Season of the Boucherie
The Cajun heritage in south Louisiana is known for food and fun. Perhaps the greatest salute to this reputation is the boucherie, a hog-splitting yard party where cold beer flows, tummies are filled and fiddles set all ages to dancing.
Not to say this doesn’t still go on big time a few miles upriver, but there was a time when these hootenannies stood second only to Mardi Gras on the Cajun calendar. Some were staged just before Mardi Gras, but most occurred when a chill in the air signaled winter would soon bring natural refrigeration.
The result of these family events were classic dishes of boudin, cracklins, hogshead cheese and various sausages. Large pieces of meat were hung in the smokehouse. Nothing was wasted, not even the feet, ears, brains and intestines.
Boucherie comes from the French word bouchier, meaning to butcher or slaughter. The resulting charcuterie has recently regained popularity in this French-influenced city with many openings of meat markets and restaurants such as Cochon Butcher and Toups Meatery.
At the top of popularity is boudin, a dish that can be served as appetizer, entrée breakfast or snack. In Cajun country, it is sold in service stations and quick-stop groceries out of crock pots that keep it hot. Accompaniments are crackers and beer, and most people eat it for breakfast, frequently in their cars.
In New Orleans, you are more likely to eat it in a restaurant, or, you can make it at home. The biggest problem is finding the hog casings in small amounts as well as the pork liver, which most supermarkets have discontinued. After searching three major supermarkets with no luck, my success came at Zuppardo’s, which had plenty of casings and ordered pork liver that arrived the next day. Since I didn’t have a meat grinder handy, I used a food processor with much success. Because boudin is the rare sausage that is stuffed with cooked meat, you can actually chop it easily with a knife. I strongly advise using an electric stuffer. Mine is the attachment on a Kitchen Aid mixer.
But pork is not the only game in town when it comes to boudin. Imaginative chefs are making it out of crawfish and shrimp. Some would say that’s eating high on the hog.
If you don’t want to stuff hog casings to make boudin, you can easily make boudin balls for a popular hors d’oeuvres. Form the meat stuffing into 1 1/2-inch balls, roll in breadcrumbs and fry in a little vegetable oil until brown all over; or, bake in a 375-degree oven, turning, until brown. Serve with Creole mustard or a dip of your choice.
Boudin makes great stuffing for poultry. Try it in chickens or Cornish hens; or, hunters can stuff it into quail to serve in a rich, dark duck or quail gumbo.
½ teaspoon white vinegar
1 3 ½-pound pork butt or 2 ½ pounds boneless pork butt
½ pound pork liver
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, about 1 teaspoon each
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
3 cups long-grain white rice
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup green onion tops, chopped
½ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1. For this recipe, use six 4-foot casings. Rinse the casings, and soak in a bowl of water with vinegar for 1 hour. You may have to purchase pork liver frozen in a 10-pound case. Have the butcher cut it into smaller pieces and thaw only the amount you need.
2. Most pork butt is sold bone-in; remove the bone and the large layer of fat. Cut it into 1-inch cubes and place pork and whole piece of liver in a large, heavy pot. Add onions, celery, garlic, salt, pepper and Creole seasoning. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 1 hour. Remove liver and continue simmering until pork is tender, almost falling apart, about ½ hour.
3. Meanwhile, cook rice according to package directions. You will have 6 cups.
4. Chop liver in small pieces, place in food processor and process until ground. Place liver in a large bowl.
5. Strain pork and vegetables, retaining the liquid. In 2 or 3 batches, pulse pork and vegetables until coarse but not pureed.Place in the large bowl. Stir in the cayenne pepper, green onion and parsley, and gently fold in the rice until well-mixed. Stir in enough of the retained liquid to make a wet consistency. The rice will absorb this while cooking. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
6. Rinse casings, allowing the water to run through them. Tie a knot in the end of a casing and attach the other end to your sausage stuffer. Stuff the whole casing to about 1 to 1 ½ inches wide. Twist at intervals, about 8 inches, to form sausages, and tie a knot in the other end. When steamed, they can be cut apart easily.
7. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve; then, steam in a pot over a steamer basket for 10 minutes or until hot. Serve with Creole mustard and crackers. Makes 12 to 14 8-inch sausages.