I woke up craving blood.
Not in an emerge-from-the-shadows Nosferatu kind of way. Not in a ruffly-shirted, kinda-homoerotic Lestat kind of way. And definitely not in an "I sparkle in sunlight and am incapable of enunciating" kind of way. None of that — the other morning, before I even got out of bed, I decided that I needed dinuguan.
A traditional Filipino stew, dinuguan (dee-new-gwan) is something I grew up eating — not every day, but on an occasional basis, when my Aunt Epy or my grandmother would cook up a pot while my cousins and I bounced around the house. Why does such a sporadically served dish stay suspended in my mind, so much so that my subconscious bossed me into cooking some? Well, the name dinuguan derives from the Tagalog word "dugo," or blood — the key ingredient in this pot is drained from the veins of a swine, Carrie-style.
As a young'un I was always morbidly curious about dinuguan, which when it's done resembles wet concrete with cubed pork in it. (They used to tell us it was chocolate so we'd eat it.) That "wow, I'm eating something that is really, really, unnaturally brownish-gray" feeling is further hammered home by the fact that the traditional accompaniments for the dish are either white rice or puto, a steamed white rice cake. The aggressively chalky, mineralistic flavor of the stew (from both the blood itself and minced pork liver, which I use) is cut by another vital staple of the Filipino kitchen — vinegar.
Am I making you hungry?
"A dish made with innards and blood may sound challenging to some, yet it is surprisingly accessible and easy to like," write Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, whose 2006 book Memories of Philippine Kitchens is my Pinoy cooking bible. "When done properly and skillfully, the dinuguan is absolutely delicious." I'd never made it before, though, so I prepared myself for what might result from an improper and less-than-skillful attempt.
The mere prospect of cooking with blood was both appealing and flummoxing for me, so I collected a bunch of (wholly disparate) dinuguan recipes, including the one in Besa and Dorotan's book, and borrowed elements from each to produce my dinuguan. The early steps — cubing up pork butt, aromatizing delights like ginger, garlic, bay leaf and lemongrass, then covering everything with liquid and setting it over low heat — were so rudimentary it was nearly boring. What is this, soup?
Then came the funcooker: As all the ingredients that don't scare small children bubbled away in a pot, I armed myself with two knives and began mincing the organistic hell out of close to a pound of pork liver, getting it pasty and pulpy enough to be roughly whisked into a cup of pasteurized pork's blood generously given to me by Jonathan Adams of Pub & Kitchen. (I'll get you back, dude!) I dipped my fingertips into it a few times and had some internal monologue like Dexter always does, and then I dumped it all into the pot.
Nothing at first. All it took was a quick stir and it happened: Blackened mini-clouds began rising to the surface, insidious plumes of blood and guts like I'd just struck oil in the middle of a chicken-stock ocean. It smelled exactly like I remembered it. And 45-ish minutes later, it tasted exactly like it, too. Bloody good.