There is a lot to enjoy in the Lake Charles, Louisiana area: history, nature, and adventure but for those who are interested in a great food destination nothing rivals Southwest Louisiana known for Cajun and Creole specialties. The Cajuns descended from the Nova Scotia French who settled along the waterways and bayous. Creoles are of French and European lineage who were more aristocratic and settled in the cities. Both had their own distinct recipes but over the years the Africans, Spanish, and Native Americans added their own flavors to the cuisine.
Travel the Boudin Trail
What is boudin? It is Cajun-style sausage and, no kidding, boudin is so popular that it has its own dedicated trail that leads from one boudin maker to another. It is considered the signature dish of Southwest Louisiana and can be enjoyed at any meal or as a snack. Boudin was made of the leftover parts of the hog. Cajun families used everything from the “rooter to the tooter.” Today boudin is usually made with ground pork, liver, rice, parsley, onions, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and other seasonings – steamed or smoked. Each boudin maker uses their secret family recipe. Some even create their own special boudin by using shrimp, crawfish and alligator.
Mike Hollier, the owner of Hollier’s Cajun Kitchen, said they make over 10,000 pounds a month. Hollier includes liver in his boudin because that is the Cajun way but he uses only a little liver so as not to overpower the taste. “It’s a good way to get kids to eat liver,” he quipped. He also makes crawfish boudin when they are in season. At nearby B&O Kitchen Jeff Cortina is teaching the fourth generation, his son, how to make his family boudin recipe. Cortina’s boudin is excellent but ignoring tradition he does not include liver. He makes about 200 lbs a day along with cracklin,’ deep-fried pork fat with a small amount of the skin attached. It is another great Cajun treat. Jeff said, “Timing when boiling the cracklin’ in the oil is critical. There is a two-minute window between success and failure.” The Boudin Trail has 29 stops – that’s a lot of boudin sampling.
Gumbo, alligator and more
The one dish most associated with the Cajun culture is gumbo, the official dish of the Louisiana. Seafood Palace in Lake Charles is reputed to have the best gumbo. But unlike the boudin makers, Seafood Palace is willing to share their winning recipe. Their gumbo can also be made with chicken or beef but it is not their only culinary delight – try their boudin balls, frog legs, and fried gator.
Gumbo ala Seafood Palace
1 1/2 cups of Roux
2 cups of onion
1 cup of green onions
salt, black and red pepper to taste
1 pound of lump crab meat
3 pounds of raw shrimp
2 pints of raw oysters, if desired
Fill a stock pot 3/4 full of water. Bring to a boil and slowly add the roux until dissolved. Add seasoning, onion and green onions. Let boil about an hour, making sure to check the level of water, add more if needed. Add shrimp and crab meat, simmer about 20 minutes. If adding oysters, cook about 10-15 minutes longer. Serve with rice and enjoy. Yummy!
For the Gourmand
Looking for a white-table-cloth dining delight? Head to La Truffe Sauvage for a world-class dinner served with wine from their large international collection. Try one of Chef Mohamed Chettouh specialties – Stuffed Pheasant Breast. He is gracious enough to share his recipe.
Pheasant Breast Stuffed with Leek and Fennel
2 whole pheasant 3 pound each
1 cup julienne leek, blanched
1 cup julienne fennel, blanched
For the natural jus
1 cup diced leek
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf, parsley stems)
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 cups red wine
1 pound parsnip, peeled and diced
2 ounces unsalted butter
Salt and white pepper.
Remove the breasts, with skin on to keep it from drying out. Save the legs for another use. Debone breasts. To make natural au jus place carcass bones in small pan, add diced vegetables and roast at 375°F until the bones are brown and vegetables caramelized. Transfer to a medium size sauce pan, cover with water, add the red wine, garni and peppercorn, bring to boil then simmer about an hour, skim the stock. Strain. Reduce strained stock to get to approximately half
cup. Season with salt and pepper, keep warm. To make parsnip puree cover with water and boil until tender, strain, pass through a food ricer, add the butter and salt, white pepper. Cover and keep warm. Place pheasant breasts on a flat surface, cover with plastic wrap, skin side down, flattened a little with a mallet. Remove the plastic, season with salt pepper, divide the blanched vegetables leek and fennel between the pheasant breasts, roll each one up and tie with the butcher string. Put a tablespoon olive oil in a hot sauté pan, add the stuffed breast and brown all sides. Cook at 350 in the oven for 20 minutes. Do not overcook. Scoop one spoon of parsnip puree on serving plate with two slices of stuffed pheasant breast and a one tablespoon natural jus.
A Festival of Food
Any time is a good time to savor the flavors of Lake Charles but the dedicated epicurean will want to attend Rouge et Blanc, Lake Charles’ premier food and wine event held each year in October. Enjoy such wonderful signature dishes as Deep Fried Bread Pudding from Sha Sha’s of Creole with a glass of Chocovine Espresso wine from The Wine Group while sitting in the shade of the live oak in front of the historic Town Hall.
For more information check visitlakecharles.org, thewildtruffle.com,
www.rougeetblanc.us, and for the best place to stay consider the L’Auberge Casino, ldlcasino.com, where their buffet offers an incredible array of shell fish along with a groaning board of items to choose from.