According to British and Irish tradition, black pudding has an esteemed place next to the bacon rashers, sausage links, fried eggs, mushrooms, fried tomato and fried slice in an old-fashioned greasy spoon breakfast, but its almost complete absence from the American breakfast table is confusing, especially given our known preference towards an injection of cholesterol to kick-start the day.
This phenomenon might be partially explained by the less euphemistic title of “blood sausage” in use on these shores. The more descriptive terminology acting as a major deterrent. In fact, blood sausages are an integral part of the diets of many European countries — the morcilla of Spain and French boudin noir, among them — and their former colonies in the new world, especially South America, with the Cajun country cooking of Louisiana and the Canadian province of Quebec being the only areas of North America to demonstrate any real enthusiasm for these dark mystery bags.
Supposedly a corruption of the English word “pudding”, boudin are common throughout France in various colors and flavors, and in many ways the term refers to fresh sausages in general, with the more familiar cognate, saucisson, reserved largely for salumi/preserved sausages. Boudin blanc, made with veal and pork are commonly seasoned with quatre epices (white pepper, ginger, nutmeg and cloves) and closely resemble many of the sausages I remember growing up in England where pale colored pork sausages, flavored most commonly with either apple or sage, were a weekend breakfast table favorite. However, it’s the boudin noir, made with pigs blood, grains, fat and seasoned with white pepper and nutmeg that I am most interested in, perhaps, because of a fascination with just how one makes sausages out of congealed pigs blood, but, principally because their gruesome reputation belies their extremely delicate texture and taste. Their rich color, unique minerally-flavor, and loose, unctious mouth-feel, is obscured by our collective fear of blood, though given the current inexplicable popularity of all things vampire-related, whether this is shared by younger generations is unknown.
In France, there are various centers of boudin production, but it is relatively easy to find throughout the country. The meal above is a take on one we ate in the charming medieval town of Arras (more famous for its wall-hanging carpetry than its gastronomy) in north-eastern France around New Year 2009. The potato gratin and green salad of that meal being substituted here with puy lentils and some charmingly minute steamed vegetables – zucchini in this case – and pickled pattypan squash. The latter picked up during some holiday impulse buying at a supermarket outside the nearby town of Noyon, and the jar breached for this special recreation. This dish was extremely good, though the boudin did deflate somewhat during cooking which I took to be an indictment of the particular sausage-maker’s art rather than a facet typical of blood sausages in general. Should you wish to avoid that possibility altogether though, I would certainly council frying thick slices of boudin on a hot plate, or similar device, until crispy on the outside. The contrast with the lentils and the soft interior of the sausage would be even better than what’s pictured here.
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed but skin on
- 1/2 yellow onion, cut into thirds
- 1/2 cup puy lentils, rinsed
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and black pepper
- 2 pints / 1 liter water
- 4 small or 2 large boudin noir
- 1/2 glass dry white wine
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- juice of half lemon
- 1 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
- (optional) 1/2 teaspoon minced tarragon
- In a large saucepan, place garlic, onion, lentils, bay, salt and water.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook until lentils are a little softer than al dente but not mushy, 12-15 minutes.
- In a saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a medium heat before adding boudin noir.
- Allow skins to brown slightly before pouring in white wine and covering with tight-fitting lid.
- Allow boudin to steam in wine and juices for 10 minutes.
- Remove boudin carefully, turn heat to high and reduce juices by half. Reserve.
- In a bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, dijon mustard and tarragon with a pinch of salt and black pepper, and whisk vigorously into a vinaigrette.
- When lentils are cooked plate them with cooked boudin and pour over vinaigrette and reserved pan sauce.
- Enjoy with a medium to full bodied red from Languedoc or the upper Rhone valley.