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Maybe it’s the English breakfast boom, with its accompanying black pudding, but it seems that you can’t walk a block these days without bumping into some kind of blood sausage. The Vanderbilt plates it with shaved apple and celery root puree; Blaue Gans serves it with fingerling potatoes and sauerkraut; Nation’s Cafe in east Midtown cooks up an Irish breakfast with both black and white puddings; DBGB makes a fantastic boudin Basque with blood and pig’s head.
No need to fear the blood! It lends richness, minerality, and sweet depth, cooking down into a flavorful sticky brownness that you probably wouldn’t recognize as body fluid. Blood sausage is enjoyed all over the world–as blutwurst in Germany; black pudding in the UK and parts of Canada; boudin noir in France, bloomor in Iceland; kiszka in Poland; soondae in Korea; and morcilla in Spain and Latin America.
Today we turn to morcilla, which is served in many Latin American eateries and Spanish tapas spots. It’s usually made with pig’s blood, plus rice, onions, and spices, although many variations exist. Despana’s wonderful new cafe serves a warm tapa of morcilla in a rich tomato sauce, while Buenos Aires, named Best Steakhouse Alternative in the Voice’s 2006 Best of New York, carries an appetizer of grilled morcilla. Which sausage will be victorious in a morcilla smackdown?
Despana’s morcilla is stewed in a thick tomato sauce; the fat hunks of sausage snap under your teeth, yielding their meaty filing. Somewhat refined, it has a medium grind, with flavors and textures that hang together in a reassuring way. You’re never going to come up with a bite of unidentified pig part. It tastes peppery and porky, with the dark undertone of the blood lending heft and richness; the tomato sauce’s slight acidity is a good counterpart to the sausage’s unctuousness. It’s a very nice dish, especially in concert with a few other, lighter tapas.
Buenos Aires’s morcilla takes its offal status more seriously. It’s an imposing black fireplug of a thing with a tough casing. The filling is gushy and coarse, a pudding-like concoction liberally studded with nubbins of pork fat and pig bits of unknowable origin: sticky, messy, and tasting deeply of liver, iron, and thyme. One the side come a pickled green chile and garlicky-bright chimichurri, both providing welcome zest and acidity.
So which one is better? It’s hard to say. Despana’s rendition is a more delicious dish overall, while Buenos Aires’s version better showcases the morcilla. But this is a morcilla smackdown, not a dish smackdown, so the laurels go to Buenos Aires, for having the guts to let the guts star.
Buenos Aires Steakhouse
513 East 6th Street
408 Broome Street