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Sampling Some of the Best Boudin in Louisiana’s Cajun Country

31 Oct

The first place I hit on this most recent trip was Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott, LA (on I-10 just west of Lafayette). This is not to be confused with the more well-known regional chain of Don’s Seafood restaurants. Don’s boudin (a traditional Acadian rice/meat stuffed sausage) is very highly rated by folks in the know (like The Boudin Link – www.boudinlink.com). We found it tasty — and quite spicy — but certainly not the best of the lot. The flaw we found with this particular link was the presence of rather large chunks of fat and gristle. We may have just gotten a bad batch, but it did negatively impact our first impression. Don’t worry, Don. We are willing to give you another shot sometime down the road. Take an online visit if you’d like at www.donsspecialtymeats.com.

Boudin is best when it’s served steaming hot out of the crock pot

Get your hog lard by the gallon for just $4.99 at Don’s!

Johnson’s Boucaniere in Lafayette provided us with perhaps the best taste of boudin on our recent visit. It was lean with just the right amount of spice. A little less fiery than Don’s, Johnson’s boudin recipe was perfected in nearby Eunice, LA at the now-departed Johnson’s Grocery. The legendary Eunice location closed after decades of service to the Cajun community. We’re just thankful that family members decided to continue on with the tradition in Lafayette. It apparently happened when Lori Wall’s (the daughter of the grocery’s owners) couldn’t find any decent Cajun meat products once the original Eunice store shut its doors for good.  Lori was recently quoted as saying, “When I make sausage at the house, my Dad’s there every time.”  www.johnsonsboucaniere.com

Mello Joy is a popular local brand of java served at Johnson’s

Lori Walls weighs our steaming hot link of boudin at Johnson’s

Lori’s husband Greg shows off the smokers out back at Johnson’s

“Home of Deboned Chickens” and amazing beef jerky & meat pies!

Hebert’s Specialty Meats in little Maurice, LA appears to be a larger, more diverse meat shop. They are said to do a solid mail order business and have locations as far flung as Houston, TX. Deboned Chickens are their specialty, but don’t let that fool you. Their housemade boudin is mellow and first rate — lacking in mouth-scorching spice yet packing plenty of savory flavor. Even better is their homemade beef jerky (coated with a somewhat magical dusting of sugar/spice). We also found Hebert’s Louisiana Meat Pies to be the best we’ve sampled this side of Natchitoches. Order up a few today at www.hebertsmeats.com.

Richard’s (pronounced “Reee-shards”) in mighty Abbeville, LA

We traveled on to Abbeville — primarily to visit the Stein’s Cane Syrup facility. Richard’s Seafood Patio is a popular gathering spot for locals here. It was too early on a Saturday morning for the patio to be open, so we settled for another taste of boudin at Richard’s Meat Market. The stop proved to be a worthwhile venture, although I wished that we could stick around longer for a dozen oysters at Black’s or Dupuy’s Oyster Bars. This town sure knows how to eat! I can’t give you a dining review of either oyster house, although I will add that Black’s appeared to be the cleaner and more appealing of the two options.

This trip yielded so many memorable culinary experiences. More than can be documented in just a single blog or two. Stay tuned for much more — coming to a computer near you over the next few days. Patience, my friends!

Crawfish Pie & More at Cafe Des Amis in Breaux Bridge, LA

29 Oct

Crawfish Pie – Cafe Des Amis style with accents of Green Onion

Our first real meal during our recent weekend trek thru Cajun Country took place in quaint Breaux Bridge, LA (just off I-10 near Lafayette). The name of the restaurant was Cafe Des Amis. We had visited once before, but they were sadly closed the last time we passed thru town. The Friday lunch business was fairly brisk as we settled in for our mid-day meal. For my main course, I opted for the crawfish pie. How can you not order this when in Cajun Country???

Yet I almost didn’t recognize it when it arrived at our table. The dish was fashioned with two flaky pillows of puff pastry — the bottom one hollowed out a bit to accomodate the buttery crawfish etoufee filling. Not your traditional presentation by any means. It did draw some serious attention, however. Four older gentlemen seated at the adjacent table commented that their meals looked “vanilla” in comparison. The pie was sensational — I would certainly recommend it highly. I guess I just have!

Crab Cakes (fried and grilled) with a Smoked Vidalia Cream Sauce

My lunch had started with a terrific crab appetizer (seen above). The smokey cream sauce and strips of sweet onion made an excellent foil for the crab cake combo (one grilled, one fried). Both cakes were tasty, but I honestly preferred the grilled version. The crab meat to breading ratio was perfectly acceptable and the cakes were nicely seasoned. As for the sauce, it was truly “plate-licking good.”

A look at some of the cool local art on display at Cafe Des Amis

The Gateau de Syrop (Syrup Cake) was the best bite of the day

Our lunch reached its high point with dessert. I normally don’t order dessert in the middle of the day, but we simply couldn’t resist the traditional Gateau de Syrop made with Steen’s 100% Cane Syrup (made in nearby Abbeville, LA). It was a masterpiece of gooey, black goodness … topped with lots of local pecans and equal portions of whipped creme anglaise and vanilla ice cream. My wife and kids gave it a go, but I most admit that I put the biggest dent in this dark beauty.  

I don’t think I can wait for a return visit to Breaux Bridge to try this rich, delicious cake again. So it’s probably a good thing we found the restaurant’s recipe on the web. Here’s the real-deal recipe from Cafe Des Amis … soooo darn good!

GATEAU DE SYROP (SYRUP CAKE) WITH CREME ANGLAISE

This recipe makes about 3 dozen large muffins.

Cut it in half to make a smaller amount. They also freeze beautifully.

Makes 16 slices

2 cups canola or peanut oil

3 ½ cups 100% pure cane syrup (we prefer Steen’s)

2 cups raw sugar

2/3 cup dark molasses

2 cups boiling water

4 teaspoons baking soda

8 eggs

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons ground cloves

4 teaspoons ground ginger

4 tablespoons vanilla extract

4 cups sifted flour

¾ cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the oil, cane syrup and molasses in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, stir baking soda into boiling water. Add to the oil, syrup and molasses mixture. Add all other remaining ingredients and beat well at medium to high speed with an electric mixer.

Fill large muffin tins, sprayed with nonstick vegetable spray, about three-fourths full. Bake at 350 degrees until they almost set, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped pecans on top and continue baking until the muffins are completely set.

Crème Anglaise

Makes about 2 cups

   1 cup whole milk

   1 cup heavy cream

   5 egg yolks

   ½ cup granulated sugar

   1 tablespoon bourbon

   Combine the milk and cream in a saucepan and bring just a boil.

Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and the sugar in a mixing bowl and beat well until light yellow and slightly thickened. Gradually pour the milk and cream into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.

Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and stir over very low heat with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring, without boiling until the sauce coats the back of the spoon. Do not overcook or it will curdle. Stir in the bourbon. Serve warm or chilled.

www.cafedesamis.com

UGA Press publishes “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook”

5 Oct

The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook

Edited by Sara Roahen and John T. Edge
Foreword by Alton Brown

“Local recipes from the worldly South”

“Each page herein delivers a strong sense of community; the contributions are from real people with real names; the collection is democratic, but with nary a sign of culinary chaos; and the food is just plain good. And here’s the best part, as far as I’m concerned: Regardless of whether it looks back into the past or ahead into the future, this book looks ever Southward.”
—Alton Brown, from the foreword

Everybody has one in their collection. You know—one of those old, spiral- or plastic-tooth-bound cookbooks sold to support a high school marching band, a church, or the local chapter of the Junior League. These recipe collections reflect, with unimpeachable authenticity, the dishes that define communities: chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese, chess pie. When the Southern Foodways Alliance began curating a cookbook, it was to these spiral-bound, sauce-splattered pages that they turned for their model.

Including more than 170 tested recipes, this cookbook is a true reflection of southern foodways and the people, regardless of residence or birthplace, who claim this food as their own. Traditional and adapted, fancy and unapologetically plain, these recipes are powerful expressions of collective identity. There is something from—and something for—everyone. The recipes and the stories that accompany them came from academics, writers, catfish farmers, ham curers, attorneys, toqued chefs, and people who just like to cook—spiritual Southerners of myriad ethnicities, origins, and culinary skill levels.

Edited by Sara Roahen and John T. Edge, written, collaboratively, by Sheri Castle, Timothy C. Davis, April McGreger, Angie Mosier, and Fred Sauceman, the book is divided into chapters that represent the region’s iconic foods: Gravy, Garden Goods, Roots, Greens, Rice, Grist, Yardbird, Pig, The Hook, The Hunt, Put Up, and Cane. Therein you’ll find recipes for pimento cheese, country ham with redeye gravy, tomato pie, oyster stew, gumbo z’herbes, and apple stack cake. You’ll learn traditional ways of preserving green beans, and you’ll come to love refried black-eyed peas.

Are you hungry yet? Place your order now!

http://www.amazon.com/Southern-Foodways-Alliance-Community-Cookbook/dp/0820332755

Claire’s Place on the Creek – Mobile, AL

6 Apr

Claire’s is a fairly new country buffet place on Halls Mill Road in Mobile, AL. The Stagecoach Cafe used to be at this rustic pine-shaded location, but they have decided to focus all their attention on their primary location in Stockton, AL. But not to fear! Louisa “Claire” Terrell has re-opened the place and really all that has changed is the name.  

You can always tell a good Southern lunch joint by the vehicles in the parking lot. Lots of trucks and police cars = good chow. Really good chow!

The grilled pork chops were simply delicious with a authentic char-grilled flavor. I snagged a couple chops at the bottom of the chafing dish to make sure they were plenty juicy — and they were. The green beans were smoky and soft to the bite. Claire’s also makes a killer jambalaya loaded with tender pieces of white chicken and bright green bell pepper. The cornbread dressing was excellent and the tomato pie tart & tasty (especially if you can score an end piece). I even tried fried asparagus spears for the first time in my life and found the flavor combo to be, well, a downhome natural.

Believe it or not, I did save a little room for dessert. That’s a good thing because the choices here are plentiful. Claire’s buttermilk pie was moist with lots of chewy flaked coconut in each and every bite. The banana pudding was even better — incredibly smooth and heavenly. I was on Cloud Nine.

Pricing at Claire’s Place on the Creek ( yes, they are on a creek) is $9.50 and includes the all you can eat lunch buffet, drink ( I suggest the Leroy Hill fresh brewed Sweet Tea), and as many dessert treats as you dare tackle. You will not go away hungry or dissatisfied. This is the real deal y’all and I am so glad to have found them. They can already count me as a regular.

NOTE: Claire’s Place is also open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.

Donald Link’s “Real Cajun” Cooking

15 Aug

real cajun

We recently enjoyed dinner at Donald Link’s Cochon restaurant in the Warehouse District of New Orleans. Honestly, we had never heard of the place and were not planning on hitting it during our brief eating tour of the Big Easy. But our friend Sara Roahen suggested we should give it a try and this gal really knows her stuff when it comes to Crescent City dining.

I contacted Asst. GM Tomy (pronounced Tommy) Lagneaux and he set us up with a 6:30 dinner reservation and a place at their Chef’s Counter, where diners can watch the chefs in action. We arrived to find that Tomy wasn’t working that night and no one seemed to know a thing about us or our planned visit and review. Bummer. The hostess was cute, but really didn’t seem to care that we were in the process of being stiffed. Thankfully, a manager jumped in and scored us a booth in the back of the clean yet rustic looking dining room.

cochon 

To be concise, the food was pretty good (some of it really good) but the portions were on the smallish side and the prices weren’t exactly cheap. Example: $4 for a small bottle of Mexican Coca Cola, $5 for a bottle of Cheerwine. I do applaud the uniqueness of their beverage selections, but come on folks. Seriously!

The rolls served before dinner were OK — nothing special about them. My hen and andouille gumbo was superb … easily the best we had on this trip (or any trip for that matter). Dark and rich with a nice little afterburn. Good job, y’all. The macaroni and cheese was pretty amazing – the wife and kids scarfed their’s up in record time, although I did manage to steal one decadent taste before it all disappeared.  

I really would have loved to have sampled more food that night. Especially a variety of meats and sausages that Cochon has made it’s name on. But Tomy’s dropping the ball and the rather proud pricing at Cochon prohibited that from happening — at least on this journey.

I would like to score some of their recipes to try at home, so I may see about getting a review copy of Link’s recent cookbook, “Real Cajun.” A guy named Link making world class sausage??? Sounds like it was written in the stars on some starry Bayou night long ago.  

From Publishers Weekly
If bacon does not immediately come to mind as an essential ingredient of Cajun cooking, then clearly you have been missing Link, the chef-owner of two New Orleans restaurants, Herbsaint and Cochon. He not only begins his premiere cookbook with instructions on making four pounds of homemade bacon, he includes such tempting items as a fried oyster and bacon sandwich, tomato and bacon pie, and catfish fried in bacon fat. Even in his vegetarian twice-baked potatoes, he cannot help mentioning, Normally I like crisp bits of bacon in stuffed potatoes. And where bacon leads, the rest of the pig is sure to follow. A classic boudin recipe is rich in pork liver and shoulder; deer sausage combines venison with pork butt; and a hearty/scary breakfast dish, oreilles de cochon (pig ears), is boudin-stuffed beignets. There is also plenty of crawfish, be it in a crawfish pie, a traditional boil or in a boulette (deep fried balls of crawfish meat and stuffing). A bourbon cherry lemonade or a plate of fresh peach buckle would cleanse the palate nicely, Eighty color photos enhance Link’s efforts, as do his brief meditations on crawfish farming, family gatherings and the joys of making a perfect roux. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review
“Donald Link’s book simply makes me hungry the way I used to be around my grandmother’s kitchen down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He is more than a chef. He is a southern artist using tradition as a canvas and acquired culinary magic as his box of paints, with which he brings to life masterpieces of southern cuisine that ignite our taste buds as well as reminding us of who we are and where we come from.”
—Jimmy Buffett

“Donald Link’s childhood in Cajun Country taught him that cooking is all about family, local ingredients, and, most important, taste. There’s no blackened redfish here, just delicious recipes (think Crispy Softshell Crab with Chili Glaze or Satsuma Buttermilk Pie) and great memories, informed by his wry sense of humor and passion for food and place. Real Cajun is the real deal and proves, once again, that Link is not only the soul of New Orleans but also one of the most talented chefs in the country.”
—Julia Reed

“Donald Link is rediscovering traditional Cajun food in all of its diversity and simplicity. His flavors come from backyard organic vegetables, local fish, and heritage breed pork. The essence of Cochon’s cooking is beautifully revealed in this inviting book.”
—Alice Waters


“Donald Link’s cooking embodies the very best–the heart and soul–of New Orleans cuisine; there’s no one in the business with more credibility. Real Cajun captures the straight-up, un-cut, raw, and wonderful rustic classics in all their unvarnished, unprettified glory.”
—Anthony Bourdain


“Real Cajun tells Donald Link’s captivating story of growing up in southwest Louisiana and shares with us the incredible no-holds-barred type of cooking and eating that Cajuns live for. With great traditions, vivid tales, and passionate cooking from a real Cajun chef, this cookbook will be a treasure for all who turn its pages.”
—Frank Stitt


“Real Cajun is honest, gutsy, and proudly provincial. Read this book and you’ll want to mainline shrimp and crab gumbo. Cook from this book and you’ll rationalize an all boudin diet.”
—John T. Edge, general editor of Cornbread Nation