Most of us already know that there are some seriously good eats to be found all throughout the great state of Louisiana. From crawfish boils to New Orleans-style beignets, the amalgamation of French culinary techniques alongside a good dose of down-home Southern Cajun swamp cooking make for a cuisine unlike any other.
Cajun Boudin Sausage and Boudin Balls from Cajun Cowboys
Let me start off by saying, this ain't your typical sausage. Cajun-style boudin sausage, while paying homage to the many Acadian exiles who came to the area from Nova Scotia during the 1700s, is quite different from a traditional French-style boudin, which is typically made from ground pork and pork liver. Along with plenty of Cajun spices, Louisiana-style boudin adds a heaping helping of cooked rice which, not only gives the sausage its unique local flavor, but also a soft, almost creamy center, so much so, that many Cajuns opt for spreading the meat filling on crackers.
Boudin comes in many varieties and forms, from mild to spicy and fresh to smoked, yet one delicious offshoot to traditional boudin not to be missed is fried boudin balls. A Cajun boudin ball is essentially plenty of rice, pork, and liver goodness rolled into a ball and then battered and fried. And, the best part is that you can get one of these gems for about 75 cents.
For some seriously good boudin, check out Cajun Cowboys in Vinton, Louisiana, which is a must-stop. There's nothing fancy here. In fact, it's sort of a gas station/convenience mart, where owner Glenn Earl has been making his Cajun boudin for more than 18 years. Plan to order your sausages to go, either smoked or fresh. Throw in some of Glenn Earl's homemade jerky or pork cracklins, and all you'll need for the perfect meaty picnic lunch is a six pack of PBR, which you can conveniently pick up in the next aisle. Finally if al fresco dining isn't your thing, there's an adjoining restaurant where you can get much of the same.
There's no shortage of gumbo anywhere in Louisiana, and like many regions, Lake Charles has its own special version. For those who know gumbo, it's all about the roux (a combination of fat and flour used as a thickener for soups and stews), and in Southwest Louisiana, they like their roux nice and dark without the addition of tomatoes or okra. From chicken and sausage to shrimp and crawfish, real Cajun gumbo is soul-warming goodness unlike no other.
For some of the best gumbo, be sure to hit The Seafood Palace in Lake Charles for the real deal. Resident Chef Stella (as she's known) doesn't mess around with her gumbo and proof was in the pudding when I went out back to check out her many vats of the stuff simmering all rich, dark, and lovely right in the restaurant parking lot. The shrimp and crab gumbo is a particular standout with rice served on the side. Locals like to add rice to their gumbo at will, often a little at a time with each bite. The same goes for potato salad. While seeming like a strange addition, after multiple recommendations that I dump a little in my gumbo, I gave it a go and was thoroughly hooked.
Fried Crab Claws from The Seafood Palace
Chef Stella and The Seafood Palace strikes again, but this time it's the chef's oh-so-light and crunchy breading clinging to the ends of sweet blue crab claws that got me. As a frequent traveler to the Chesapeake Bay I thought I knew my blue crabs. That was, until I tasted a Louisiana blue crab, which is frankly bigger and sweeter. I hate to admit it, but Maryland just got some serious comp.
Crawfish Etouffee from Hollier's Cajun Kitchen
Hollier's is a family-owned restaurant in nearby Sulphur, Louisiana. While they're most known for their extensive seafood buffet replete with fried catfish, collard greens, black-eyed peas and deliciously sweet cornbread, for me it was their crawfish etouffee. Much like gumbo, a proper etouffee is all about the roux and Hollier's is surprisingly light, which balances well the addition of seafood stock, crawfish tail meat, and of course, the holy trinity (onions, green peppers, and celery).
If etouffee isn't your thing, they make a mean fried shrimp, oyster, or crawfish po'boy, which literally explodes with fried seafood making it a delectable knife and fork kind of meal. In addition to their sit-down restaurant, Hollier's offers boudin, venison sausages, and other meats to take home, and if you happen to get a deer during your hunt, they'll be happy to "process" it for you.
Sausage or Crawfish Kolaches from Delicious Donuts and Bakery
If you've never had a savory kolache, this is your chance. This Czech goodie is essentially a pastry treat filled with everything from fruits and cheeses to meats and sausages. In the U.S., Czech-Americans throughout Texas and Nebraska readily devour these sweet and savory pastries that can best be described as an elongated, slightly sweet, airy donut-type dough containing a rich, decadent filling.
Delicious Donuts in St. Charles, Louisiana, which is not far from the Texas border, has adopted their own brand of kolaches called "kalotchies," which boasts an almost fritter-like dough that's filled with boudin sausage (which pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee in the morning), creamy crawfish mixture, breakfast sausage, or cheese. In total, Delicious Donuts offers roughly eight different varieties of "kolatchies" for your snacking pleasure.
In addition to their uniquely branded kolatchies, Delicious Donuts makes a darned tasty King Cake in several flavors, from their house specialty pralines-n-cream to the more adventurous bananas foster or zulu (a Bavarian cream with chocolate and coconut icing). And, the best part? They deliver throughout the U.S., so you can have your own Mardi Gras party right at home.
Kendra Bailey Morris is a cookbook author and freelance food and travel writer. In addition to Away, her work has been featured on AOL's Gadling, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, Better Homes and Gardens publications, and the We Women's Network. She is also a weekly food and travel columnist with the Richmond Times Dispatch and has her own blog Fatback and Foie Gras: Travels and Eats with a Side of Bacon Grease. When she's not writing, eating, or traveling, Kendra can be found cooking at home with her husband Tim and their ninety-pound black lab, Charliedog. For more info check out www.theaccidentalchef.com or follow Kendra on Twitter.
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