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Suffolk food writer Nicola Miller, from Bury St Edmunds, explores the origins of Cajun sausage boudin and gives her take on the dish





The first time I tried Cajun boudin, I kept it traditional. En route from New Orleans, I made a pilgrimage to the Best Stop Supermarket in the tiny town of Scott and bought a steaming foil-wrapped link from the hot-case.

Scott calls itself ‘The Boudin Capital of the World’ and the Best Stop chain, which opened its first store in 1986, is one of the most reliable places to buy what is essentially a blend of pork cuts (including liver), peppers, onions, seasonings and rice that is cooked and stuffed into casings before being poached. The fact that Mrs Jerry Prejean Hovatta, who helped develop the Best Stop’s boudin recipe, made and prayed the rosary daily on its behalf adds to its appeal.

I sat in the car on a broiling hot day and squeezed the boudin’s casing as you might a tube of toothpaste until the smoked and spicy pork and rice filling shot into my mouth. I was smitten.

While I love eating it simply (the family next door to us on Bayou Jack fed me boudin and French bread served from the tailgate of their truck after a morning spent hunting white-tailed deer), innovative chefs and cooks across Louisiana are using boudin in exciting and unexpected ways.

I’m pretty keen on this too, so last October I made a beeline for Ayu Bakehouse, a relatively new bakery and café inside a pretty galleried building on the corner of Frenchmen and Dauphine, where pastry chef-owners Kelly Jacques and Samantha Weiss produce the marvellously named Boudin Boy using links sourced from the Best Stop, near Lafayette.

“It’s a croissant pastry filled with cooked loose boudin sausage and quartered soft-boiled eggs with a soft, savoury interior and flaky, crispy exterior with a signature shattery crunch from the laminated layers,” they told me.

On my first morning in the city, I ordered one and sat at an outside table in the sun, jetlagged and hungry. The Boudin Boy arrived on a white paper plate with a tiny pot of chilli crisp that stained my fingers orange as I ate. It is an insanely clever combination of flavour and ingredients, reflecting the city’s history of immigration and multiculturalism.

Neither baker is a Louisiana native; Kelly has roots in Sumatra and Annapolis, and Samantha hails from New York City so boudin was not in their cultural wheelhouse until their arrival in Louisiana.

Early iterations of the Boudin Boy contained cheese until they realised it was a distraction to the meat’s distinctive flavour. Stripping the pastry back to boudin plus egg ‘reflects the value of simplicity, particularly with Louisiana’s rich local ingredients,’ they say.

“Ian McNulty, a prominent New Orleans food writer, likened it to a handheld Cajun breakfast, affirming our direction,” which is one heck of an endorsement.

Nicola Miller's Boudin and egg pastries
Nicola Miller's Boudin and egg pastries

I’m intrigued by the decision to serve chilli crisp on the side. “It's a funny story, actually,” they say. “During our first hectic week after opening, we worked late into the night to keep up with demand. Starving, we decided to bake some Boudin Boys for a quick snack. The aroma wafted out onto Frenchmen Street, catching the attention of partygoers who knocked on our side door, eager to try what smelled so enticing. We handed out the pastries and being true Louisianians, they immediately inquired about hot sauce.”

All Ayu had to hand was a jar of Lao Gan Ma chilli crisp, a staple in Kelly’s house because her Italian husband loves it - as did those late-night customers who continued to order Boudin Boys with chilli crisp during the bakery’s opening hours. As a result, they decided to make this a standard accompaniment.

“Louisiana has a long history of Asian migration, most notably Vietnamese, so there may be a distant connection there. But it’s the pan-cultural love of hot sauce in its myriad forms that is to thank for this one,” they laugh.

Until recently, life in the UK for boudin lovers was hard until Tom Zahir Browne, the chef-founder of Decatur London, a company specialising in southern foods, particularly those of Louisiana, began to make and sell it. I ask him how daunting it is to develop an accurate version of a regionally coded food whose devotees will not hold back when it comes to critique.

“It’s really hard. I think with ANY important regional dish people deeply care about, there is a huge debate about what good looks and tastes like,” he replies. “With Cajun and Creole cooking, there are so many ways in which people make gumbo, an étouffée or even red beans and rice - none of which, to me, are inherently wrong or bad (aside from the ones that are clearly wrong and bad), and boudin is no different.”

New Orleans, home to the Ayu Bakehouse
New Orleans, home to the Ayu Bakehouse

He suggests not being Cajun has helped his process to a certain extent: “In a strange way, not having any deep-rooted personal connection to one specific boudin style, shop, or market means that I've been able to find the elements of each link that I really love, whether that’s in flavour and spice, ratios of the liver to meat, rice to meat, texture etc. Ultimately, with all of the food we’re cooking, I recognise that it’s not mine to mess with, so I’m just trying to put out a solid version.”

In 2022, Tom was invited to judge Lafayette's International Boudin and Bacon cook-off, something he acknowledges as a huge honour. Evaluating 25 different links that ran the gamut from super-traditional to innovative proved an invaluable experience when he began to develop his own version.

Can you remember your first time? “I think the first time I tried boudin, I was expecting something completely different - I wish I could say it was from a gas station somewhere, but it was actually at Cochon Butcher in New Orleans around 2010,” he says. “I was with friends and saw the words ‘Cajun Sausage’ on the menu and instantly ordered. I think I was expecting something closer to andouille to arrive at the table, and when four or five small pieces of this loose, soft, rice-filled sausage with an inedible casing arrived, I was a little confused.”

He loved it and once back in London, he tried to make it himself before returning to spend significant time in Cajun country. “Then I really got to taste boudin as God intended - in the front seat of a car, eaten from greaseproof paper.”

Decatur London makes boudin in batches of around 100lbs, which takes 24 hours from start to finish. Within one hour of going online, each batch sells out. “I’d say our boudin is in a pretty settled place now – around an even balance of meat to rice, super creamy with an undertone of liver-minerality, and a building heat, with plenty of fresh herbs.

“There is always someone who tells me their mom’s is better,” he laughs when I ask him what feedback he’s had from UK-based Louisianans. This feedback, plus annual research trips, helps him maintain an accurate taste memory and hone his palate.

“Knowing you’ll never have a link that everyone thinks is perfect because there is so much history and emotion and memory contained in the food that matters to people, and being ok with that is vital,” he says. “For the most part, I think people appreciate being able to find a source for a cuisine that’s so often badly cooked, that hits a lot of the marks from home. . . I'm so proud to be a custodian of a cuisine with such wonderful tradition attached.”

BOUDIN AND EGG PASTRIES

I wanted to develop a version of Ayu Bakehouse’s Boudin Boy using Decatur London’s links. I sliced and toasted croissants from Woosters Bakery and filled them with fried boudin, a sliced soft-boiled egg, and a slick of chilli crisp. They were delicious in their own right. But making laminated croissant dough is something I have yet to try at home, so it felt wrong to advise you to do the same, which is where all-butter puff pastry comes in as a decent compromise. Think of this as a Cajun-English sausage roll.

Order boudin from www.decaturlondon.com

Ayu Bakehouse is at 801 Frenchmen St, New Orleans. Find them online at www.ayubakehouse.com​​​​​​www.ayubakehouse.com

Makes 8

Ingredients:

Sunflower oil

One Decatur London boudin

Two medium eggs boiled for 6 minutes, cooled and peeled

Flour for dusting hands

320g block of fridge-cold all-butter ready-rolled pastry (I use M&S’s)

One whisked egg for eggwash

To serve: chilli crisp, hot sauce, or the mustard of your choice

Method:

1 Heat the oven to 220C/450F/Gas 8.

2 Place an oiled, heavy, medium-sized frying pan over medium heat.

3 Slit the boudin’s casing along its length and turn out the contents into your hot pan. Using a fork, lightly break it into small clumps and fry until it turns golden. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

4 Dust your hands with flour, remove the pastry from its box and lay it flat on a flour-covered surface. Using a sharp knife, divide it into two along its length, giving you two strips measuring approximately 33 x 12cm. Gently place each strip onto its own oiled and floured baking sheet.

5 Scatter the cooled filling in a thin, off-centre line along each pastry strip, remembering to leave enough space to roll and close your pastry. Take one of the eggs and, using a sharp knife, slice it into quarters over the pastry filling so any runny yolk spills onto it. Place the slices evenly along the pastry’s length. Do the same with the second egg and pastry strip.

6 Brush the edges of each strip with beaten egg, then fold the pastry so the filling is enclosed. Press down to seal the edges.

7 Using a sharp knife, cut each strip in half along its width and divide both pieces into two, giving you four pastries. Place four pastries on each baking sheet and brush their sides and tops with egg wash. You will have eight in total.

8 Bake for 20 minutes, but start checking on them after 15. When golden, remove the pastries from the oven and leave them to cool for a minute before serving them with your choice of hot sauce, mustard, or salsa. (They are good cold, too.)

Follow Nicola on Twitter: @Nicmillerstale

Winner of the Guild of Food Writers Online Food Writer Award 2020

Fortnum & Mason Cookery Writer of the Year 2022