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Want a true taste of the real Louisiana? You’ll want to get behind the wheel and head out of New Orleans and off into the cypress swamps and rice paddies of Cajun country. Because that’s where you’ll find scores of mom-and-pop meat shops and convenience stores preserving a hundreds-year-old tradition of some very special sausages known as boudin. And you’ll be glad you did.
Welcome to Louisiana’s Boudin Trail, a loosely defined region west of New Orleans, both north and south of Interstate 10.
“Boudin is not a New Orleans thing. It is a Cajun country thing,” says Robert Carriker, a professor of history at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette and author of “Boudin: A Guide to Louisiana’s Extraordinary Link.” ”There are meat shops that make a handsome living for entire families selling almost nothing but boudin.”
Most boudin is boiled and served hot, but you also can buy it smoked, fried in balls, and made with crawfish, alligator or deer meat. There are boudin egg rolls, boudin grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza topped with boudin, even boudin stuffed king cakes. A handful of slaughterhouses still make old-fashioned red boudin, a blood sausage version.
Boudin (pronounced BOO-dan) is a tradition that dates back to the 1700s, when French Canadians came to Louisiana. Carriker says Cajuns started using local ingredients and spices to make sausages that are different from Old World recipes. They held communal livestock slaughterings, often in the fall, that combined food, family and music. Locals have loved the pork and rice sausages ever since.
Today, the region is littered with shops serving and selling boudin, almost all using special family recipes that date back generations. Where to begin on an eating tour of boudin country? An AP reporter ventured out, sampling boudin for breakfast, lunch and dinner at almost a dozen locations. Of course, there are countless more. But these are some of the delicious highlights:
Johnson’s Boucaniere (Cajun French for smokehouse) in Lafayette sells wonderfully flavorful boudin, and 87-year-old Wallace Johnson tells stories of boudin’s origins at communal country hog slaughterings, or boucheries.
“When they killed the hogs, they had to use everything, all the meat, because they had no refrigeration,” Johnson said. “It was rice, liver and meat, and the seasoning. In the old days they didn’t have a stuffer. They would take a cow horn” and use it to push the boudin mixture into casings.
Johnson’s father started making boudin in 1948 at the family grocer in Eunice. That store closed in 2005, but Johnson’s daughter Lori and his son-in-law Greg opened a new location a few years later, using the old family recipe. They sell a great breakfast biscuit with boudin, cheese or egg, along with po’boys, gumbo and other local specialties, such as barbecue potatoes and an outrageous bread pudding with praline sauce.
The Best Stop Supermarket on Route 93, just north of Scott, is a country store with a dizzying variety of specialty meats and sausage. Co-owner Dana Cormier said the family began selling boudin as a way to make ends meet in 1986, when oil field jobs went downhill.
“When we first started, we’d make like 100 pounds, here and there,” Cormier said. Now “we make about 4,600 pounds of boudin a day, Monday through Friday,” along with 35,000 boudin balls a month. The Best Stop’s boudin is exceptionally moist and meaty, with pieces of scallion and a touch of old-fashioned liver flavor.
The state legislature gave Scott the title of “Boudin Capital of the World,” causing hard feelings in Broussard, which originally held the title, and some grumbling in Jennings, the “Boudin Capital of the Universe.”
Billy’s Boudin & Cracklin’ in Scott, just off I-10, sells an amazing smoked boudin, perfectly balancing the meat and rice with just a hint of smoky flavor. Their boudin egg roll is excellent, too. Crackling is deep-fried pig skin.
At the same I-10 exit, check out Don’s Specialty Meats, which sells a tasty, moderately spiced boudin with chunks of meat, as well as innovations such as Tater Tot boudin, which is a good choice for people looking to ease into the experience. They also have a large selection of Cajun specialty foods and spices, such as pickled quail eggs and jars of roux.
On the edges of Abbeville, about 30 minutes to the south, Herbert’s Slaughter House and Meat Market is one of the few places you can still buy red boudin, made with blood and an old-fashioned range of pig trimmings. They have fresh and frozen links, and the red boudin is moderately spiced with a slightly metallic taste, similar to English blood sausage.
Meanwhile, 30 miles away in Beaux Ridge, Cajun Works sells a wonderful, blisteringly spicy boudin ball in a small sit-down restaurant.
Ready to hit the boudin trail? Start by heading to www.boudinlink.com, which has an interactive map showing more than 50 boudin stores, as well as a link to Carriker’s review of each one. Also check out Southern Foodways Alliance which works to preserve southern food cultures.
Carriker says you could start by visiting one city and sampling all the different boudin there, since each store makes it differently. Some areas, such as the Lake Charles region, have their own brochures with lists of boudin trails.
Or you could cruise along I-10 in either direction, stopping at the many stores near the highway. In general, old fashioned boudin often has more of a liver flavor, and boudin lovers look for a good balance between meat and rice, and a texture that isn’t too mushy or too dry.
Some people like their boudin spicy, others like it mild. And appearances can be deceptive; a small country gas station may have the most wonderful boudin, so stay open to serendipity.