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).

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)

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)