New Orleans is probably one of the most memorable cities to me for experiencing a culture different to my own. I find the Cajun and Creole cuisines fascinating – an evolution of French, Caribbean, African and other cuisines, featuring local ingredients such as corn, rice, crawfish, okra, file and sassafras. I love the melting pot of flavors such as gamey sausages, seafood, spices and creaminess. The local dishes such as jambalaya, shrimp ‘po boys, muffaleta, beignets and of course Hurricanes were things I’d previously only faintly heard about. As I wandered down Bourbon Street and enjoyed local foods so foreign to my home town of Perth, it truly felt exotic and exhilarating (or was that just one too many Mint Julep’s at Pat O’Brien’s?). The bustling crowds spilling out onto the street, noisy jazz music wafting out of the bars and multitude of food outlets brimming with people all led to an atmosphere buzzing with energy that was fascinating to me. As my husband and I perused through a menu at a small little restaurant in the French Quarter, we found the items slightly puzzling – especially the chicken fried steak, was it chicken, was it steak??? We had to order it just to find out! Experiencing the city through the lens of local dishes was a wonderful way to learn more about the local culture.
I later lived in California, and as I met locals from Louisiana and other parts of the south I learnt more about different regional foods from that part of the country. I learnt to cook red beans and rice, gumbo, etouffee and I began to understand uses of different types of spices, seasonings and hot sauce along with cornbread and other southern dishes. These were new and foreign to me, but such an explosion of flavors and ingredients – it almost felt like an experiment every time I cooked one of these dishes. So when some fellow transplants in California, originating from Louisiana, invited me to a party to watch a big Louisiana State University vs Alabama football game, as I always do – I asked ‘What can I bring?’ It was a Monday night in January, but nonetheless, they were frying a turkey in honor of the big game. The menu was fried turkey sandwiches, and guests were bringing along different appetizers and sides to enjoy while we watched the game. My host, being quite the jokester, responded to my offer with ‘You could bring boudin balls!’ I had no idea what boudin balls were, but as someone that’s always up for a challenge – I decided I’d show him, and began to google ‘boudin’.
I learnt that boudin is a type of pork sausage in Cajun cuisine; it sometimes contains blood or liver, and is mixed with rice. Typically, boudin is made into sausage or deep fried as balls. While the sausage is stuffed into casings, the balls are rolled, coated in bread-crumbs and deep fried. I hadn’t ever even deep fried anything, let alone made my own sausage. But as I love to experiment with new dishes and cuisines – I headed out to purchase my very own meat grinder – and my journey to become a boudin connoisseur began. I simmered pork shoulders, dabbled with seasons and flavors and went through a lot of bottles of hot sauce! I’m pretty proud of the end product that came out of my kitchen. The look on my host’s face when I turned up with boudin balls, ready to be deep fried, was priceless! Then when he bit into it, and declared it the best boudin ball he’d ever tasted – I knew my mission to capture the essence of a unique culture in a dish had been accomplished. Since then I’ve had many requests to make boudin balls and have refined my own recipe. A friend of friend’s parents who tasted my boudin balls at another party, couldn’t believe that Louisianans have to out-source their boudin making to Australians these days!
Here is my recipe – enjoy, and pretend you’re at a fair or perhaps a gas station in the bayous or even wrestling an alligator!
- 2 lb pork shoulder (including fat), cut into cubes
- 3 cups cooked rice
- 1 onion, chopped
- ½ green bell pepper (capsicum), chopped
- 3 jalapenos, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped celery
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- ½ cup sliced green (spring) onions
- Cajun seasoning mix to taste (equal parts: pepper, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder, dried oregano)
- Hot sauce – lots, so the mixture is spicy!!
- 1 ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
- All purpose flour
- Oil for deep frying
Place the pork, onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, celery, garlic and seasonings in a stockpot and cover with water to 2 inches over the mixture. Bring to the boil and simmer for 90 minutes until the meat is very tender.
Remove the mixture from the pot and strain, but reserve the liquid. Put meat mixture through a meat grinder and grind to a fine paste like consistency. Grind half the cooked rice. Mix into the ground pork and rice some of the broth, the remaining unground rice, green onions, parsley and more seasoning to form a smooth paste. Add more broth as needed to make the mixture into a small paste that can easily be formed into balls.
Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Form into small balls, roll in flour, dip in beaten egg and then breadcrumbs and fry until golden brown.
Makes ~3 dozen balls