There has been so much going on the last few months at Big Jones, I have to apologize for not updating my blog more often. Finally after a very, very busy holiday season (thank you!) and a very, very busy January (thanks again to you, and Phil Vettel and the Chicago Tribune!) and a blindingly busy stretch of days from Valentine’s weekend into a jam-packed Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras, I’ve finally had two days (mostly) off, cleared my head a little bit, and can think about where we are, and what’s ahead.
In my twenty years in the restaurant business, I have never seen anything like what we’ve seen the last couple of years, and it’s been extra interesting because I’m an owner for the first time and an Executive Chef for the first time. We have been through, and continue to go through, the worst recession in our lifetimes, in two generations’ lifetimes. Fortunately, we have a dedicated and hard-core staff that has seen us though thus far, and our fans seem to be finding us.
All the while, we’ve added a boucherie program (think of boucherie as Cajun charcuterie,) phased in over a few months, that’s been more work, but a joy and worth every effort. We can now unabashedly say we have the best andouille in these parts, our tasso sings with the delicious pungency of pecan smoke, head cheese and kidney pie make the die-hard offal fans happy, and we hope to soon have our own pecan-smoked bacon to top it all off.
Our andouille is made from highly seasoned pork we get from the Gunthorps, and stuffed in beef middle casings. Most commercially andouille available today comes in pork casings, but beef casings are very traditional, and add a wonderful gamey flavor to the finished sausage you don’t get from pork casings. It’s also as big around as most people’s arms! After hanging to dry (under refrigeration at 36 degrees) they are smoked with pecan shells from Three Sisters Garden for six (yes, that’s 6!) hours until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. There’s more to the process, and I hope to blog about the andouille process soon, but the results have been wonderful.
We’re offering as a small plate, designed for sharing, a boucherie plate, which is a selection of all of our house boucherie for that day, plus complimentary accompaniments of pickles, mustards (two made in-house!) and bread. Boucherie is Cajun for “butchering” and was always a huge, multi-family event, almost a festival, where folks would bring the hogs in, do the slaughter, and turn them into the preserved forms that would last through winter. Andouille and tasso are two traditional Cajun boucherie recipes that have become quite famous, both traditionally smoked over pecan wood and sugar cane. We stick with the pecan from Three Sisters, unsure of the origin of any cane we’ve been able to get ahold of, at least thus far. We also make head cheese and boudin, both traditional but less famous Cajun favorites, as well as Chaurice, a French Creole knock-off of Chorizo, first introduced to South Louisiana during the Spanish period.
What really drove me to pursue our own house boucherie was the fact that all of the andouille we could find on the market comes from commercial pork, and I really want to be sure of the source of our farm animals. Now, we are able to go strictly with the Gunthorps for all of our pork, and no questions about how the animals are treated because we’ve seen them in person. They are really happy pigs.
I expected to find the time to take on this mammoth project this winter during the slow period. Well, there hasn’t been a slow period this winter, so THANK YOU! It’s been a lot of work, but you all, our guests, have made possible the first authentic boucherie outside of South Louisiana, and we use humanely raised, pastured pork by a small local farm to do it! Thanks for dining with us, growing with us, and making this all possible.