Though we're down to last-minute Halloween party planning, we do hope you're not considering making peeled grape "eyeballs" again this Halloween weekend. Blood-fattened leeches? Now that would be fun. For that, you'll need Heston Blumenthal's latest book, Heston's Fantastical Feasts, released a few weeks ago (the U.S. edition). The book recounts the research behind the dishes on his British TV show during which Blumenthal creates six meals based on various periods in history (both real and fairytale), which correspond to the chapters in the book: A Fairy Tale Feast, A Gothic Horror Feast, A Titanic Feast, A Chocolate Factory Feast, A Seventies Feast, and An Eighties Feast.
The leeches didn't make it onto that "A Gothic Horror Feast" final dinner menu (Blumenthal dubbed the dish best left in the oral history books). The few recipes that did make the menu cut are included at the end of each chapter, but he does essentially give you a step-by-step prose recipe for making those butter-sautéed leeches when he recounts his own experiments. You know, should you care to find some goose blood (and leeches) and give it a whirl this weekend. Turn the page for more on proper leach-plumping and the rest of Blumenthal's Dracula-inspired menu.
Blumenthal says that "A Gothic Horror Feast" television episode (and now book chapter) was inspired by Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and his own 17th and 18th century recipe research. The latter included flying to Sibiu, the former capital of Transylvania where he met with local history expert Alexandru Sono. Blumenthal says he hoped to find blood-based recipes tied to Dracula mythology for menu inspiration, but found only the usual sausage and preserved meats. Except for this one recipe still preserved in Sonoc's oral history archives:
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"A story about a goose with leeches," recalls Sonoc. "Nobody cooks this, but every Romanian knows about it. Leeches are put on a slaughtered, spiced goose, which is then roasted in the oven; once cooked the goose is discarded and the leeches are eaten. Or the leeches are attached to a live goose to feed, then made into a stew with vegetables; there's not mention of what happens to a goose in this version."
And so of course, back in England, Blumenthal gathers up hibernating leeches from a leech farm (the skinny ones, we are told, plump up very quickly when they taste fresh blood). He puts them in a tub along with plenty of food -- in this case fresh goose blood tied up in a sausage casing. Once they spied their all-blood sausage, Blumenthal says the leeches were "ready to bite in with their three sets of jaws, each with one-hundred teeth." After they gorged themselves on blood, Blumenthal sautés the fat slug-like balls in butter with a touch of garlic, tastes them, and promptly dubs them much worse than blood pudding (The blood part was fine -- "nicely coagulated," he declares. It's that thick, slimy skin that just doesn't fare as well as a sausage casing).
As the ultimate goal was for the food to taste good even if it triggered emotional disgust, Blumenthal went with "deep fried, impaled garlic butter snails" for the final menu (much of which was served in animal bones or various other gasp-inducing vessels). And so the menu started off with "beetroot and blood civet of spelt with nitro-frozen horseradish cream" and ended with a "Gourmand's Graveyard" that included hazelnut-marzipan breasts made by "carving up a Barbie doll and pressing her bust in some alginate to produce a breast-mold."
Why breast molds? "So that each coffin could contain an unexpected, raunchy body part amid the soil," says Blumenthal, who drizzled raspberry pâte de fruit over them for that just-butchered Barbie effect. Of course he did. Last minute Halloween costume, anyone?