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.
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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 ⅓ to ½ 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.