Louisiana

Friends in the Bayou

By | Louisiana | One Comment
While the weather was warmer in Louisiana it was the warmth of the people that impressed me most – friendly and unfailingly polite. The importance of good manners is often overlooked today. From the culinary students to people in the street, there was an acknowledgment that you existed – a smile, and greeting often followed by a conversation. That’s something I miss in Toronto. In Paris I will get a bonjour from strangers in the street and often find myself at the bus stop talking to someone I’ve just met. When I return to the Toronto, I have to adjust, my hellos to strangers in the street as they are usually met with a start and then discomfort.
My host, chef John Folse, is recognized everywhere in Louisiana, people want to chat and have their photo taken with him, and he always obliges. He has a vast network of friends and suppliers and I was lucky to meet three of them. Perhaps the most colourful is pictured above Bubba Frey. You can hear him describe the history behind the name of the town Mowata. I met Bubba on his farm where he raises many birds including guinea hen, turkeys, chicken, geese and ducks. He catches crawfish and grows peas. He told us that his wife offered him a choice betweens a plucker or a shucker for Christmas. He chose the shucker because he much rather pluck a bird than shuck peas.
We visited the Eunice Superette managed by the charming Andy Thibodaux. Despite it’s name this is a butcher store attached to an abattoirs. Andy has been butchering all his life, you can see him here. He was having a boucherie the following weekend, the traditional butchering of a pig. This happens in winter and the community helps with the task of killing and butchering the animal. Alas I wasn’t staying long enough to attend, but I hope to time my trip better next year.
The flat terrain and abundant rainfall make Louisiana an ideal place to grow rice and the rice paddies are the perfect habitat for crawfish. For my Aussie friends a crawfish is very similar to a yabbie. You can see the red tops of the crawfish traps sitting just above the water line everywhere you look. Until the middle of the 20th century crawfish was a poor man’s food, now it an important industry. I met Dexter Guillroy at Riceland Crawfish who explained that the cooler weather this spring has meant a slow start to the crawfish season. Riceland processes crawfish and swamp chicken – yes alligator. I didn’t eat any alligator this time, I’m guessing it is close to crocodile in taste, but I did eat a crawfish boudin and crawfish étouffée.
I’m planning my next trip south, not only for the warmer weather, but to spend more time with these warm and friendly folks.

More from the Bayou

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The word boudin for me conjures up images of the French sausages – boudin noir and boudin blanc. The first, is a blood sausage, and the second a more delicate, finely textured sausage made from pork and chicken, often embellished with black truffles. A boudin in Louisiana is different, it is still a sausage, but…..
At first glance they look like the French sausages, but you can see with the white one just how soft the filling is. Despite always being in natural casings, most people eat them by squeezing out the filling. These boudins contain ground pork, ground pork liver, although less and less, and rice. The grind of the pork varies from medium to coarse and unlike classic French boudin there is always chile. The white boudin has chopped green onion and the dark one blood of course. In season they make crawfish boudin.
Chef Folse and Michaela took me along the Boudin trail and our first stop was at Poche’s in Breaux Bridge, just outside Lafayette. It’s a family run place owned by Floyd Poche who’s English is charmingly accented by his French and German heritage.
 
Poche’s is both a butchers store with a large selection of fresh and frozen meat, and a diner. You choose your meal from the hot table and eat in carvernous room decorated with deers heads. Your choice depends on the day, so if you go on a Tuesday as we did, you know there’ll be smothered pork chops or rabbit, and crawfish étouffée, there is always boudin and cracklings. We tried the smothered rabbit, smothered means covered in a rich roux based sauce  as is the crawfish étoufée, étouffer being the French for smother. The rabbit came with rice and sides of green beans in sauce and smothered potatoes [potatoes mashed with that rich sauce] and a bread roll to keep up the carbohydrates! 
Of course we tried the boudin, a good blend of pork, pork liver, and rice flavoured with onion, red cayenne and jalapeño, which has taken over from the green cayenne pepper. The cracklings were large pieces of fried pork skin with the fat and meat still attached and mildly spicy.
Next stop was Don’s Specialty Meats on the other side of Lafayette. How could I not love a store that sold large jars of lard?

At Don’s you can buy meat, groceries and even T shirts. Their boudin has a coarser texture with more rice, and the cracklings, all fat and skin were smaller and spicier. At the back are the boudin balls that Michaela insisted we try, deep frying is a popular way of cooking. As you can guess I was starting to feel full, I needed exercise, so we went to visit the locals…..

Warmth in the Bayou

By | Louisiana | No Comments
Thanks to this man, chef John Folse, I escaped Toronto’s relentless winter for a few days. I met John on his radio show – we talked about fat, then he invited me back and we talked odd bits. We hit it off and he asked me to come to Louisiana to teach a class and lecture about odd bits at his culinary college at Nicholls State University. I said yes without a moment’s hesitation.

It was so wonderful to see green grass, magnolia trees in bloom and to smell the earth. Not only was the weather warmer, so are the people. Friendly, always greeting you and unfailingly polite. What a difference good weather and good manners make to your opinion of a place.
My first dinner was at John’s restaurant in New Orleans, R’evolution and, of course I had to try the bone marrow.

The house made salumi was also delicious, and is on display in the restaurant. I tasted the hog’s head cheese, which has more the texture of rillettes than the head cheese I’m used to. I discovered, this was the norm as I ate my way through various renditions over the following days.

The next day I was at the school convincing the students of the delights of cooking with brains, heart, oxtail and testicles. There I met Nathan who makes the salumi at R’evolution, and is committed to using the whole animal. The students were enthusiastic and interested and I know I expanded their horizons, and even some of the faculty members, as to what is edible and delicious in an animal.

I’d been to New Orleans before, but that was all I’d seen of the state. I was to discover, thanks to John and his right hand Michaela, that Louisiana is so much more….. posts to follow.