What Is Morcilla?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Close-up of red pepper on morcilla

Alfernec / Getty Images

Morcilla, pronounced mor-SEE-yah or mor-THEE-yah, is a Spanish blood sausage that is popular throughout the country, both as a tapa and as an ingredient in other dishes. While the idea of consuming pigs' blood might not be immediately appealing to everyone, morcilla has a uniquely rich and satisfying flavor that can win over even staunch naysayers. So why not learn more about morcilla, see how it is used, and perhaps also give it a try at home or in a Spanish restaurant. You might like it—you might even become a morcilla ambassador and try it out on your friends.

What Is Morcilla?

Morcilla is a sausage that, like chorizo, is very much a part of the ritual of the “slaughter” or la matanza in Spain. Extended family, friends, and neighbors get together in small towns all over the country to sacrifice their fattened hogs to make chorizo, morcilla, and jamón. Like most agrarian societies, Spaniards make good use of just about every part of the pig, from the hooves to the ears, and most everything in between. And the blood doesn’t go to waste either. It is quickly drained into a large pan and immediately taken to the kitchen where the preparation of morcilla takes place.

Morcilla is the first type of sausage made from the slaughtered pig. The ground pork is mixed with pig's blood, along with seasonings and spices, chopped onions, and filler (usually rice). It is then piped into a casing, shaped into cylinders, flash-boiled to coagulate the blood, and hung up to cure. 

How to Cook Morcilla

Spaniards generally cut morcilla into thick slices (rodajas), fry them in a bit of olive oil, and eat with bread as a tapa or snack. When cooked and crumbled, it becomes a favorite ingredient for stews, such as cocido Madrileño (Madrid-style stew), as well as bean dishes. It is often placed in the pot along with other ingredients to simmer.

If you like sausage with breakfast, fry up some sliced morcilla with potatoes and serve with poached, scrambled, or fried eggs. 

What Does Morcilla Taste Like?

Generally speaking, morcilla has a dark purple-black color, a dense consistency, and an intensely rich flavor with a slight tanginess. But morcilla is produced throughout the country and, like many classic dishes of Spanish cuisine, both the ingredients used to make it and style of the sausage change considerably from region to region.

Morcilla vs. Chorizo

The comparison of morcilla and Spanish chorizo is an obvious one because both are products of the Spanish tradition of a pig's annual slaughter. Both types of sausage consist largely of ground pork, mixed with salt and other seasonings—especially paprika—piped into a casing to cure. But there are also significant differences. The biggest one is blood: Pig's blood is an essential ingredient in morcilla and has a major impact on its taste, appearance, and consistency, whereas blood is not a factor in chorizo. While both undergo a curing process (morcilla is usually briefly boiled first), the aging period is much longer for chorizo than it is for morcilla, which raises another significant difference: Whereas Spanish chorizo is usually sliced thin and eaten much like an Italian salami, morcilla is only semi-cured and therefore must be cooked before eating, either on its own or as an ingredient in other preparations. This aging difference also means that while chorizo can last almost indefinitely, becoming harder and drier the more it ages, morcilla must be cooked (or frozen) within a fairly short time. Finally, while chorizo consists principally of pork, salt, and other seasonings, morcilla has a number of other ingredients added to it, depending on where it comes from, such as rice, onions, pine nuts, squash, or potatoes, and these things obviously have an impact on its flavor, consistency, and usage.

Varieties

Spain's regional cuisines are extraordinarily diverse, and morcilla, which is made throughout the country, offers an excellent example. While the "nose-to-tail" gastronomic philosophy of minimizing food waste and eating local is a constant, the flavor and texture profiles differ from place to place. And these variations reflect each regions' agriculture and history, whether it is the local onions that are the prominent ingredient or the spices that remained after the Middle Eastern rule of Spain dissolved. 

One of the most highly regarded versions of morcilla is the one from Burgos, a city in the autonomous community of Castile and León in northwestern Spain, where the sausage has a cylinder or football shape and is filled with ground pork, onion, garlic, sweet and spicy paprika, oregano, pig’s blood, and rice. A variety that does not include rice, found mostly in areas of central Spain, has a softer, creamier texture. Certain regions add clove and/or cinnamon to the recipe, which significantly alters its flavor profile, and others use pine nuts or squash in place of rice, which changes the texture and flavor of the sausage. Morcilla from the northern parts of Spain is usually the mildest, while the spiciest version is from the Valencia region. Morcilla from the coastal region of Asturias typically has a smoky flavor because, due to the wet climate, the blood sausage is often left to cure inside fireplaces rather than in the open air.

In western Spain, in the autonomous community of Extremadura, there is a blood sausage called morcilla patatera that is made with mashed potatoes, resulting in a creamy, moist interior. And in the city of Seville, there is another very popular version called morcilla dulce where the sausage is sweet and served raw as a tapa.

Morcilla Recipes

While morcilla preparations differ widely throughout Spain, the common factor is always the intense flavor and dense texture of the sausage itself. Once you find a good source for the sausage, you can try different recipes and perhaps even improvise some of your own.

Where to Buy Morcilla

The best place to find morcilla is in a shop or on a website specializing in Spanish foods and charcuterie.

Storing Morcilla

Fresh morcilla can be stored in the fridge for about five to seven days. If you're getting it from a Spanish butcher shop, ask when it was made and how long it will last without being cooked or frozen. Nowadays, fresh morcilla can be purchased through online specialty vendors in vacuum-sealed packages, which extends the maximum storage time. Check the expiration date on the package.

It is also possible to buy flash-frozen morcilla that can be kept in the freezer (ideally in small individual airtight packages) for six months or more. Once defrosted, the sausage should be cooked within two or three days.

Morcilla that has been cooked, either in a soup or stew, or sliced and pan-fried, can be kept refrigerated for three to four days, or even frozen, though this is less desirable as the consistency of the dish may change with defrosting.

Nutrition and Benefits of Morcilla

As you can probably imagine, morcilla has a fairly high amount of fat, so if that is a health issue for you, be sure to moderate your intake. (On the positive side, as morcilla is quite rich and intensely flavored, a little goes a long way.)

A 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving of morcilla blood sausage has about 263 calories of which 17.5 grams are fat, 14 grams are carbs, and 14 grams are protein. This breaks down to 59.9 percent fat, 21.3 percent carbs, and 21.3 percent protein. (Note that these values might change somewhat for morcilla that contains certain ingredients such as squash or potatoes.) Morcilla also provides about 5.8 percent of the daily value of vitamin A, and 7 percent of the DV of iron.

Article Sources
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  1. US Department of Agriculture.  FoodData Central.  Morcilla blood sausage. Updated April 1, 2019.

  2. US Food & Drug Administration. Daily value on the new nutrition and supplement facts labels. Updated May 5, 2020.