This recipe and charming story come to you from my close friend, Becca. She visited me recently, and shared her Great-Grandmother’s Czarnina, or traditional Polish Duck Blood Soup. I asked her to share it with you below. It’s a lovely soup, faintly sweet and sour, and dotted with dried fruit. You can learn more about traditional Polish cooking in one of Becca’s favorite cookbooks, Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans. I hope you love it as much as we did. – Jenny
This is an adaptation of my grandmother’s recipe for duck blood soup or czarnina (pronounced cha-NEE-na or char-NEE-na, the R is very soft). My grandmother’s parents on my dad’s side of the family emigrated from Poland in the early 1900’s, but my grandmother did not teach her children to speak Polish and served them American food as children. Fortunately, she did not abandon every tradition from the old country, and so I grew up with stories of Busia’s (Polish for grandmother, her mother, my great-grandmother) duck blood soup that was served during the holidays. It sounded exotic and delicious, if a little bit strange.
Several years ago I became interested in traditional Polish cooking and asked my grandmother to share her recipe. She not only shared her recipe with me, but she also sent me a cookbook full of traditional Polish recipes. The adaptation that follows is traditional, nourishing, energizing, and thoroughly delicious. If your dinner guests are dubious about blood, just tell them it’s gravy soup. This meal is often served on Christmas Eve. It also makes a wonderful Sunday dinner in the fall.
Duck blood is an essential ingredient in this soup. It imparts a unique rich flavor and is loaded with vitamins and iron. I decided to raise my own Muscovy ducks in order to be able to prepare this recipe. If you can’t get your hands on a live duck, you can sometimes get fresh blood from a local butcher or farmer, or you can special order it. I know some of my relatives have duck blood express shipped from Milwaukee, where there is a large population of Polish-Americans. Trust me, it is worth the trouble.
The blood and vinegar mixture described below can be frozen until needed. Try to use plastic or glass when handling or storing the mixture and wash any kitchen implements in cold water. If hot water is used, blood will coagulate on your utensils (particularly strainers) and will become impossible to clean off. Once the blood is in the soup, this precaution is no longer necessary.
Buy a live duck. We got the ducks at a shop about a mile from our home. At about age 9, it was my duty to go on Saturday morning and get a duck for Busia. The butcher would tie the beak, and wrap the duck with brown paper and a string. I always feared that the duck would get loose, and hurried that long mile home. To obtain the blood for soup, you must tuck the bill toward the chest, and pluck the feathers off the top of its head. Using a very sharp knife, cut through the top of the head, and drain the blood into a bowl with about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of vinegar. This will prevent clotting. Strain and chill. Dress the duck and allow the bird to rest in the fridge overnight to 4 days (depending on the age of the bird). This will make the meat less chewy.
Make sure to save the gizzard, liver, heart, feet, and neck for making stock. Peel the feet and remove the talons before adding to the stock. Save excess fat from the carcass for later processing. It is not necessary to leave the skin on the bird. Prepare a stock and use to make the soup. My Dad always wanted potato dumplings in his czarnina. I also liked it instead of noodles. As early as 8 years of age, I learned how to make the dumplings right after the church service on Sundays so I could have them with my Dad. Everyone else got noodles.
Czarnina is a rich soup dotted with dried fruit. Its flavor is faintly sweet and sour with light, and delicate mineral-rich notes.
- One whole duck (available here), including gizzard, liver, neck and feet
- Ends and base from chopped celery, or 2-3 stalks of celery
- 1 medium yellow onion (ends removed, and any dirt brushed off)
- 6 allspice berries
- 8 whole cloves
- 1/2 bunch of parsley
- 2 tablespoons reserved duck fat
- Reserved duck breasts
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or 1 tablespoon fresh
- 10 prunes
- 20 dried cherries
- 1 cup dried apple rings
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
- Blood from 1 duck in vinegar (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of sugar or other sweetener
- 1 cup of cream
- 1/2 bunch parsley, minced
- Homemade Egg Noodles
- Potato Dumplings
- Additional Parsley
- Sour Cream or Milk Kefir
- Carefully remove the breasts from the duck, and place them in an airtight container in the refrigerator while you prepare the stock. Prepare the stock by covering the carcass in water and simmering for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is tender.
- Lift the carcass from the broth, allow it to cool until comfortable to handle and then remove meat from bones, and chop it finely. Reserve cooked meat to add to soup. Return bones to broth, and add gizzard, liver, heart, feet, neck, celery ends, onion, allspice berries, whole cloves, and the parsley. Simmer gently until stock has desired consistency and flavor, 2-6 hours. When stock is finished, strain, and skim off excess fat and reserve it. Note that if you’ve prepared the stock from a Muscovy duck, it will not produce significant amounts of fat and may not need to be skimmed.
- When your stock is ready, cut the reserved duck breasts into bite-sized cubes, season with salt and pepper. Melt the reserved duck fat in a heavy stock pot over medium heat. Brown the duck breasts in the hot fat, about 3 minutes.
- After the meat is brown, add duck stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer gently until breast meat is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Add ground allspice, cloves, marjoram, chopped peppers, and dried fruit and cook gently for another 20 minutes. After fruit has softened, chop remaining cooked duck meat and add it to the soup.
- Blend flour and sugar with 1/2 cup of the duck blood in vinegar. Stir in 3 tablespoons of broth from the hot soup into the mix of flour, sugar and duck blood to temper it. Pout the mixture slowly into soup, stirring continuously in a thin stream. Pouring too quickly results in lumps. Stir in the cream, and season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Just prior to serving, stir in some minced parsley. Serve with homemade egg noodles or potato dumplings.
Recipe variations: For a more substantial meal, you can add more dried fruit. For an appetizer, you can reduce the fruit slightly and add less cream. If you prefer, you can save the liver to add to the soup instead of cooking it in the stock. You may substitute raisins in place of the cherries for a slightly sweeter soup. If you are lucky enough to have a goose for roasting, you can substitute goose blood and leftover meat from your roast and make the stock from the cleaned bones.