Blood Cubes

Da Ja Palace. A restaurant in the Neihu district.

Feast. Pickled vegetables. Pig blood and intestines. Cabbage. Eel with yellow leek. Braised lamb.

The pickled vegetables were just…pickled vegetables. This refreshing combination was made possible with contributions from soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, sugar, and perhaps a dabble of vinegar. A rather simple appetizer. The sauteed cabbage and braised lamb that arrived later were standard Chinese favorites that were throwbacks to my childhood (and adulthood, actually, since I still consume these things rather regularly). All good stuff.

Braised lamb.

The eel with yellow leek was savory and crunchy, but it harbored a slight chemical taste that I couldn’t quite put my finger on (maybe MSG, but glutamates, regardless of origin serve only to enhance present flavors). Regardless, the eel dish was significantly different from standard fish dishes because there was an interesting juxtaposition of slimy and tender.

Slimy...or...tender? How about sl-ender?

The highlight dish of the day was duck’s blood cubes and pig intestines in a spicy stew. I have always enjoyed ordering this dish because it comes on top of a cooker, so while you’re noming on other dishes, it’s furiously bubbling away; it’s a dish that keeps the heat around, and doesn’t need to be rushed. Because of this nifty perk, I’ve always managed to find the need for tongue skin grafts, since every serving of the damn thing is like lava.

Eruption: imminent.

In the past, consumption of this dish did not provide any sort of explanation as to how a liquid (blood) could potentially be formed into a cube (unless we’re talking ice-cube trays and water). The explanation to myself at the time, was that blood taken from the animal in question was essentially left out to “scab.” (I guess I had seen enough of my own blood crust over to know that it naturally solidified after a while). Lucky for me, that scenario wasn’t far from the truth. So after going through about twelve years of school and another four years of biochemistry, I learned some something about blood…

Blood naturally has its own clotting factors, so given enough time, it would naturally congeal into a solid, “fibrous,” mass. So in some sense, blood is a living entity, not quite classified under “liquid” or “solid.” There are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats found within our blood at different times. More importantly, the proteins present in blood can become tough and denatured with the application of heat, so it is possible to ruin the texture of congealed blood (sort of like steak).

Coagulation of blood, or thrombogenesis, occurs as a mechanism inside an animal that allows blood to clot (hemostasis), which is an important defense mechanism to “[cease] blood loss from a damaged vessel.” In all mammals, the clotting process involves a platelet and a protein (coagulation factor) that allows the blood to solidify. The process is triggered through injury, which activates platelets and clotting factor cascades; slaughtering an animal would surely activate injury prevention mechanisms.

In other applications such as blood sausages, and/or black pudding, fillers may be implmented for additional texture and flavor as congealed blood by itself is mostly used in Chinese applications. According to Wikipedia, “typical fillers include meat, fat, suet, bread, rice, barley and oatmeal.” All of these provide some degree of binding due to glycation (protein binding to sugar).

Congealed blood can also be used to thicken stews, but in order to deactivate the clotting necessary to do this, one may have to add acid so it does not congeal upon extended periods of time or heat. This may alter flavors or desired end product, so take heed.

There are culinary uses of blood in many countries.

So what can you do with this information?

1. You know you won’t die if you get a cut. 2. Something like “deep-fried (liquid)” all of a sudden doesn’t sound too bizarre. 3. Although it looks and feels like tofu, blood cubes are not vegetarian friendly. 4. Protein mixed with starches make for great texture in comfort food (black pudding, blood sausage). 5. Nose-to-tail eating includes the juice that runs the animal. Blood is offal.