The South Louisiana classic fuels a people on the go
It’s rare to encounter anyone who would admit to eating morning meat all by its lonesome. Bacon needs, at the very least, a side of toast. Ham’s partnership with the almighty biscuit is accepted as gospel. Even lox doesn’t really fly without the help of a bagel. But when it comes to boudin—the beloved, signature sausage of the Acadiana region in South Louisiana—most eaters lose the biscuit and forget the eggs. Boudin is a strong, independent sausage that doesn’t need any propping up. It’s a breakfast meat that stands out and stands alone.
It’s convenient that there’s practically a square meal contained within each casing. Made of ground pork, rice, green peppers, onion, and a blend of seasoning unique to the boudin-maker, the final product is surprisingly soft, often spice-heavy, and—if executed properly—will have a texture that will make you learn to love the word "moist."
More often than not, boudin is simply cooked in hot water, but it can also be grilled, smoked, or sculpted into boudin balls and fried. (A particularly popular type of ball comes stuffed with molten pepper jack cheese. It’s as swoon-worthy as it sounds.) Seafood boudin also makes frequent appearances, especially during Lent, when pork is a no-no on Fridays but your boudin cravings didn’t get the memo. It’s a morning food, to be sure, but it’s also a midnight treat, afternoon snack, and hell—a dessert if you want it to be. Boudin is a sausage for all seasons and all people.
Throughout Acadiana, rice cookers filled with warm boudin links are about as omnipresent at gas stations as pots of burnt coffee, hinting at the sausage’s best avenue of consumption: being eaten on the go. There’s nothing more auspicious than smearing a little bit of boudin grease across your steering wheel at the start of the day as an edible sun salutation.
And while a person grabbing hold of a standard-issue link of Jimmy Dean and biting off a hunk seems like the alpha-dog move of a comically swole cartoon character, boudin really shouldn’t be eaten any other way. Boudin offers a more tactile experience than other sausages, and to eat it with utensils is akin to knife-and-forking a piece of pizza. Cajun country doesn’t generally allow a lot of room for shyness, and when it comes to their darling sausage, you’re expected to get very intimate, very quickly. Most meat markets will hand over a link swaddled in a paper towel, but my preferred wrap-job method is tin foil, which more effectively keeps the boudin warm and can—with a little finagling—become a kind of porky push pop ideal for parking lot snacking.
Since boudin is a food in motion, it’s also one that’s tightly tethered to the highways and byways of the region. Get just a ways past Beaumont, Texas coming east or Baton Rouge going west and you’ll start to see billboard after billboard—Billy’s! Best Stop! Don’s!—calling out like porcine siren songs to hungry travelers. The billboards feature everything from an anthropomorphized boudin link with a goofy smile just asking to be eaten, to a cheery pig who’s found itself in some hot water. An Acadiana-born friend recently reported that on Highway 90 there’s a new sign reading, “Don’t boo-day! Eat boudin!” (Boo-day, cheekily, being the Cajun French word for “pout.”) Without fail, all claim that their boudin is the best.
“If you ask a dozen people in Lafayette who makes their favorite boudin, you will get a dozen answers—with a strong opinion,” says Lafayette native and sausage expert Simone Reggie, whose New Orleans-based store, Simone’s Market, will open later this year.
“My personal favorite is Chops in Broussard, and I love their boudin over all the other boudin in the land. There’s a good meat-to-rice ratio, good spice, and the meat is slightly chunky—but not too much so. When I go there, I usually get a few links for the moment, and they offer to cut them in half so it’s easier to eat on the road,” Reggie says.
There are a blue million boudin options out there, and allegiances run deep. It’s difficult to imagine another sausage inspiring such ardor, and the range of grand gestures that have gone down in the name of boudin love are a little mind-boggling. Scott, Louisiana proudly bills itself as the Boudin Capital of the World, hosting an annual festival and crowning a boudin queen. There’s the painstakingly mapped out Cajun Boudin Trail, and an entire website devoted to grading the various boudin links of the region. I know more than a few expat Cajuns who have boudin shipped cross-country on a regular basis just to have that hot and juicy taste of home at the ready.
“People in South Louisiana recognize that boudin is a cultural and regional point of distinction. This awareness makes them loyal to it in a way not manifested with any other culinary item besides, maybe, crawfish,” says Bob Carriker, founder of BoudinLink. Since 2004, Carriker posted reviews of over 180 different boudins, complete with tasting notes, on the website.
“Every place that sells boudin has a slightly—and sometimes not so slightly—different recipe, so it is easy to see why people become partial to, and even defensive of, the link they identify as their favorite,” Carriker says.
Despite its inherent mobility, boudin has been surprisingly slow to trickle into the nearby New Orleans area or, really, anywhere else. Only recently has it found a home at places like The Cheezy Cajun, which sells an eclectic combination of Cajun meats and Wisconsin cheeses. Maybe, though, this limited reach is for the best. The Bermuda Triangle-like draw of boudin can continue to lure in those in the know, and then—poof!—disappear, leaving travelers to wonder whether the sausage was real, or just a delicious fever dream.