My new home in Flushing, New York, reminds me more of China than Chinatown in Manhattan. The jostling on the streets is more strenuous; the smells of food mingle with the stench of garbage, alternatively arresting and repelling and lurking in every corner, every alleyway. Every day I come across a new noodle joint, another dumpling place, some other hole-in-the-wall tucked away on a side street.
On a cool and rainy morning, I hunt for chicken and duck blood soup. This Shanghainese specialty of gently congealed poultry blood is really more custard than soup. The slices of blood are so tender, like the tenderest of tofu, only more so. Whereas the texture of soft tofu is uniform throughout, a cube of poultry blood has a thin skin, the pellicle of the blood, so to speak, that gives way to a burst of creamy, barely congealed blood. You bite into a cube of poultry blood and immediately it shimmies down your throat, barely grazing your tastebuds on the way down.
I haven't written about blood in this column only because, like lungs from last week, it is so difficult to track down fresh poultry blood or find a restaurant that knows how to handle it. (Which is to say, to not handle it very much at all: There is nothing worse than overcooked blood; it becomes leathery and its delicate, intangible flavor dries up as well.) Prepared properly, congealed blood really is one of my favorite flavors: subtly metallic like a plump East Coast oyster, and feral like very dark chocolate. The taste of poultry or pork blood is, in one sense, easy to fathom; we've all bitten down too hard on our tongues and drawn a taste of our own, and maybe, just maybe, thought quietly, well this doesn't taste too shabby.
Blood may not be for everyone: You'll either love or hate its taste. Blood sausage, another one of my favorite uses for blood, combines blood with other winning ingredients, like pork and fat, for a creamy emulsion that's stuffed in a sausage casing or canned in tins. But sometimes blood sausage just isn't strong enough; I want the pure experience of blood, unadorned.
I don't have a recipe this week, though if I did, it would read something like this:
Find congealed blood. Cut congealed blood into pieces and place them into the broth of your choice. Don't cook the congealed blood for more than five seconds, unless you want a mess of rubbery blood chunks on your hands. Or perhaps the directions would start with: Get yourself to a slaughter; catch the blood in your bowl and stir in gently to prevent it from coagulating before you're ready to set it into a mold.
I do strongly suggest, however, that you get yourselves to your nearest Shanghainese joint and order a bowl of chicken and duck blood soup (ji-ya xue tang). If you can't find poultry blood, settle for pork blood, which has a stronger taste and firmer texture. Either way, the congealed blood will most likely be served in a light broth, unembellished but for a few pickles or green onions. Blood soup, perfect tonic to the chilly weather to come.