausage, asparagus, seaweed butter). Not a combo you see every day, so how could I not order it?

There were are number of things going on in this dish that reflected the overall tone of our dinner – clever, but comfortably so.  In some ways, you can see a riff on the traditional Benelux springtime dish of white asaparagus and ham – except here with blood sausage – known as ‘beuling’ in Vlaams and Dutch.  There is also a echo of the classic French-Belgian-Dutch bistro salad with a round of bucheron-esque goat cheese adding richness and heft to a plate of greens. But the addition of seaweed, fried cripsy strips of which were mixed in with the greens, added a whole other element, with the seaweed picking up something astringent, and stony-metallic in the blood sausage. That may not sound like a good idea, but it actually worked really nicely, and brought an unusual freshness to the dish.  A lovely thing to enjoy, sitting on their patio in a small plaza, on an April saturday during the first warm weekend of the year.

Schnitzel’s menu changes periodically, but I have seen other beuling dishes on offer since then.  They also feature less-loved vegetables like jersualem artichokes, celeraic and cauliflower.  Looking forward to another visit the next time we’re in Antwerp.   (Last visit: April 2018)

Réunionnais Spicy Boudin Noir

La Cascade Blanche, Reunion


(There are a few historical posts I’ll be rolling out in the coming months, describing some experiences that occured a while back, but that have stayed with me.  This is the first of them.)

Sadly, I have no photos of the actual food for this entry, but it was an excellent lunch on the way to hike the Cirque de Mafate, a trail on an extinct volcano on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. 

La Cascade Blanche is set in a spectacular valley, on the road into the park.  Their take on blood sausage was excellent and I think the first spicy boudin I had ever encountered.  I wish I had asked more about it at the time, but I can only guess that the recipe, like much Réunionnais cuisine, reflects the island’s very multicultural history. Reunion’s population – and food – has roots in a number of countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.  Even if you’re not planning to hike in the mountains, it’s a great day trip up the valley with a riverside boudin lunch.  

Although our trip was a few years’ back, but the restaurant is still there, and hopefully still delivering the goods! (August 2014)

Morcilla with cheese

Cervecería El Diario, Madrid


Madrid can get cold in the winter.  Maybe not as bad or as long as up here in northern Europe, but in December you definitely want something hearty when you stumble in after wandering around in the chill after dark.

So on a recent cold Sunday night, we were happy to find the Cervecería El Diario, in the Huertas neighborhood, which lies roughly between the Prado and the Puerta del Sol.  We were happy because:  A. a lot of restaurants are closed on Sunday nights in Madrid, and we were getting cold and hungry; and B.  because they had a very nice, filling, wintery Morcilla dish on the tapas menu.

Portions (of everything) at El Diario are large, and the morcilla plate was almost enough to be a meal by itself.  The photo doesn’t really illustrate it, but it was several times larger than the pintxo-size bite I was somehow expecting.  The morcilla was lightly seasoned, very rich, and came with potato chips and a few olives and (thankfully) just a touch of melted cheese on top.  Something this rich does not need to be cheese-topped like a pizza.  A simple dish, done well.  Something to fortify you before or after visiting those Hieronymous Bosch paintings down the hill at the Prado.  (December 2018)

Cervecería El Diario



Black Pudding Scotch Eggs

Finest Fayre, London, United Kingdom


Had you told me 20 years ago that I would be so excited about Scotch Eggs + Black Pudding, fused together into a deep-fried ball of delight, I’m sure I would have given you quite the look.  But, older, wiser, and far less hung up about food, I was very excited to stumble across these beautiful things on a Sunday morning in Hackney.

The options on offer at Broadway Market make me want to have three or four lunches, because there is so much good stuff on offer.  Luckily, scotch eggs travel well,  so I was able to whisk a couple home on the Eurostar for Sunday dinner instead.

And they were perfect: flavor, texture, the whole package.  Probably for the best I can’t eat them every Sunday, but if you have the chance, please pick some up and enjoy them on my behalf.  Finest Fayre visits a number of the markets in London, check their Twitter feed to where they will be next. (March 2018)

Morcilla + Apple Pintxo

Beti-Jai Berria, San Sebastian/Donostia, Spainmorcilla1

I would never want to have to choose a favorite type of pintxo in Basque regions of Spain, but morcilla pintxos are certainly up there on the list.  This was a particularly nice one at Beti-Jai Berria, in San Sebatian’s old town, where the sweet/tart apples balance out the richness of the sausage.

Despite being at ground zero for large numbers of tourists, the quality of the food was consistently excellent.  So even if the morcilla pintxos are not on the menu that day, some other very good thing will be. I was lucky enough to visit in 2017 and 2018 (a couple of times), and was consistently impressed with how good things were.  (Last visit: July 2018)

Blood Cake + Fried Egg

St. John’s Bread & Wine, London, United Kingdom

cakeThis is a terrible photo of a beautiful thing.  Chef Fergus Henderson is famous for making delicious things out of the icky bits, and the blood cake is one of my favorites.  I try to go to St. John’s whenever I get to London, and I always order the blood cake if I can.  It is one of those deceptively simple things that is just so rich and perfect.  The recipe is in his ‘Nose to Tail Eating’ cookbook, and while I’ve never tried it at home, it does spec which breed of pig he prefers.  Maybe that’s the secret.  In any case, it’s worth a trip from wherever you are in London to one of the St. John’s outposts to try it, and anything else on the menu.  (Last visit: March 2018)