A few years ago, a friend was visiting Toronto and found a Cajun store. He had grown up in Louisiana, so he called me, thrilled that he had discovered a source in the Northeast for some of his favorite Cajun ingredients. And yes, on hand were plenty of Cajun spices, store-made gumbos, and alligator meat. But the one thing this store didn’t have was boudin—a Cajun sausage that you also can’t find in New York.
“No boudin?” I said. “That’s a shame. Perhaps I should just try to make it myself.”
It took me a while, but five years later I finally did.
Boudin (also spelled boudain), if you’re not familiar with it, is a sausage that’s stuffed with pork, liver, rice, and a host of aromatics and spices. It’s what fuels road trips heading east on I-10 from Houston into Louisiana, as almost every gas station worth its salt will have poached or smoked boudin on hand, ready for snacking.
After you fill up the tank and stretch your legs, you grab a link, lean against the counter and squeeze the sausage until the filling oozes out the end, like toothpaste out of a tube. You take a big bite, wash it down with a cold beverage and continue eating until nothing but the casing remains. (The casing, which most don’t eat, is thrown away.) Of course, there are some fastidious types who prefer to eat boudin with a knife and a fork, but where’s the fun in that?
While it’s a Cajun dish, boudin is also found in Southeast Texas where the cultures of Louisiana and Texas collide. I’m partial to boudin that’s found at gas stations, but you can also buy it at meat markets, seafood shops, and grocery stores. You’ll seldom see it at proper sit-down restaurants, however, as boudin is regarded as stand-up, on-the-go food. And that’s probably why you don’t see it outside the Southeast Texas/Louisiana region, as even though there may be Cajun restaurants, boudin is not usually part of their repertoire. This used to upset me, but it’s no longer an issue since I’ve learned that the best boudin can be made at home.
The basic recipe for boudin is a mix of finely diced cooked pork, chicken or pig’s liver, rice, bell pepper, celery, green onions, parsley and cayenne. From that base you can tailor it any way you wish. I like to add a bunch of jalapeños to mine, and I know people who will throw in some shrimp and crawfish, too. Boudin is usually poached though you can smoke it, as well.
Making a batch of boudin is a snap—the most difficult part of the process is stuffing it into the casing. Though if you don’t have a sausage stuffer, you can still eat the filling as a dressing, or whip up a batch of boudin balls, which are rolled portions of the filling that have been dipped in crushed crackers and fried.
Now, while I associate boudin with quick stops on the road, it’s also mighty fine for home eating. It’s terrific to serve to friends when you’re watching the big game, and at holidays, my family has been known to add it to our festive buffet. But no matter when or where you eat boudin, know that you’re in for a spicy filling treat.
2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 rib of celery, diced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, chopped
1/2 pound chicken livers
2 cups cooked rice
2 jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
2 green onions, chopped (green part only)
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
Salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste
Place the pork shoulder, celery, onion, garlic and bell pepper into a large pot. Cover with 2 inches of water, bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour. After an hour, add the chicken liver to the pot and continue to cook for 45 more minutes or until the pork is tender.
Strain the meat and vegetables, reserving the liquid. Finely dice the meat and vegetables with a knife, in a food processor or in a meat grinder set for a coarse grind. Once diced, place meat and vegetables in a bowl.
Add to the bowl the cooked rice, jalapeños, thyme, oregano, paprika, green onions and parsley. Stir in 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid and combine until the filling is moist and slightly sticky. If it appears too dry, add more of the reserved liquid. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt, pepper and cayenne.
To make boudin sausage, stuff into casing (see below for instructions) and then poach in boiling water for 10 minutes.
Alternatively, you can either serve the filling as a dressing, or you can roll it into walnut-sized balls, dip into finely crushed crackers and fry in 350 degree oil for 2 minutes or until brown to make boudin balls.
Yield: about 12 sausages or 5 cups of filling
Note: If you have any concerns about cooking the chicken livers in the pork pot, by all means you can cook the livers separately, and then mix them with the cooked pork and other pot vegetables when you dice them or run them through the food processor.
How to stuff sausage
What you’ll need:
4 feet of hog casing, sized 32/35mm
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
A sausage stuffer
First, rinse the outside of the casing and then place it in a bowl of water for 30 minutes to soften. Drain the soaking water and then rinse the inside of the casing by placing one end on the kitchen faucet, turn the water on low and allow it to flow through the casing. The casing will blow up like a balloon—this is fine.
Lightly oil the stuffing horn on your sausage stuffer with vegetable oil. Tie a knot at one end of the casing. Take the other end and gently slide the entire casing onto the horn, leaving the knot plus an additional 4 inches hanging off the end of the horn.
Place the filling into the feeder and push it through until it starts to fill the casing. Go slowly at first and note that you’ll need to massage the casing as the meat goes through it so it fills the casing evenly.
Once you’ve filled the casing, to form links, pinch it every 5 inches and then twist it until it’s secure. You can then cut the casing to form individual sausages.
Before boiling or grilling, poke holes into the casing to get rid of air bubbles and to keep the sausage from bursting.