Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Boudin Link

Occasionally, and especially during the Mardi Gras Season, I post something that's a bit of fun about our unique corner of the world. Put this post in that category. If you're a local fan you'll find it invaluable; if you're a sympathetic visitor it should give you a little taste of our local culture's entanglement with food. (Another taste? See King Cake)

The Boudin Link is a great web site that I ran across for the first time recently. It'll never win an award for eye candy (I should talk) but it's got great reviews of local boudin haunts for lovers the unusual sausage and very healthy guestbook where you can argue with the site-owners' judgments and suggest places for them to review.

Some Background:
Boudin (aka boudin blanc) is a great cajun-creole rice and meat sausage that is unique to Louisiana. (Francophiles may be reminded of French boudin blanc sausage. Clear that association away. No relationship except for the casing.) You can drive down any road in the parishes locally labeled "Acadiana" and likely find some local meat market/boucherie, fast food place, convenience store, or local grocery selling long pieces of the soft links. The most common, and authentic, way to eat the dish is to grab a couple of links, wrapped in butcher paper for lunch, get a beverage, sit in your vehicle in parking lot, and chow down before heading back out to work. Good. Hearty. Cheap. Typically the links have been sitting in or just above a hot water bath so you've got to be careful that juices stay in the butcher paper you've carefully arranged around your link. If over the noon hour there aren't two guys in trucks trying to get their fingers clean there's something a little better in a 10 mile radius. People have their favorites, and argue about meat quality, how much liver should be included, the firmness of the rice, proportions of rice to meat, and the all-important questions of spicing and vegetative add-ins. Such issues divide families and can make necessary trips to two meat markets before family gatherings.

Preferences about these matters is intensely local, the people who buy at the neighborhood store have things to say about about "their" product and the local butcher is wise to add spice and percentages of green onion tops as local opinion dictates.

There are, of course, more upscale versions, and newer byproducts like fried boudin balls and boudin in puff pastry that take our local culinary obsessions to places disdained by the old school. (Not, given how lately rice came to our culinary traditions, is that school so old...but what appeared on momma's table or daddy's dashboard defines tradition after all.) There's even a boudin fast food chain. Smoking the links is popular but considered, well, a little effete since it produces a product whose juice stays in the casing and doesn't run down past your cuffs to the elbows if you're an inexpert eater. The taste makes up for the fastidiousness in many people's minds. (Bear in mind that saying a food is messy is not a pejorative in the world of Louisiana's culinary traditions. We favor eating crawfish by a method which involves snapping open the shells of creatures hot from boiling water. It's a process which insures widely dispersed droplets of highly seasoned water and wet elbows for all but the most dexterous and fastidious eaters.)

Like most ethnic dishes boudin originated as a cheap way to produce a tasty, filing dish and was later elevated to its status as a signature dish of the community. Its cousain, blood boudin (aka boudin rouge in contrast to boudin blanc) used to be available on Main St. in Broussard. I don't know where you could get it now. Nobody knows where the dish originated or how it developed the now-traditional water holding bath and butcher paper presentation.

The Boudin Link Site
What fans will like are the reviews and comments. Even if you can't get in your car and go visit just the read is worth it. The reviews are as homespun as the food itself.

Samples:
Check out the pink T-Boy's Slaughter House page. Don't miss the divine rays spilling over the unremarkable facade of the building. Rated A+. From the comments section:
Comments: If you find yourself in Mamou you should find T-Boys. Even if you don't have a reason to go to Mamou you should find one. Perhaps the simple fact that Mamou is the center of Cajun music is a good enough reason (check out Fred's lounge). Perhaps you want to see the most spectacular Mardi Gras run in the world. Perhaps you just want to go for a nice drive into the Cajun prairie land. Whatever the reason, T-Boys is worth the trip. Make sure to check out the GIANT boudin balls (2 for $1).
How 'bout Fremin's Food and Furniture? The name's not enough!? (Rated A) Well...from the ambiance section:
Ambiance: An amazing place in an amazing town. This is, quite possibly, the only place around where you can buy a link and a lamp at the same location: Fremin's effortlessly combines food and furnishings. You can also buy fireworks (in season) and giant color banners from a state-of-the-art banner-making printer. Yep. Fremin's has it all, including some great boudin and other outstanding prepared foods.
Our neighborhood shop, about three blocks away, is Bruce's You Need A Butcher. (Yet another great name.) In addition to good boudin and hand cut meat you can get huge sacks of rice if you want and some old-fashioned candies. The guy's give the links a B; I'd make it an A and I don't think its only neighborhood patriotism. They beat out all the competitors in a blind family taste-off a couple of years ago. A good link for folks whose preferences place more emphasis on the pork and seasoning than rice or liver. A good link to home-smoke because of the predominance of pork. The boudin link's description:
Presentation: Wrapped in a piece of butcher paper: juices leaking from the sides.
Casing: A decent, firm, and breakable casing.
Rice/Meat Ratio: More meat than rice.
Texture: Moist and juicy with ground and meaty pieces of pork. The filling is loose inside the casing.
Spices: Medium/Hot.
Lagniappe:
Here's "a little something extra" I picked up while putting together this post. Too good to pass up:

Wanna see the sausage being made? Actually, unlike politics, this doesn't look as bad as you'd think. At least not at Poche's (my favorite country meat mart and restaurant). Don't miss the robot arm that lifts up the stainless boudin cart overhead and dumps it in the big funnel: Making Boudin. (Doesn't work? Try another format.)

How about haiku-form poetry, in French, about Boudin (and Pepsi)? Really, I'm not fooling you, no: The Boudin Trail. (Anybody know where I can get the video mentioned here?)

Comments? Who's is best? Why? (I'm feeling a little like living dangerously today. But I know the risk I take; if you think local passion about BellSouth is running high you've got no idea how strongly people feel about their food.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm partial to Best Stop. I've got an aunt in Baton Rouge who lived for years in Lafayette. Whenever she visits, she goes by Best Stop on her way in and brings boudin and cracklins - which is why she's got a standing invitation to visit.
By the way, best way to eat boudin - squeezed onto a slice of fresh Evangeline Maid white bread, cracklins for texture optional.

John said...

anon,

Some of my in-laws are partial to Best Stop and in the blind taste test I mentioned in the post I think it came in second or third. They've got a mean smoked boudin which is the best store-smoked product around. You're in good company with your preference. That cracklin seasoning though...I don't know about that.

After having fun with this boudin post I went down to Broussard and got two pounds of Billeaud's links and took it down the street to share at my son's house. While I still contend that the purist method has it eaten straight out of the butcher paper I have to admit I bought a loaf of Langlinais' french bread, crisped it up in their oven and had my boudin split open on hot bread with a couple of squirts of brown mustard to give it some zing.

Good.

GumboFilé said...

Great links! I'll have to see that they get some Lake Charles entries. My favorite was the Market Basket on Lake Street. It seems like I've also had some good boudin from Janise's in Sunset but I may have the source confused.

Does boudin have fiber?

John said...

David,

All the way over to Lake Charles! Which brings up the range of this creature. How far west is it found in nature? (Being found on some soi-refined menu at a "Cajun" restaurant doesn't count now! I'd be tempted to say its not in its natural habitat if you don't pay by the link or the pound. :-))

I've bought Boudin that was ok in East Texas along the I-10 corridor at gas stations but I couldn't tell you right now just where. On a pre-Rita jaunt from my brother-in-law's camp near Holly Beach (now only a fond memory and a clean slab) we crossed over the Sabine into Texas and headed north toward I-10. Along that road I saw two signs in front of places that looked authentic, run down, and good that spelled it "Bodain."

You can get decent Boudin at one of the meat markets in Baton Rouge and New Orleans has its own distinctive version (natch).

Any thoughts on range folks?

Oh yeah: Does Boudin have Fiber? Very little I suspect. The main connection is, in my judgment, that it's also good for you. :-)