Morcilla is a Spanish blood sausage, popular both as a tapa and as an ingredient in stews. Morcilla, pronounced mor-thee-ya, is generally a thicker sausage, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches across, stuffed with pig’s blood, rice, onions, and spices. Like most Spanish cuisine, however, ingredients will vary from region to region. Morcilla from Burgos, a town in northern Spain, has the reputation for being the best morcilla in the country.
This Spanish blood sausage has a somewhat mild tangy flavor with a bit of spice. When it is cooked, it takes on a crumbly texture. No matter which ingredients are used, it is worth trying morcilla, even if the idea of eating pig’s blood is not appealing to you. Like many dishes containing ingredients you may not be accustomed to eating, you may be very surprised at how much you like it!
Morcilla is a sausage, like chorizo, that 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 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 jowls to the ears. The blood doesn’t go to waste either! It is quickly drained into a large pan and immediately taken to the kitchen where morcilla preparation will take place.
Morcilla is the first type of sausage made from the slaughtered pig. The ground pork is mixed with the blood of the pig (hence the name "blood sausage") along with seasonings and filler (usually rice). It is shaped into cylinders and then boiled and hung up to cure.
Variations of Morcilla
Although you will experience different versions of morcilla depending on where you are in Spain, the "nose-to-tail" gastronomic philosophy of minimizing food waste and eating local is seen throughout the country. It is the flavor profiles—and sometimes texture profiles—that differ from place to place. For a single country, the regional cuisines are extraordinarily diverse, offering very different tastes in the north, for example, compared to the southern regions of Spain. The different varieties reflect each regions' agriculture and history, whether it be the local onions that are the main ingredient or the spices that remained after the Middle Eastern rule of Spain.
The most prevalent is morcilla de Burgos, offered in a cylinder- or football-shape and stuffed with onion, garlic, sweet and spicy paprika, oregano, pig’s blood, and rice. There is a variety that does not include rice, mainly found in areas of the Iberian Peninsula and central Spain, creating a version with a very different texture. Certain regions include the addition of clove and/or cinnamon to the list of spices, or pine nuts or squash in place of rice, which completely changes the texture and flavor of the sausage. While the sausage from the northern parts of Spain will be milder, you will probably find the spiciest in the Valencia region. And if sampling morcilla in the coastal regions of Asturias, you will sense a smokey flavor; because of the wet climate, the blood sausage is left to cure inside fireplaces versus in the open air.
In the western Iberian Peninsula in Extremadura, the blood sausage is made with mashed potatoes and is called morcilla patatera; this results in a creamy interior, very different from the traditional recipe. There is one version popular in cities like Seville called morcilla dulce where the sausage is sweet and served raw as a tapa.
Cooking and Serving Morcilla
Spaniards generally cut morcilla into thick slices (1 inch or so), called "rodajas," and fry them in a bit of olive oil, and then eat with bread; it is eaten this way as a tapa or snack. When it is crumbled after cooking, it is a favorite ingredient in stews, such as cocido Madrileno—Madrilene stew, as well as bean dishes, and is placed in the pot with other ingredients to simmer.
If you tend to eat sausage with your breakfast, swap out the typical American sweet sausage for slices of morcilla. Fry it up with some potatoes and serve with poached, scrambled, or fried eggs.