Charcutepalooza’s June challenge brings us to stuffing. Which, if you’re used to making encased sausages, shouldn’t be that much of a challenge. But for myself, the stickier part of the assignment was to build a poultry forcemeat to stuff into it. In other words, a bird sausage.
Now, I realize that chicken sausages are popular. It seems that whole sausage empires have been built around them. But I gotta say I know bird sausages. I’ve eaten bird sausages. I’ve made bird sausages. And bird sausages, sir, are no pork sausages. I’ve eaten chicken sausages with various peppers, berries, olive oils, cheeses, elixirs, all leading me to the same conclusion: if a bird makes such a goddamn good sausage, why doesn’t it come on a pig? Now don’t get me wrong, I love chicken. I love it roasted. I love it fried. I love it winged, nuggeted and stripped. I even like it ground and grilled in patty form like a burger. But I’ve always had to rely heavily on pork fat to elevate chicken into what I feel is a viable sausage. Additionally I’ve never been willing to shell out the cash for a pheasant, duck or other more noble bird just to grind it to bits, especially when I find a pork shoulder eminently more delicious.
But I guess the whole point of the Charcutepalooza exercise is growth as a cook, reaching beyond my own well-trodden comfort zone of pig, beer and fire (although I would argue that pig, beer and fire are the Tigris and Euphrates of deliciousness). So with growth in mind, I started to thinking, what does a bird offer that a pig doesn’t? Not ham. Not a sumptuous jiggling belly. Certainly not a pickled edible snout. But a liver… there is something to that liver. Especially on a duck or conveniently force-fed goose. Yes a pig has one too, but there is something really magical about a bird’s nasty offally bit. Sure the gizzards have the unique ability to blur the line between fowl and desiccated chewing gum, but it’s the liver that really holds a skeleton key to a fine bite. It has a birdy, livery depth of flavor and textural superiority that, if given a little love and cajoling, could unlock a truly superior link.
So I decided I would create a salsicce with bird liver. This brought me to a bit of an evaluation in the hierarchy of organ meats belonging to things that coo, cluck, quack or honk. Chicken livers are about a buck a pound. And they are delicious. In the right hands a lowly chicken liver can achieve unbelievable heights. But they are unbelievable heights for a chicken, which in reality is only about 8 feet—not enough for this sausage.
Then there’s foie: the crème de la livercreme. The only thing that matches its engorged, fat-laden delicacy is its engorged, fat-laden price tag. And honestly I just can’t stomach spending that kind of cash on a sausage, something that for me has always been about elevating the economical. Grinding foie into a sausage would make me feel wasteful. Moreover it would make me feel like an asshole. An asshole in the truest sense of my grandfather’s old chestnut “Any asshole knows…” As in, “Any asshole knows you don’t drop a match down an outhouse.” Or, “Any asshole knows you don’t swing an axe sidearm.” Or, “Any asshole knows you don’t pay the money to grind goddamn foie gras into a sausage, you dumb sonofabitch. Seer it and eat it for what it is and then be a good boy and pass me my smokes.” Sometimes it just takes the ghost of an old sailor and cinderblock maker to put things into perspective.
So chicken livers aren’t up to the task, and foie is what a prospective employer might call “overqualified.” But in the middle of the grand liver continuum there’s duck. Delicious, quacking, unassuming duck: sparkling green and blue feathers, tasty thick fatty layer and glistening delicious liver. A rich liver. A quacktastic liver. And a liver that would go one to become the cornerstone of this month’s sausage, Cajun style duck liver boudin.
I remember my first true experience with Cajun boudin was on a Mardi Gras road trip with a good friend of mine. Quite apart from the typical blind drunk on Bourbon Street and flashing various sweaty appendages for trinkets type outing, my friend’s Mardi Gras experience is reserved for the professional. A wide ranging education in backwoods barn dances, secret zydeco hideouts and breakless seven hour gigs in dilapidated roadhouses with wall that shake so hard they feel like they’re going to come down around your pork chop sandwich. His Mardi Gras is the Mardi Gras of the locals, or at least the smarter ones. And my education started at about 7am in Mamou at Fred’s Lounge, with live Cajun tunes, several morning beers and Crown Royal “mixed drinks” (mixed being a generous term for the whiff of generic brand Coke they splash over the fullish plastic cup of whisky). After driving all night I was certain I had just discovered the greatest place on earth and was ready to set up camp for life, maybe sleeping in turns in my friend’s car or on Fred’s bar, or underneath Fred’s pool table or picnic table or someone else’s car. It was at that moment he shuffled me out, explaining there was something very important we needed to do. This was odd to me because what could be so damn important? Disneyland was full of shit, Fred’s Lounge was the happiest place on Earth.
It turned out that what was so damn important was a sort of hellhole of a not quite gas station and not quite grocery. It reminded me of the backwoods beer, meds and tackle stores of rural Idaho, only more Southern and depressing. It reminded me of a place that Faulkner would have written about where someone died, holed up in the attic awaiting the carpet baggers or their secret illegitimate children to come calling for their soul. “They have the best boudin.” He sort of whispered. Looking at the crockpot that the fat man behind the counter was fishing pale gray sausages out of, I had my doubts. But after devouring a good 3 pounds of links in the parking lot, I knew he was right. Not only that. I knew he had probably sampled boudin at every slumpy dive from there to Houston and because of that, he knew he was right. The rest of that trip was marked by fewer skeptical looks and more boudin, VFW Crown and Cola’s, and dancing in places where people most likely get murdered in backwoods bloodfeuds. It was outstanding.
While my version of boudin lacks a certain flavor that can only be attained by simmering in a crockpot with what has to be 40 years of bayou crust on it, it does have a really nice ducky thing happening for it. On top of that there’s a little bit of flavor kung-fu going on in a really nice way. It looks like boudin. It has the seasoning and feel of boudin. But it’s of a completely different flavor than typical boudin, owing as much heritage to a tasty duck pate as it’s traditional Cajun namesake. It’s a bird sausage of it’s own ilk, with no pork or pork fat whatsoever. And for the first time, I’m not missing it.
Deviating further from tradition, after steaming the boudin, I crisped it in some duck fat and served it over a little granny smith and cucumber slaw in a mustard seed vinaigrette. The slaw added some acidic crunch that played nicely with the rich and soft sausages. That said, the few that I ate with nothing more than a splash of hot sauce were pretty damn tasty as well, maybe even better in their simplicity. The latter would have been especially true if I was standing in a dirty parking lot eyeballing a drive through daiquiri stand/ mechanic/ downhome murder shack across the street.
Duck Liver Boudin
These sausages are a 3 step recipe, but it’s really simple. It’s more a matter of allowing the various components to chill thoroughly before mixing and stuffing than anything else.
2 quarts water
2 ½ lbs chicken thighs
1lb duck livers
2 cloves garlic
1 green bell pepper
2 ribs celery
A few allspice berries
A few sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
.5 oz salt
½ granny smith apple
Combine everything except the chicken and livers in a pot and bring to a gentle simmer. After 30 minutes add the chicken thighs. After an additional 15 minutes add the livers and cook for 10 more minutes, being careful to not boil too vigorously.
Remove the livers and chicken and strain the poaching broth, chilling and reserving it. Clean and devein the livers (I did this after cooking, for fear they would dissolve otherwise). Cover the chicken and cleaned duck livers with some of the broth and chill completely.
1 1/4 cups uncooked rice
2 ½ cups poaching broth
1 tablespoon rendered duck fat
Cook the rice with the broth and fat, then chill.
Chilled chicken and duck livers (drained of liquid)
1 ounce salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 ½ teaspoons cayenne (or more to your liking).
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon mace
½ cup green onion tops
½ granny smith apple, diced
½ cup chopped parsley
1 cup cream
Chilled poaching broth
¼ cup Brandy
A few tablespoons rendered duck fat
Soaked hog casings
Mix the chilled meat with everything, except the duck fat, cream, broth, brandy and rice. Grind through a fine die. Mix the farce with the rice, duck fat, brandy and cream, adding broth as necessary to form a moist but firm forcemeat. Cook a small amount in a skillet and adjust seasonings as necessary, adding more cayenne as you see fit. Stuff into hog casings.
To cook, steam the boudin for several minutes and then brown links in some duck fat to make the casing edible. (If you wanna go real traditional, skip the browning and just squeeze the steamed boudin straight into your mouth like meaty toothpaste then discard the casing).
Granny Smith and Cucumber Slaw
1 granny smith apple, julienned
1 small cucumber, julienned
1 shallot, sliced thinly
Crumbled goat cheese
A few leaves cilantro, diced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Honey
½ cup Apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp mustard seeds
Combine the vinegar, salt, mustard seeds, honey, mustard and cilantro in a bowl and whisk in oil in a slow steady stream till you have an emulsion. Pour over the apple, cucumber, goat cheese and shallot. Chill.