A Bloody Good -- and Bloody Hard to Find -- Dessert Hits Revival Market
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
In its savory form, sanguinaccio tastes like oddly greaseless pan sausage. Revival Market even serves the stuff in a tall, sausage-shaped round along with a fried yard egg, the crumbly texture of the sanguinaccio thirstily soaking up the golden yolk once you pierce the egg's delicate white cloak.
In its sweet form, the sanguinaccio dolce that Revival Market's chef de cuisine Adam Dorris makes with gritty semolina flour has the flavor and feel of raw brownie batter. The whipped forms he makes with lard tastes like rich, dense chocolate mousse. And like the lard, the most important ingredient in sanguinaccio is sourced from the pigs that Revival Market owner Morgan Weber raises himself and which are butchered in-house: blood.
Aside from its telltale dark cordovan hue, you'd never know that the block of sanguinaccio dolce sitting innocuously in Revival Market's charcuterie case was made primarily with pig's blood. But it's precisely this one ingredient that makes sanguinaccio so good -- and so rare.
Adam Dorris shows off his savory sanguinaccio.
"I've only seen it in Italy," said Ryan Pera, chef and co-owner at Revival Market. Dorris, who's been turning out batches of sanguinaccio along with charcutier Andrew Vaserfirer, chimed in with a similar tale. When Dorris was helming the kitchen at the now-closed Stella Sola, he offered it on the menu -- but most diners didn't realize what it was, although they ate it with relish.
In fact, when sanguinaccio appeared briefly in an Astoria restaurant last year, New York food writers got wiggly with excitement over finding it; locating the Italian dessert made by whipping blood into dark chocolate and letting it set in a refrigerated mold overnight is the food equivalent of watching a comet streak through the night sky.
Writing for New York Magazine's Grub Street, Bradley O'Bryan Hawks described its scarceness and salience in a city such as New York where a food lover can find entire constellations of cuisines: "Loyal regulars [at Ornella Trattoria], or anyone in the know and brave enough, might even be able to coax a cupful throughout the week when it remains an off-menu special."
But it's not off-menu at Revival Market. Right here in Houston, it's $12.99 a pound and available fresh every day.
"That's what's wonderful about this place," says Dorris, of the fact that Revival Market not only brings in whole animals from trusted sources, but breaks them down and uses every part for either its butcher and charcuterie cases or its prepared food items. "All the pork is Morgan-raised and I know exactly where all this blood is coming from."
Blood is a famously finicky ingredient. It must be used within 24 hours or it quickly congeals and spoils. You can freeze it, but the process destroys the texture of the delicate liquid and -- besides -- the shelf life is only extended by a short couple of weeks.
Despite this, it's been used as a common and highly nutritious ingredient throughout history: Ancient Sumerian recipes called for blood mixed with milk as a thickener for stews, while Masai tribesmen still practice bloodletting (once again, mixed with milk) of their own cows and drink the stuff for sustenance. The strong of stomach can watch a video of this practice on YouTube.
Blood is also used in more common recipes, such as blood sausage -- a version of which is found in many cultures across the world. The French and the Cajuns have their boudin noir, Latin America has its morcilla, Koreans have their sundae (not the sundae you're thinking of) and even the Finnish have their richly flavored mustamakkara that's typically served with lingonberry jam.
Although both are based in pig's blood and dark chocolate, the fennel-chili-citrus sanguianncio, front, has a sharp, fiery burn. Espresso sanguinaccio, back, has a much deeper, richer flavor.
Unlike typical blood sausages, though, little to no metallic, coppery flavor is left behind in Dorris's sanguinaccio. Part of that is attributable to the other ingredients he uses: lard that tastes of mineral-laced well water and fresh grass and sweet ground pork along with dusky cardamom and cloves in his savory sanguinaccio, for example. And in his dolce versions, his experimentations have altered the flavor even more.
"The different dolce preparations we've been doing are straight dark chocolate with local pecans and semolina," he says as he points to the pâté-like sliver of pecan-dotted sanguinaccio on a small white plate. "More traditionally, it's used as a pudding -- so these" -- he indicates two smaller, fluffier quenelles of the stuff -- "are going to be lighter in texture and bolder in flavor."
One of the quenelles of sanguinaccio is a fennel-chili-citrus blend, of which Dorris says "the chili is really powerful -- for some reason it comes through the blood really strong." He serves it with housemade shortbread (featuring more house lard, of course) to cut the heat level. And the other is made with finely ground espresso beans from local roaster and Greenway Coffee owner David Buehrer, which Revival Market sells along with all the other ingredients Dorris uses. It's a one-stop shop.
"With the espresso one," he points to the darker of the two quenelles, "we wanted to have a slight smokiness to go with the espresso. So when we started adding in the sugar we actually rendered the lard, got it really super hot, added the sugar and let it caramelize a bit. When we whipped it back into the blood with the cocoa powder, you got a really intense, cool flavor."
He and Vaserfirer are planning additional experiments with the sanguinaccio -- perhaps a twist on an affogato with the espresso flavor -- and they plan to keep it on the menu for as long as customers purchase it. Even if they don't know what it is right off the bat.
"People are kind of skeptical at first when I bring it out," says Dorris. But they're hooked after just one taste. And for Dorris, the decision to make this rare, blood-based item was as much a business decision as it was a chance to explore and showcase an often-ignored ingredient that's finally getting a well-deserved spotlight.
"The fact of the matter is, in order for this place to survive we have to constantly find out ways to use everything. It has to sell. And it has to sell daily. So I'm having a blast, because we get to explore all these different flavors and textures and cuts that you don't see anywhere else."
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