Breakfast at Cafe Des Amis delivered up Eggs Begnaud, grilled biscuits with crawfish etouffee, two eggs up, and grits. We also tried Grilled Boudin Patties with beignets, which turned out to be a new favorite way of getting a boudin fix. This lead us to our first assault on the day’s boudin makers, because Sandra Henry, the chef here, tells us they use Charlie T’s from just down the street, but she also admits that “the best one of all is the one I make at home.” Mais oui, cher! Pretty soon all the waitstaff is involved in our project and start making strongly worded suggestions about where to get the best boudin. Sandra says it’s because they are all from different areas around here and each one has its own style, see. (Delores Bonin told us that the Cajun villages were very insular and a town thirty miles away was a “long way away”, and people were very much related and intermarried in each town.) One waitress, when we commented on one place we had been, said, “oh well, that place is in Lafayette, so what could they know about Cajun boudin?”, seriously, like it was obvious, she of course being from Breaux Bridge, fully twenty miles away. We asked Sandra about a few other places and she would say “that’s not around here, I don’t know”.
Boudin "pig's ear" (Kimmie Rhodes)
Down the brick streets is Charlie T’s. He’s standing chatting with a customer, his small store full of prepared meat dishes, sausages, and takeout food as well as emergency supplies- beer, bread, and music. He likes to talk about his boudin and his cracklin’s and shows us his huge kettles for deep-frying cracklin’s and the custom-designed paddles that scrape across the bottoms to keep them from sticking. His cracklin’s are the best we find, a wonderful skin/fat/meat cube with just a hint of heat. He makes the boudin for the Café and we have already had it twice for breakfast, once in a batter “pigs ear” and once as a fried pattie, and it is very rich and meaty, almost a pork sausage with a rice binder rather than the rice sausages with pork added that you usually find. He uses pork shoulder and liver in a 6 to 1 ratio and the green onion tops (“we use the new onions from around here in winter, so the flavor drops off a little when we have to use the onions from Mexico”). His prepared meat dish case is a Cajun wonderland, with not only the usual things ready to be cooked at home like stuffed pork tenderloin, but with eyepopping things that you would never see 200 miles from here in any direction, like “cowboy stew” (which, being from cowboy country, I can tell you no Texas cowboy ever wrapped lip over) containing liver, heart, brains, kidneys, sweetbreads, “melt” (which I think means tallow), jawmeat, and cayenne. Also in the smoked-for-four-hours-today section, there’s tasso ham, turkey wings, ham shanks, and pork back bones. Here in Stuffed we see turkey wings, chickens with various cornbread/boudin combinations and wrapped in bacon, chicken breasts stuffed with cornbread dressing, stuffed deboned chickens that you can serve in cross-sections, marinated rabbit and pork, spiced pigs feet and tails, and fresh pork back bones for stew. It is of course torture for a cook to stand here, but we have boudin to taste…
I begin to feel that the place Clifton took me to that long ago fateful day might have been Poche’s, a long-standing boudin joint that sits backed up to the bayou over on the north side of I-10. Poche’s even has signs along I-10 advertising their food, that’s how big they are. We drive up there, cross the bayou on Poche’s Bridge, and there’s the joint, only instead of a little wooden frame house, it is a big ole red metal building. People are going in and out in a stream, some of them sitting down on the benches outside to eat their finds, some taking it home for Sunday lunch. Inside is a long L-shaped meat case filled with every sausage, stuffed stomach, bird, and formerly quick animal on earth. Just past there is a very large dining room. People are buying fried chicken and whole meals from the steam tables and eating at long picnic tables. We purchase a couple of boudins, one the traditional and one a crawfish version. A lady says to her daughter “be sure and get some braid to take wid us” and I was mightily puzzled by this, even being from Texas, where English is tortured into dazzling new forms. Braid? This is new. I watched as the clerk handed them a loaf of standard American soft white bread. Oh.
Poche’s boudin is classic- not strong, not wimpy, just assured, as dishes tend to be after somebody cooks them for many years and rounds off the corners and loses the sharp edges. This may be the one after all, but since the building isn’t the same, I can’t be sure now. Just enough heat to get your attention, just enough liver to give it authority, but plenty of pork shoulder and onions. (http://www.pochesmarket.com/)
Twenty-five boudins and twenty-five little shops, gas stations, grocers ancient and modern, bait stores, and cafes right out of a 50’s dream, we are on our way back to the room, sated beyond relief when it comes to me: the best boudin is the one in your memory. No matter how good the one in your hand may be, the best one will always be the one you remember, like the one I had that day with my much-missed friend Clifton, watching the swamps fly by the windows of his grand Cadillac automobile, a time and a place that I can never go again except in dream. Laissez Bon Temps Roulet!
Our Boudin Honor Roll, in no particular order:
Johnson Brothers Grocery