Apr 7, 2010

Everything's Just Porky

Way back before Mardi Gras I promised a boucherie.  Specifically, I promised pictures.  But then my Cajun Mardi Gras post kept stretching longer and longer.  I didn't want people nodding off or worse--unfollowing me.  Then came Lent.  Posting about all that porky-packed fun seemed cruel and inappropriate.

So, darn it, the time is now.

First, let me explain the term boucherie (boo-sha-ree) in case you aren't familiar.
(I'm totally ripping copying & pasting this from an earlier post I did)

A boucherie is a communal event that centers on butchering a hog. Traditionally, this occurred in cooler months because of a lack of refrigeration. Many families were involved--some relatives, some neighbors, and everyone shared the spoils so they didn't spoil. The event rotated among families so that each family had a pig butchered. One butchering lasted the entire day. Nothing was wasted..."everything but the squeal" as they say.

The blood was drained and collected to make boudin rouge (red boudin). The head was saved to make fromage de tete (hog's head cheese). The stomach was cleaned and stuffed with pork sausage to make ponce. Intestines were cleaned and used to make boudin (both boudin blanc--white boudin, or what's just known as boudin and boudin rouge)...one of my favorite results of a boucherie. A couple of other favorites of mine are tasso (a smoked pork used for flavoring), and cracklins--fried and seasoned pig skin with a little bit of fat left on.

My town holds an "Old Tyme Boucherie" the Sunday before Mardi Gras.  A local slaughterhouse (we call it "The Slaughterhouse") donates a hog.  A semi-local TV personality (semi-local b/c we're too small to have our own TV station) MCs.  Local businesses provide food samples like hog's head cheese and boudin.  Miscellaneous groups set up tables, booths, or cook wagons to demonstrate what goes on at a boucherie. 

A group we belong to makes cracklins and pork stew at the boucherie.  This year we opted not to go to New Orleans for the big parades, and stay and help with the Boucherie.  So yours truly got to learn how to make cracklins!  It was fun and I learned a ton from well-seasoned pros.  But I did create quite the stir when I stepped up to the cooking vats to try my hand at cracklin-makin. 

I heard things like, "Awww, cher, you sure you want ta do dat wit all dat hot grease?"  I was too dense to know that this meant: step away from the cracklins and get back in the cook wagon, you evil wench.  It was not about my safety.

Rules I didn't know: The men cook the cracklins and pork stew outdoors.  The ladies stay in the cook wagon seeing to the indoor food items and serving the food.

Well, I'm no lady (poor mom tried her hardest).  I wanted to learn the outdoor stuff. 

So what's involved in a boucherie?

First you need a pig.  THIS was truly the highlight of the day for me.  Seriously.  Seeing someone walking downtown with a pig draped across him...I loved it!  I mean, how often do you see that?

I think for the sake of not grossing out the general public, city coordinators opted for the pig to be delivered sans hair and blood.  Normally those two things would have to be dealt with.  The hair would be shaved off and the blood drained.  The drained blood wouldn't be wasted...it would be collected to make boudin rouge--a blood sausage.

The pig was laid out on a table and lots of people swarmed to take pictures.  I'm glad I wasn't the only weirdo taking pictures of a dead, naked pig.
The things I do for ya'll!
Smile purty, porky!

A couple of people from the slaughterhouse demonstrated how to butcher the pig.

One table was set up for demonstrating how to make boudin.  Boudin is something I wouldn't touch as a child.  But I've come to love it.  Boudin is a sausage that traditionally was stuffed into cleaned pig's intestines (nothing wasted).  It's a pork sausage that also contains rice, seasonings, green onion, and often liver.  I've heard it described as a rice dressing or dirty rice mixture packed into a casing.  I guess that's pretty fair to say.  The best way to eat it is with your hands, using your teeth to "pull" the mixture out of the casing while using your fingers to squeeze it out at the same time.  A lot of food magazines and such will tell you that it can be eaten on crackers or smeared on bread.  I'm here to tell you a big ole' NO.  Locals don't do this.  We eat it with our hands, usually in the car b/c we can't wait to get it home.

Sometimes the boudin mixture is formed into balls, dusted with breading, and fried.  This is what we call boudin balls. 

Everyone has their own boudin recipe, which makes it fun to sample it from all the little shops up throughout Acadiana.

Grinding the meat
The meat will be mixed with rice, various seasonings (depends on the maker), green onion, and stuffed into a casing. 

Stuffing the casing 

In the interest of time and demand, plenty of boudin was made ahead so people could purchase samples.

There was another table devoted to fromage de tête, or head cheese.  I wasn't able to get pictures because they were too far away and I was actually supposed to be volunteering, not scoping out blog fodder.  Hog's head cheese is no cheese--it's a jellied meat.  I don't know which description sounds worse.
Would you like some hog's head cheese? 
How about some jellied meat?
See what I mean?

This is another item I would never eat growing up.  My grandpa did and it gave me the heeie-jeebies (which are much worse than the willies).  But I was a big girl this time and gave it a try.  And it was gooooood.  Oh my gosh, it was good.

Traditionally, hog's head cheese was made with the head, feet, and maybe the ears.  That's not always the case now.  Since heads aren't easy to come by, not all modern recipes call for it.

The pig parts are slowly cooked with onions, celery, and seasonings.  What results is a gelatinous mixture that is formed into pans (like a terrine), sliced, and eaten in numerous ways, such as on grits.

Another group sold samples of and demonstrated how to make backbone stew, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Again, nothing goes to waste.

Our group also makes pork stew, but not with the backbone.  We make a roux-based stew with chunks of pork meat, carrots, onions, and potatoes.  Served over rice, of course.
Some of the men cooking the stew

But I have to say, making cracklins or grattons was my favorite. 

Cracklins are crunchy little snacks that are strata of pork skin, pork fat, and pork meat.  They are cut into bite sized pieces so that each piece has a layer of skin, fat, and meat.  They are fried and seasoned with various seasoning blends (like Tony's).  They are usually eaten with your hands right out the bag you bought them in.  They are best when hot and fresh...not so great once they cool off.  But since nothing is wasted around here, past-prime grattons could be added to corn bread batter.

First, you start with lard heated in a large pot of some kind.  Then the cracklins are added. 

They're stirred with large paddles to make sure they cook evenly. The paddles are also used to scrape the bottom of the vat, making sure nothing sticks.

The cracklins cook for about an hour.  I was surprised it took that long.
It was hard to wait, yeah. 

But pigs don't tell time, especially when they're being fried in hot lard.  The cracklins were continually checked to see if they had small craters on the surface.  That meant they were ready to be scooped out and drained.

Then they're seasoned.  Everyone has their own top secret spice blend.  I wasn't privy to the recipe.  Remember...I was barely allowed to touch the paddles.
(note: I exaggerate...the men folk warmed up to me being on their turf and even started joking around with me as if I belonged.)

After we all stood around and participated in a bit of quality control, the last step was weighing and bagging them, then selling them to the long, long line of people waiting. 

A porky fun time was had by all.

Several weeks later, we drove up to the Louisiana Arboretum to go hiking.  There was a vehicle up ahead of us moving slowly.  When we caught up, this is what we saw:

There are actually two hogs--the black one up front and another behind it.  Looks like these guys are on their way to a boucherie.  That old bathtub factors into it too.  Make no mistake, they have a system down.


  1. Anonymous4/07/2010

    OMG! If you didn't see the face it looks just like a human child! WoW - What an eye opener as to how "flesh-like" all us animals really are!

  2. This was such an interesting post. Bless your heart for taking pictures of a naked pig:D This looks like a very fun event. Plus, it seems like such a community event where everyone gathers together. The sense of community must be very strong there. Unfortunately, we don't have that here in KY. Great post!

  3. I hadn't had anything like the lentils and potato dish either. In fact, it was only the second time I used my curry powder and I actually really liked it. I'll have to do something about that coconut milk though because that stuff is loaded with fat and calories.
    Good luck on your move. We just moved a little over a year ago, so I feel your pain! Hope you like your new place.

  4. This is a great post and thanks for sharing. Many cultures have their version of a boucherie. While living in Hawaii, the this has some similarities to a Luau, a hog, a special way of cooking that hog, fellowship and the picture taking...all good times!

  5. I've never been to a Luau but it sounds like fun. We have an event (cochon de lait--or suckling pig) down here where we roast a pig for a large group. It's probably along the lines of a Luau. Really fun.

    Kim-I really will have to try the potato dish. My son saw some curry powder at World Market a while back and told me he'd like to try it.

  6. It's been like 12 years since we've been to a couchon! I wish I could make boudin and crackins! We had dinner at a local brewery a few months ago and the served 'crispy suckling pig' and it was almost like crackins!! Needless to say I made the hubs share.


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