Chef Mike offers his picks for the creepiest Halloween buffet ever
Every Halloween, the food world becomes a homogeneous, orange-and-black landscape dominated by “fun” and “scary” recipe ideas like jack-o-lantern cupcakes and deviled eggs decorated like eyeballs.
This may be fine for the church trunk-or-treat or VFW Halloween potluck, but those of us who wouldn’t be caught dead at a Sandra Lee Pinterest meet-up want our Halloween snack table to be a little more Rob Zombie and a little less Casper.
While you won’t see Bobby Flay grilling up any of these foods on his deck in the Hamptons, you can be assured that the short list I’ve compiled below will make your Halloween party unforgettable. And by unforgettable I mean, “Sweet Jesus, that is seared into my memory. What page of Satan’s cookbook spawned this table of food?”
Balut is a duck egg that’s been incubated for about 18 days until the fetus inside gets a little feathery and beaky. The egg is then boiled or steamed before being peeled and eaten—fetus and all. It’s a popular drinking snack in much of Southeast Asia, because who needs Chex Mix when you can have a crunchy duck fetus to wash down your PBR?
Balut looks like an H.R. Geiger teleportation gone horribly awry but tastes like sweet, tender duck. The bones and beak are not formed enough to offer much resistance, but depending on the age of your egg there may be some tiny feathers to contend with.
Dip the little guy in a sauce of vinegar, garlic and chili before chasing it down with a beer and try to block out the otherworldly sounds of children screaming in your head. Available at most Asian markets around town.
Put simply, huitlacoche, or corn smut, is a pathogenic corn fungus that looks like your corn on the cob sprouted rotting chicken livers. The fungus grows on corn when water gets under the husk, causing the kernels to rot. Although taxonomically not a mushroom, it has a similar taste and can be used like mushrooms when cooking.
For maximum visual Halloween effect, use them as a topping for chicken tostadas or sopes. Although fresh is ideal, they are available canned from most of Chattanooga’s larger Latin markets.
Durian is a fruit indigenous to Southeast Asia where it is often called the “king of fruits.” That makes sense, if by “king” they mean Elvis’s decomposing armpit. It’s been said that durian smells like a dirty gym sock filled with rotting onions and pig excrement, which is probably a fair description.
It’s banned from most hotels, airports, and taxis in SE Asia, but is as popular as stinky cheese in the West. The flesh of this spiky fruit is pulpy, cream-colored with a gelatinous consistency and a flavor reminiscent of almond custard. For Halloween, make durian sticky rice using the same recipe as mango sticky rice—just replace the mango with durian. Available at most Asian markets in the frozen section.
Blood—it’s not just for ritual sacrifices anymore! Rich, with a slightly metallic flavor and filled with nutrients, it’s a surprisingly common ingredient in cuisines across Europe, Scandinavia, Latin America, and most of Asia.
In Mexico, a special soup called fritada is prepared from goat blood; Thai boat noodles, or kuaitiao ruea, use pig’s blood as a base for the broth; and the Polish make a soup of duck, goose or pig blood and clear broth called czernina.
Personally, I’d go for the Thai boat noodles on Halloween. The blood gives the soup a silken texture, the taste is bold, spicy, and it’s just creepy enough to keep the neighbors from ever popping in unannounced.
Why wuss out with brain-shaped Jello shots when you can offer up a platter of the real thing? Chock-full of some pretty nutritious goo, animal brains are commonly eaten by just about every culture in the world but ours.
The texture of a well-cooked plate of brains is often said to resemble that of really good scrambled eggs. If you just can’t wait on your butcher to round some up for you, grab a can of “pork brains in milk gravy” from Buehler’s Market downtown.
If none of these satisfy the Hannibal in you, the Asian and Latin markets around town stock other deep-end dining delights such as century eggs, fish eyes, cod milt (sperm), sea cucumber, blood clams, and a variety of edible insects. Still no word on a local source for virgin boy eggs or sourtoe cocktails, though (you’ll have to Google those).
Longtime food writer and professional chef Mike McJunkin is a native Chattanoogan who has trained chefs, owned and operated restaurants, and singlehandedly increased Chattanooga’s meat consumption statistics for three consecutive years. Join him on Facebook at facebook.com/SushiAndBiscuits
Photo by Gabor Palla