Yesterday was by all measures a fairly normal Tuesday. A welcome respite of a less-busy restaurant after a weekend that included Veteran's Day, and the NU football game/parents weekend combo.
But a sequence of random events happened that got me thinking about blood, and the thought of it as it relates to food and eating. It's a strange and interesting phenomenon how blood is this taboo that repulses people, but they'll gladly eat nearly every other part of whatever animal they're consuming.
There is, of course, a deep multi-cultural history of rituals and beliefs relating to blood and the question of whether to partake of eating/drinking it. Lots has been written, including a really good article in Food Arts by Brad Farmerie.
When customers come into Edzo's and say something about "blood" with regard to the burgers that they're ordering, they're under the impression that the red juice that drips out of a nicely-prepared burger is blood. It's not, of course.
Now, I could try explaining to the guy trying to order a burger "medium, but with no blood" that all the blood is drained from the animal at the slaughterhouse and what he's seeing when he eats his medium burger is mostly just water that resides within the muscle tissue that is subsequently thrown off during the cooking process as the proteins in the meat tighten and shrink, pushing out the moisture.
But that's not very appetizing. So it's kind of a hard situation to handle.
Most of the time, folks that specifically talk about "blood" in their burgers want well-done, so it's not an issue that needs to be grappled with. They're just trying to tell me that they don't want to see any red or pink in their burger. Which, you know, I'm not in love with doing, but I'm happy to oblige for paying customers.
But the "medium, no blood" requests are more difficult. I usually ask something like "so, you want a pink center?", and often the person says "oh, no!", so it's clear that they just don't actually understand what "medium" refers to. Yesterday, a woman asked for "medium, no blood" and when I asked about the pink center, she said "yes", enthusiastically. So I repeated it back to her "You want it pink, but with no blood?"
"Yes," she said.
Ok. I didn't bother trying to delve into the question of what distinction she would make between juice and blood, although I considered it. I just called it out and rung it up as a regular medium char burger.
Coincidentally, this happened at a time when Rob and Allie Levitt from The Butcher & The Larder were in having lunch, so Rob and I were naturally chatting about beef as I bopped around the restaurant doing this and that.
At one point, Rob and I were up by the counter talking, and the "no blood" lady comes up, holding her burger up above the paper tray. It looks awesome and it's just dripping juice, but she's making this "I'm kind of repulsed" face and is clearly not pleased. I try and reassure her that what she's seeing is not blood, but juice, and is a good thing, a sign of how fresh the beef is. I start to swap out her juice-filled paper tray for a new one, and Rob and I chuckle about the fact that her burger was made with beef from Slagel Farm that Rob cut and I ground, and that the animal was alive maybe 5 days ago.
I tried explaining this to the lady in a way that she'd be able to understand, without getting into too much detail. This is an interesting thing that's happened as a result of this recent farm-to-table trend that's happening. Some people aren't quite ready to be so close to their food. Being closer to our food means sometimes seeing stuff that we believe we're supposed to be repulsed by.
If someone truly believes that all moisture in a burger is "blood" and they believe that eating "blood" is repulsive, then they're not going to enjoy a juicy burger. Anyone who's stubbornly forced a kid to eat something and then watched them truly gag on it (or been forced to when they were a kid) knows this.
But other people are ready. Or maybe they're close to being ready, and they just need a bit of education in order to be able to get past their hang-ups. Thankfully, that was the case with yesterday's "no blood" lady. I explained to her about how the Slagel Farm beef we get is free of hormones and antibiotics, and how it's sourced from a local farm that raises the cows using humane, sustainable methods, by a butcher who brings in one or two whole cows a week and cuts the meat himself, in his local butcher shop. And I gave her a brief glimpse into how we take care here in the shop to handle the meat minimally as we cut it, grind it and shape it into half-pound patties, waiting until it hits the fire to season it with just a bit of salt and pepper.
And I explained that all of those factors combined are the reason that the burger has so much juice, which most people see not as repulsive "blood", but as a delicious liquid--almost like a small quantity of freshly-made beef 'stock--that is created during the cooking process, and is something to be savored. I see customers dipping the remnants of their buns into the puddles in the paper trays all the time.
"Give it a minute to rest", I said, as I swapped out her paper tray for a fresh one. "Then cut it in half and take a look inside. If you want me to put it back on the fire and cook it all the way, I'll be happy to do that for you". She did as I suggested, and was over at her table quietly eating for a while. I went back and checked in on her after a bit and she seemed to be enjoying the burger, rosy pink center and all.
So that was nice. I'm not entirely sure if she saw the light, or if she just didn't want to deal with asking me to cook it more. She didn't come up and rave about having a revelation or anything, but I wasn't expecting that. Hopefully she'll be back in soon and it will be interesting to see how she orders her burger next time.