We stopped at the store on a hunch that its deli would serve hot boudin, which was the prime objective for a friend and me on this road trip through Cajun country. The store had only the packaged variety, but the deli clerk quickly put us on the right track.
"Down the street, pass the red light, go left and you'll see G&M Meats right there in a little place with a porch out front like a pretty house," she told us.
We missed the light, asked a guy selling satsumas from his flatbed for help, circled back and parked by the porch of a small, low cottage with a metal roof and a butcher shop sign out front. In a few minutes we were back in the car with our treasure. Our teeth pierced the links' rubbery sausage casings to release the lava-flow mixture of rice, bits of pork, green onions and abundant seasonings that make boudin one of the most distinctive and addictive flavors of Cajun country. It was a good start to a trip that would yield many, many more links.
As if by secret treaty, boudin is woefully unrepresented east of the Atchafalaya, anywhere much west of Lake Charles or north of that invisible latitude that separates Acadiana from central Louisiana. There are some local exceptions, notably Butcher Block Gourmet in Gretna and Creole Country in Mid-City where fresh boudin is available. Some local restaurants and bars serve it, and plenty of local grocers stock decent packaged brands. But nothing compares to the experience of sampling hot boudin in its natural habitat -- fresh and piping hot from small-town butcher shops -- and for that, New Orleanians must hit the road.
Fortunately, on a drive through the Cajun prairies and bayou country, the opportunity to try a link of boudin arises every few miles, and boudin's hand-held, modest serving size makes it manageable car food.
One needn't dive as deeply as Jeanerette side streets to find great boudin, although G&M Meats (432 Domingue St., Jeanerette, 337-276-6110) proved worth the minor detour. The farther west we traveled along Highway 90 and the older parallel roads, the more boudin opportunities emerged, sometimes advertised on giant billboards, sometimes as referrals from other butchers along the way. Many gas stations serve boudin, often kept warm in a rice steamer by the cash register. While these make a satisfying snack, they are no substitute for the full-service butcher shops that make their own boudin and any number of other meat products on premises and often in plain view of customers. In Broussard, however, a town just east of Lafayette, we encountered Billeaud's (111 E. Main St., Broussard, 337-837-6825), a modern Shell station on the outside and a bona fide Cajun butcher shop inside, with a claim to making boudin since the 1880s. Just down the road, we found fiercely spicy boudin at a gleaming new butcher shop called Chops Specialty Meats (1019 Albertson Pkwy., Broussard, 337-837-6446), which for its logo employs a common theme in these parts: a cartoon pig gleefully preparing other pig products.
Another cartoon pig -- this time looking unhappy to be up to its shoulders in a cauldron -- is used to lure travelers off Interstate 10 in Scott, just west of Lafayette, to Don's Specialty Meats (730 I-10 S. Frontage Rd., Scott, 337-234-2528), a superstore of Cajun butchery. Like its older and smaller sister location a few miles away in Carencro, Don's makes an excellent boudin that hits the right notes with assertive spice, distinct rice grains, chunky pork and a taut casing.
The going rate for boudin is $2.99 a pound, or about $1.50 a link. But despite its ubiquity in Acadiana, boudin is no commodity. In two days, we hit more than a dozen butcher shops on the way to Lafayette and back and barely scratched the surface of boudin variety. Enthusiasts are wont to defend their particular favorite version over any other on the basis of texture (smooth or chunky), peppery-spice intensity, casing consistency (crisp or stretchy), meatiness and grease levels. Sometimes the boudin is available smoked, as at Best Stop Supermarket (615 Hwy. 93 North, Scott, 337-233-5805) just northwest of Lafayette, which adds a whole new dimension to the flavor and texture.
The most balkanizing differential, however, can be the question of liver. Some butchers use none, while others consider it as essential as the pepper. We hit a trifecta of liver-infused links in Breaux Bridge. At Poche's Market (3015 Main Hwy., Breaux Bridge, 337-332-2108), a huge butcher shop and restaurant on the outskirts of town, the links are noticeably darker than most thanks to the smooth liver running through the rice and meat mix. Downtown at Charlie T's Specialty Meats (530 Berard St., Breaux Bridge, 337-332-2426), the air inside the small butcher shop is redolent from the vats of fresh boudin being prepared just behind the display counter. And around the corner, perched on Bayou Teche, a rustic complex called Bayou Boudin & Cracklins (100 Mills Ave., Breaux Bridge, 337-332-6158) is a sausage purveyor that also rents a collection of bayou cabins to visitors. Overnight guests are treated to the establishment's complimentary "Cajun platter," an example of heartwarming, potentially heart-stopping Cajun hospitality consisting of boudin, cracklins, hog's head cheese and root beer, all made on premises.
"When you go to some hotels you get wine and cheese," explained Eli Breaux, the 20-year-old Breaux Bridge native manning the combination check-in counter/butcher case. "Well, here it's like that, but the cheese is hog's head cheese, and the wine is root beer."