Cajun Meats & Sausages
They held it on the cane field. Tim Acosta’s dad was a sugarcane farmer in Thibodaux, and every year just after grinding season, he and the workers would bring out the sawhorses, plywood and these big, black iron pots. They would bring the pigs, and they would build a big fire, and the boucherie would begin.
“It was a great big get-together,” says Tim, the director of marketing and advertising for Rouses Markets. “It was a social gathering. It was processing the meat, dividing it up, cooking it and packing stuff. It was a celebration, and everybody would come out to eat. The meat wasn’t meant to last a long time — people had stuff to take home, but at the same time, it was really about the moment. A party on the cane field where they worked so hard, and eating, drinking and having a good time.”
Grinding season and boucheries are staples of Louisiana culture. The former refers to the harvesting of sugarcane and its transport to local refineries to be ground into sugar. The latter — which is French for “butchery” — is a Cajun tradition stretching back centuries. As the name implies, some animals (and pigs in particular) are about to have a very bad day. But a boucherie is more than a pig roast; it’s a communal event, a sort of Southern Thanksgiving.
During Tim’s childhood, one event led to the other — in part, because of the time of year. “They always did it on cold days, because it gave everyone more time to work with the meat. It was less likely to spoil if the temperature was in the 30s.”
The men would take the sawhorses, line them up and lay plywood across them. The pigs would be cut up — every part would be used — and on those improvised tables, the meat would be separated. “The pig fat would be thrown in the pot and, all day, they would make everything you could think of. They would ground up meat and make sausage, and they would make cracklins — even hogshead cheese,” Tim recalls.
KNOW YOUR CAJUN MEATS AND MEALS
You don’t need to hold a boucherie to enjoy sausage, boudin and other Cajun meats. That’s what Rouses Markets are for! If you didn’t grow up immersed in Louisiana culture or never ventured too far into the meat aisle, it can be a little intimidating. Two Cajun meats in particular that you might have run across are sausage and boudin. They say nobody wants to know how sausage is made, but nobody is the boss of me, dear reader. I’m here to give you the unvarnished truth: It is made in clean, bloodless and beautifully shrink-wrapped packages in Rouses refrigerators.
Apparently things happen before that, though and, without going into the gory details (which involve grinders and…parts), here is what you need to know. If you have an assortment of meats and rice, you have a lot of options when preparing Cajun cuisine. One possibility is dirty rice, which is generally prepared with rice (as the name suggests), as well as pork and chicken livers. Dirty rice is not the same as rice dressing, however. The latter is usually made with pork or ground beef and seasonings.
The difference between sausage and boudin comes down to the fillings. Sausage has, primarily, a meat-based filling with seasonings and the occasional vegetables for flavor. But boudin is all about the rice and pork filler. In a very real way, boudin has nearly as much in common with rice dressing as it does with sausage. The dressing mix inside of boudin is much, much finer, however, than you would find in rice dressing.
Chances are, you don’t have the ingredients, hardware (or stomach) at home for making your own boudin. Rouses Markets can pick up the slack for you there. (Rouses also carries rice dressing and dirty rice in its delis. Look, you can still take credit for preparing them all from scratch. Who’s going to know?) Rouses boudin is made from a family recipe that goes back to the store’s founder, Anthony Rouse, which means its flavor has stood the test of time. Rouses boudin is made in Louisiana in the heart of boudin country. All you have to do is cook it!
Boudin can be prepared a number of ways. It can be smoked. It can be boiled. It can be steamed. But it is particularly good when grilled, and is perfect for filling in those spots on the grill between the steak, chicken or pork. To get it just right, you don’t want your pit to be too hot — try to have it somewhere around 350 degrees. Grill each side of the boudin for two to five minutes. The skin will get a nice, popping crispiness, and the flavor and moisture will burst from each bite.
ELEVATING A CLASSIC
Cajun meats have been around for centuries, but like everything else, they’re beginning to evolve. You can’t walk into a bakery and find a vanilla cupcake — rather, you find endless trays of such flavors as churro con cajeta or maple bacon. (If you do find a vanilla cupcake, it’s “Madagascar vanilla bean” or some such flavor.) Forget ordering a hamburger that has bread, meat and maybe lettuce. Burgers today are topped with truffle aioli or cranberry brie. When I was a kid, hot dogs were topped with mustard. The fancy ones had chili. Today they’re topped with things like Kalamata olives, tzatziki and feta.
So of course sausage and boudin would experience the same chef-driven changes that see the grilled cheese built nowadays with fontina cheese on cocktail pumpernickel bread. Welcome to the world of Bougie boudin, where a cheap meat that once fueled Cajun life in Louisiana is experiencing a renaissance of its own. And yes, that elevated Southern staple can be found at Rouses.
“We are starting to develop new types of boudin,” says Marc Ardoin, the corporate chef of Rouses Markets. “These new spins on the Cajun classic started in the last couple of years. It’s gaining more popularity — it’s ‘on trend,’ as we say. We at Rouses have our own, and we carry some from vendors who are doing it as well.” It takes a long time for a new variety to appear on store shelves. Everything is tasted across multiple batches, with some tweaking of seasoning or ingredient. Is the sausage casing too thick or too thin? Is the seasoning balanced? It doesn’t go out until it’s perfect.
Among the most notable variants of boudin today is pepper jack boudin which has, in addition to the normal filling, the addition of its namesake cheese. It’s a perfect “starter” boudin — a savory, accessible flavor that crosses culinary cultures. Other such variations include egg roll boudin and cauliflower boudin.
Rouses Markets love local foods and cater to local tastes. Pepper jack boudin is a good example of that. According to Tim Acosta, when they first found it in Southwest Louisiana, they began carrying it in those markets. “It was popular there, and when we tried it, we realized it was so good, we said we’ve got to bring this everywhere.”
His recommendation is unambiguous: “Go get a Rouses pepper jack boudin, and that’s the only boudin you’ll ever eat.”