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Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana

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From Cochon Butcher

My copy of Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana arrived last Thursday, and I was like a kid opening his first gift on Christmas morning, shuffling for something to open the box with, flinging aside the bubble wrap to stare into a beautifully photographed crock of Gumbo. The title is in big bold white letters REAL CAJUN, as if to say, ok, enough with the blackening already, enough with the notion that everything Cajun is super spicy, enough with the Bourbon Chicken in the food courts; let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Real Cajun, rustic, simple, home cooked meals.

It seems only fitting that the Chef owner of Cochon, and Cochon Butcher (no, I’m not forgetting Herbsaint), would have homemade Bacon as the first recipe in his cookbook, with the first “chapter” bearing the title La Vie Cochon, with recipes including Tasso, Boudin, Pork Belly Cracklins, and more. The most mouthwatering recipe in this chapter, in my humble opinion, is Smothered Pork Roast over Rice, a simple recipe based on his Granny’s preparation, with a photo so beautiful that I swear you will try to lick the wooden spoon before the sauce drips back into the pot.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that he didn’t include more Charcuterie than he did, but I totally understand why he didn’t, keeping it practical for the home cook I guess. (I have my fingers crossed for a follow up book surrounding Louisiana Charcuterie, or a Cochon cookbook.) Don’t get me wrong though, the Charcuterie recipes that are included, Bacon, Boudin, Tasso, Deer Sausage, etc.. are top notch, I can’t wait to try Chef Link’s Boudin recipe, the photo is outstanding as are all of the photos in this book all by Chris Granger. I was looking for Chef Link’s Andouille, Hog’s Head Cheese, and Creole Mustard, but the recipes that filled these spaces totally made up for it and more.

The book’s recipes are wonderful in their simplicity (this is not a restaurant cookbook, although some of the dishes from his restaurants appear) with beautiful photographs that make me long to be in the stifling heat of Louisiana everytime I look at them. Some of the photographs from the book are hanging on the walls of Chef Link’s private dining facility Calcasieu, which is next store and upstairs from Cochon Butcher.

From Cochon Butcher

Real Cajun is mostly cookbook and part memoir, which all builds wonderfully around the recipes, just the kind of cookbook that I love, and reminiscent of another favorite of mine, Marcelle Bienvenu’s Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make A Roux? What comes through in both books is a love of Louisiana, real Cajun cuisine, family, and tradition.

This book is loaded with great recipes, I’ve tried out a few of them now, all were absolutely outstanding. Including Catfish Fried in Bacon Fat. The bacon fat adds an incredible richness to the crisp and moist catfish without taking over the flavor. I also made my own Tartar sauce as an accompaniment with crumbled Bacon added to it; what the hell right, the cholesterol meter is already broken. This is probably the best Catfish that I’ve made:

From Nola Cuisine
From Nola Cuisine

I also made the Chicken & Dumplings, a lot of great technique in this recipe, the best I thought was putting the pan into a 450 degree F oven to finish the dumplings. The stew is very similar to my recent Chicken Fricassee recipe, but the real magic happens when the dumpling batter is added and the whole pan is popped into the 450 oven. By the way, I made this for my wife and my Mom & Dad last night and they said the dumplings reminded them of Thanksgiving Stuffing, I agree. Awesome flavor with the addition of dried Oregano and raw minced onion.

From Nola Cuisine

I also used the Buckle recipe, but used Blueberries as they were the best fruit that I could find, his is made with fresh Peaches which aren’t in season right now. The Blueberry Buckle was dessert last night with good strong French Market Coffee, following the Chicken & Dumplings.

From Nola Cuisine

All in all, I haven’t been this inspired by a Louisiana cookbook since first reading the year 2000 publication of Commander’s Kitchen by Ti Adelaide Martin and the late great Jamie Shannon.

I don’t recommend just anything, but I really think that this a great book, loaded with not only great recipes, but stories to go with each one. My copy is already getting a little worn, the page with the buckle recipe has some dried egg white on it, the back cover has a sticky substance from my kitchen counter. All signs of a good cookbook I guess.

Be sure and check out my ever growing Index of Creole & Cajun Recipes which links to all of the recipe featured on this site!

Also take a look at my Bibliography of Creole & Cajun Cookbooks!

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Crawfish Boil Recipe

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From Crawfish Boil

Any spring social event in Louisiana is most definitely going to be centered around a Crawfish Boil. This is a time to relax with family and friends, enjoy the outdoors, and enjoy the bounty of the season, live Louisiana Crawfish.

The magic behind your boil, in my humble opinion, remains in the hands of two details. Fresh, Lively Crawfish, and your cooking liquid.

Crawfish Boil Recipe

15 lbs Live Louisiana Crawfish
4 Large Spanish Onions, quartered
6 Lemons, halved
4 Heads garlic, halved widthwise
8 Fresh Bay Leaves
3 Bags Crab Boil
1 bunch fresh Thyme
1 Cup Creole Seasoning
1/2 Cup Cayenne, or to taste
1 1/2 lbs Kosher Salt
About 5 Gallons of water, or enough to fill a 30 Quart turkey fryer pot 3/4 full
3 lbs Small Redskin Potatoes
6 Ears of Fresh Corn, shucked, trimmed and cut in half

Bring the water to a boil in a 30 quart Turkey fryer pot with the onions, lemons, garlic, bay leaves, crab boil, cayenne and salt. When the mixture reaches a boil, reduce to a simmer, partially cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

From Crawfish Boil

Your crawfish should be picked through for dead ones and placed and washed by first hosing them down, then leaving them in the basket and placing it into a large pot, filling it with water, draining, filling with water, draining, until the remaining water is eventually clean, about 3-4 times. I’m not in the purging with salt camp, I don’t think it does anything more than what I described above.

From Crawfish Boil

While you’re waiting, and this is a very important part of this recipe, drink a few of your favorite ice cold beers and go visit with your company, this is a social event, relax enjoy! Have the washed Redskins waiting in the basket insert nearby and visit. Take advantage of the downtime!

Before adding anything to the pot, taste your cooking liquid! It should taste overly salty and overly spicy. Drink more cold beer, then add your basket insert to the pot with the potatoes. Let cook for 15-20 minutes. After said time has passed add the corn, and cook for about 10 minutes.

From Crawfish Boil

Bring the liquid to a boil and add the live Crawfish.

From Crawfish Boil

Bring the pot back to a boil as quickly as possible, give a good healthy stir and boil for about 5-10 minutes depending on their size.

From Crawfish Boil

Turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot and allow the crawfish to steep in the liquid for 20-30 minutes. The longer they steep, the spicier and more flavorful they will become. When in doubt as to how long to let them steep, pull one out and have a taste! When you’re sure that they are ready, lift the basket and let them drain. When they are well drained dump the contents of the basket onto a picnic table or any outdoor table heavily lined with newspaper.

From Crawfish Boil

Everyone please note, I don’t have any feeling left in my hands from working in the kitchens all these years. The girls were laughing as I was holding the basket with steam blowing off of it, this isn’t a dummy shot, just a big dummy holding a hot pot with bare hands.

From Crawfish Boil

Let your guests belly up to the table and eat until their hearts are content!

Here are some pics from our small but wonderful boil!

From Crawfish Boil
From Crawfish Boil

The full spread, the potatoes and corn take on all of those wonderful flavors. The potatoes especially, the skins dry out and develop that salt crust and the insides take on the spice.

From Crawfish Boil
From Crawfish Boil

Here is my baby girl Anna with her portion.

From Crawfish Boil

Yeah, that was a gag shot, we can’t even get this little one to eat chicken fingers, don’t worry though, I will keep cracking away on her culinary darings.

Thanks again to Charlie and the fine folks from Cajun Grocer for the generous portion of their premium Live Louisiana Crawfish!

This is my brother Brad. We don’t get together as often as we should these days but this boil was the perfect opportunity to do so and we had a wonderful time. Brad actually helps me with all of the technical details on this site and even hosts it for me on his server! He is also responsible for the new layout, which I absolutely love and has inspired me to start posting more often. Thanks for everything Brad!

From Crawfish Boil

Be sure to check out my ever growing Index of Creole & Cajun Recipes which provides links to all of the recipes featured on this site!

Related Posts:

Crawfish Etouffee Recipe
Live Louisiana Crawfish

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