A few months ago, Joel and I got an invitation to visit our twitter pals, Manny and Abi, in Lafayette, LA for their 25th annual Festival International Francophone. Saying that I'm happy I said yes is a gross understatement. From the time we landed until our departure, we were spoiled rotten with fantastic regional food, inventive cocktails, and an incredibly fun and free music festival.
Manny is Executive Chef at Jolie's Bistro, where he creates and oversees the "farm to table" cuisine coming out of the kitchen, including the incredibly varied output from his new charcuterie program. Along with the creative genius behind the bar, Luke Tullos, Manny is a big reason for the increasing buzz around Jolie's, which was the first port of call on our gustatory adventure.
The boys literally spoiled us that first night, with a steady flow of outstanding charcuterie and cocktails. Some of my favourites included the confit duck flatbread, pictured, and, of all things, the pickled okra. I usually hate okra, but there was none of the characteristic sliminess present in this version, and I could not get enough of it. Luke also brought me this cucumber mint concoction that was out of this world.
Over the course of the next five days, I quickly became obsessed with everything the regional cuisine had to offer. There was just so much good stuff we ate and did, so I'm just going to give you the personal highlights. From boudin to Steen's to po' boys to alligator bites to grits, everything about the food I had in Louisiana screamed comfort. None of it could really be considered "healthy", but good goddamn it felt like your soul was being nourished with every bite.
For example, the oreille de couchon from Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge, just outside of Lafayette. On the menu for their Zydeco Breakfast, this dish may not initially make sense on paper, but trust me. It's been almost a week since I ate it, and I'm still thinking about it, craving it. Essentially, it's boudin uncased, wrapped in beignet dough, deep fried and covered in powdered sugar. Add a drizzle of Steen's to that and you've got the makings of a death row dish.
Among the 6 or 7 spots we hit during our marathon afternoon in New Orleans, my clear favourite was starting with happy hour at Lüke, one of John Besh's restaurants. With 50¢ local oysters and half-price cocktails, there was no way this could go wrong. And it didn't. The oysters were fresh and delicious and the horseradish was probably the best I've ever had. The Louisina duck and rabbit liver pâté came with crunchy country bread croutons, but I preferred it with the softer french bread. I like it when a pâté doesn't try to hide it's liver origins, and this had a lovely liver flavour and great consistency. I really enjoyed my cocktail - the St. Charles Streetcar. Made with St. Germain, pear vodka and champagne, it was light, refreshing and I dug the prominent pear flavour.
Another highlight was the simple picnic we had on a sunny day on Avery Island, before our tour of the nearby Tabasco factory. On a blanket in an idyllic setting of oak trees draped with spanish moss, we enjoyed a spread of two types of boudin, french bread, tasso, tomato jam, Steen's, wine and local beers from Abita. It was a perfect combination of food, drink, setting and friends, and I could think of no better way to sum up the best of my trip.
A great big thank-you to Manny, Abi, Luke, and all the wonderful people we met. You made me fall in love with your state, and I'll be back again soon. Also, thanks to Manny for sending me this recipe for boudin, in case you want to make your own... and maybe wrap it in a beignet...
- 5 lb pork, well marbled
- 2½ lb chicken liver
- 1 gallon water
- 1 lb onion, chopped
- 8 oz bell pepper, chopped
- 8 oz celery, chopped
- 10 cloves garlic, whole
- 4 Tbsp salt, kosher
- 2 Tbsp cayenne
- 1 Tbsp black pepper
- 5 oz chopped parsley
- 8 oz chopped green onion
- 12 c cooked white rice
- 2 c reserved stock (read more to find out)
Mix seasoning. Place meat, liver, garlic, vegetables and half seasoning into pot with water. Cook on simmer for 2 hours. Strain and reserve liquid (2 cups for recipe, the rest for soups... bad ass).
Grind meat with half parsley and green onion. You can also use food processor, but pulse it as you do not want a paste. Mix in bowl with rice and remaining seasoning, parsley, green onion, and 2 cups reserved stock.
Stuff into casings, poach. or eat as is. Ed: And enjoy!
For more photos from the trip, check my Louisiana set on Flickr.