By Sarah Spigelman
You might consider yourself an adventurous eater. Perhaps you enjoy steak tartare or uni sushi; maybe you’ve even tried smelly durian on a trip to Asia.
But how about cod sperm or goat's eyeballs? Didn't think so.
The Gastronauts, an underground dining society started in New York in 2006, have been encouraging Americans to “get away from solely eating foods they were comfortable with." Founders Curtiss Calleo and Ben Pauker started the club because, Calleo says, "I think we both had the feeling that there was all this amazing new food in New York and we weren't eating it. The club was creating a reason to eat in other places in New York, like Flushing or Brooklyn or Chinatown. We were constantly lamenting that no one wanted to eat offal with us and that our friends were so squeamish about our ordering off the deeper end of the menu, so we decided to start a club of our own."
The club has taken off, and is now celebrating its fifth anniversary. The Gastronauts have grown from seven people eating Malaysian food to over 800 people eating everything from guinea pig and insects to horse.
So to celebrate their anniversary, the Gastronauts needed to pump up the volume in terms of adventurous dining.
It really had to be a BLOODY good party. That’s right, an entire feast of blood.
I love meat, but could I handle it? I went along with 75 other fearless foodies, fork in hand, for a taste.
The dinner was prepared by Public's amazing chef Brad Farmerie, who worked with the Gastronauts not only to prepare interesting and delicious recipes, but to source blood from cows, pigs and horses.
First up, smoked coconut laksa with blood tofu
The soup itself was a fragrant, slightly spicy broth that was rich and full-bodied without being heavy. Light notes of lemongrass and cilantro mingled with a well balanced shellfish stock and the creamy, deep taste of the smoked coconut. As for the blood tofu ... really, it didn't taste any different than normal tofu. The texture was a bit firmer, but if you could get past looking at the fact that it was, well, just a gelatinous little cube … that was made out of congealed blood.
House cured trout, coconut labne, and Swedish blood bread
This looked and tasted as innocuous as smoked salmon and butter on pumpernickel bread. The blood bread was milder -- instead of that tangy, sour punch, it was sweet. The combination of the lightly smoky butter trout and the creamy coconut labne was purely delightful.
Unless you were the petite blonde girl sitting next to me who looked forlornly at her plate and said "well, it really isn't too scary after all, is it?"
Don't worry, lady, the next one is for you.
Pig blood popsicles, chili jam, and toasted peanuts
I was prepared for a sort of blood fudgesicle. I was thankfully wrong.
This was like pig blood satay. The blood itself seemed to be mixed with rice, giving it the texture of very soft meatloaf, or of slightly more substantial liver pate. It was warm and crunchy outside but very soft and almost mushy inside. Though there were peanuts, cilantro and a sweet chili glaze on it, all I could taste was blood. Not my cup of tea, but people right and left were simply loving it - the enthusiastic gentleman across from me finished it off so quickly I almost asked him if he wanted mine!
Boudin noir, poached egg and sherry braised onion
Boudin noir, popular in New Orleans, is made out of pork, pig blood, and fillers such as rice. It was fabulous! The sausage was spicy, with garlic, onion and pork, and the blood seemed to round it all out with a very mild sweet note. It was paired with tangy onions, fresh microgreens, and a velvety poached egg for a myriad of flavors and textures. Although the blood was not dominant flavor here, it was an important one -- it kept all the fatty and spicy flavors in check with its mellow sweetness.
Black pudding pie with pear chutney
This looks like a heavenly little tart. It could be filled with pears or apples, or perhaps even a steak and mushroom stew. But of course, that wasn’t the case.
Blood pudding is very much like blood sausage - it is congealed pig's blood, pork and a variety of spices and fillers. This, though, had a remarkably different taste and texture than the boudin noir. It was grainy, tasted very much of pork, and was far less seasoned than the boudin noir. That let the blood's natural sweetness shine through, complementing the pork, gently spiced pears and flaky pastry.
If all blood tasted like this, I could eat it every day! That man across the table had two of them.
Horse blood gnudi
I knew it was coming: I had to eat Seabiscuit.
This gnudi (which means little dumplings) was made with horse blood dough. This was one of the few dishes that I just could not get behind. Even with the accompanying spicy radishes and sweet roasted beets, the gnudi was heavy. I didn't taste the blood at all; it was just not that great of a pasta dish -- and it had horse blood. I just couldn't get my mind around it.
Even the blonde next to me could only handle about one bite before she leaned over and confessed that she grew up with horses and really couldn't stomach any more.
Pork blood creme brulee
I wasn’t a fan. It wasn't really as creamy as it was congealed. A little gelatinous and while it was sweet, it wasn't really sugary. It was sweet in that very bloody way, a way that I found off-putting. I realized then that blood needs to be with other elements to shine -- alone it is just too much for me.
The man sitting across from me was happy to finish off my creme brulee for me, after he downed his.
Jeff Thompon for La Petite Fleur
Blood velvet cake with foie gras and white chocolate icing
Now this was the stuff! The cake was chocolaty, fine crumbed and a bit dry. The dryness was not a drawback - on the contrary, it was a positive necessity to combat the totally over the top fatty delight of the sweet and salty foie gras icing. Everyone around me agreed that this was a standout dish, and that the foie gras was both apparent and in perfect harmony with the rich, sweet flavors of the cake. The only giveaway that there was any blood in this was that somewhat dry texture, which was similar to the grainy texture of the blood pudding pie.
I ate as much as I could without going into total blood-induced sugar shock.
In the end, this dinner was both gruesome and delicious. And then there is that feeling that you are about to turn into a character from "Twilight."
This was, according to Calleo and Pauker, one of the most popular meals to date; who would have believed that blood could be appetizing? Though the men cannot reveal what is up next for the members of the Gastronauts, they promise that "it'll be good."
The club isn’t for everyone and it does not purport to be. It is for people who live to eat, love adventure, and would rather see a live octopus on their plates than in an aquarium.
Here's to fifty more fabulous years, Gastronauts!
Want to get a taste of something adventurous, but not quite ready for the Gastronauts? Check out Hoda Kotb with guest host Andy Cohen as they squirm while trying some wild dishes.
From pungent fruits and tofu to pig's blood soup and worms, travel expert Mark Murphy takes TODAY's Hoda Kotb on a tour of adventurous eats.
Check out Fritos and Foie Gras for more from Sarah Spigelman.