Alone in a Glasgow studio in front of several knives and a bag of blood doesn't sound like the best place to be on a dark November morning.But as chef Craig Grozier greets me—smiling and carrying a box of ingredients towards the kitchen—it soon becomes clear that there is little to worry about.Highland-born Grozier is here to cook me a dish of his own invention: hare blood custard.
"I'm the first chef to do it," he proudly points out.
Inside the kitchen, Grozier gets to work slicing an onion, recounting memories of growing up in the small Scottish town of Dingwall."My love of cooking began young, washing pots from 14 in my pal's mother's kitchen," he says. "I knew all along it was for me."After pretending he was going to be a graphic designer (and fucking it up), Grozier washed pots in a restaurant, before progressing to learn the culinary basics and travel the world.
"I used to work for this Aussie guy when I was cooking out in Queensland," laughs Grozier, chucking the onions and butter into a pan as he remembers.Grozier nicknamed him "Big Kev the Polar Bear," thanks to his all-white clothes and hair. Together, they experimented with ingredients and flavours, using off-cuts and overlooked produce."Big Kev used to say, 'You know what I love about you boys, you can make a silk purse out of a pig's ear,'" Grozier remembers. "It's a message I try to work with to this day."
Whether purse out of a pig's ear or indeed custard out of blood, Grozier became passionate about using unusual ingredients—especially those unique to Scotland. It was while travelling that he realised the quality of his home country's produce."You know, in New York City, they're using wild hare from Scotland," Grozier tells me, as he crushes the juniper berries on his board. "I went to Tsukiji Market in Tokyo and Scottish langoustines and scallops are always in demand. Michelin-starred restaurants in London can't get enough of our Scottish lobsters coming through their doors."
As if to prove his point further, Grozier tells me to grab my coat and we head out of the kitchen to the River Kelvin that runs outside. Scouring the riverbanks, I ask why it's so important to use lesser known, locally sourced ingredients."It's important we use food like blood or come foraging just outdoors like we are here for edible greenery because put simply, resources are running out," Grozier explains. "We really can't keep fucking the planet."After a nibble on a the root of a foraged wood avon, Grozier excitedly picks a handful of wild pink purslane—its beetroot-y flavour an ideal garnish for the custard. Strolling back to the kitchen with our haul ready for serving, he tells me about the influence of Scandinavian cuisine on his cooking."From stages at the likes of Relae in Copenhagen, I came to love this clean and modern approach to food," Grozier explains. "I wanted to bring it to Scotland, where we could stamp a twist using our heritage here."
Rene Redzepi tweeted a recipe for blood soup a good few years back but it's not just personal experience that provides a link between Scotland and Scandinavia. The first Viking raids on the Hebridean island of Iona were thought to have taken place in the year 794. These invasions saw the Vikings bring curing, smoking, and salting to Scotland—techniques that remain a staple of both Scottish and Scandinavian cuisine to this day.Alongside these historical ties, Grozier says it's geographical too.
"We're on the same latitude as Denmark and parts of Sweden, Norway, and Finland," he says. "The same plants might have different names across the ocean but they look the same wherever you are."
Back in the kitchen, custard cooking away, I find myself asking how exactly one goes about sourcing hare's blood. A bold move, considering I haven't tasted the custard yet."The hare blood I use comes from Islay or Perthshire—good Scottish produce," says Grozier. "But it's finding a contact that can be tough."He tries to get his hares whole, the paunch filled with blood and primed for the taking.
"You only get a small amount of blood in the animal," Grozier adds, as the red stuff is poured into to the Thermomix. "It's why the liquid was traditionally reserved as a meaty thickener for sauce."If you reckon your local butcher might not have hare blood sitting under the counter, the blood of a pig also works. It gives the dish a slightly less irony tang."You might think of it as a waste product but remember blood pudding does have to come from somewhere," says Grozier. "Make sure you ask nicely when you show up at the shop."
The blood sourced from such small creatures might be little in volume but a kill from a pig can provide up to five litres of the stuff.Of course Grozier isn't the first Scottish chef to experiment with blood. Black pudding is a long-celebrated Scottish dish, with the town of Stornoway holding Protected Geographical Indication status for its version of the blood sausage dish.
But for the small crowd of Scots who by now have joined Grozier and I in the kitchen, this is blood cooking like never before."Today, we have hare blood custard, fermented sloes, caramelised red endive, and pink purslane," announces Grozier, as forks are handed around. It turns out that the juniper and gin running through the mousse-like liquid merge surprisingly well with the irony blood.With plates filling, Grozier packs away the leftover blood for safekeeping, but not before quoting some Bruce Lee.
"'Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality,'" he recites, as I begin to wonder whether the gin has gone straight to his head."It means build all your techniques up," he clarifies, "and then strip it all back completely. With Scottish ingredients, just get quality produce and cook it simply."