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From matanza to morcilla

Margarita Vazquez Ponte is an artist and food writer who spends her time between Scotland and Northern Italy. Her roots however are in Spain where her mother is a chef in a Galician restaurant. Here she takes us through the blood curdling but fascinating ritual of the metanza, the annual pig killing festival in which the first thing always made is morcilla.

I have written about morcilla and the matanza before but I had never been quite so directly involved as this time. One of our pigs was due to be killed. Normally they are taken to the butcher for this but because we wanted to make morcilla, the butcher came here to kill it so we could collect the blood, then the animal is taken to the butchers.

So how do I write this…it was a strange, uncomfortable, surreal experience for me…I found myself in the dark on a stormy night watching the animal being killed. The pig is stunned first with an electronic gun, but of course when its throat is cut it struggles. The butcher asks me to hold one of his legs, to stop it from hurting my mum who is collecting the blood (yes I know how this sounds)…
I am a little shocked, I was already a little freaked out by the process, I did not expect to be so involved. However I do strongly believe that if you eat it, if you cook it and eat it…you need to be able to deal with where it came from. I am shocked, the pigs leg feels warm (of course), almost human. I close my eyes hold on tight and wait for it to stop twitching.

The butcher I must say, did the job by himself that once took four men to do, he did it all so quickly and efficiently and without fuss that it was as “humane” as it could possibly be for the animal given the circumstances. BUT it is shocking, no doubt about it …The blood meanwhile needs to be stirred constantly in one direction the second it hits the pan. The pan already contains water and a peeled raw onion, anti-coagulants apparently and you need to keep stirring till it cools down completely. I stir away for half an hour or so.

So, now that the main ingredient has been gathered, the morcilla can be made. Once all the dried fruit, flour, spices and bread has been added to the blood it is still surprisingly liquid, but it will set during the cooking process. Next, the skins of the large intestine are filled with the mixture. You must be careful not to over fill them… 

(My photos of this process looked so gory that I went outside and photographed through the window to “dampen” the effect a little!)

The puddings are then boiled – this is a very delicate process as if the skins burst at this point, you lose the whole pudding. They must be suspended in a large pan and must not touch the bottom and the water must be kept only just boiling.

The puddings will take anything from 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes depending on the thickness. You test them by pinching them with a sewing needle. If no liquid emerges, the pudding is cooked…

If you are lucky enough to have a lareira – an open fire place common to traditional Galician houses that is ideal for smoking and curing, you can hang the puddings there for a few days, otherwise hang them somewhere dry and well ventilated. In a few days the puddings will be ready to be sliced and fried and they also freeze beautifully…

Here is the finished product, fried morcilla – you can see the pine nuts and pieces of figs in the slices…I know it does not look pretty but it tastes divine, sweet, a little salty, a little crispy on the outside and smooth in the middle…

Margarita Vazquez Ponte’s blog can be read at margavp.wordpress.com

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