One of the many things that people outside Houston aren’t aware of is the city’s close cultural ties to New Orleans. Actually, pretty much anything that isn’t a freeway, a strip club, or a gun shop is something about Houston that people outside of the city aren’t aware of.
But Houston is an amazingly diverse and culturally rich city. As part of this diversity, and as part of the natural give an take between America’s only two major port cities on the bottom half of the country, there’s a strong Cajun cultural presence in Houston. Our house here in Houston is two blocks south of one Cajun restaurant and two blocks north of another. Which kind of points to one of the best benefits of having strong cultural ties to New Orelans — the food. It’s easy to get great Cajun food in Houston, including the presence of really good boudin in nearly every grocery store.
Boudin is a spicy white rice and pork cajun sausage that’s best explained musically. Derived from the memory of French boudin, the Cajun version has been transformed by the New World into something spicier and less delicate than it was in Europe.
The original boudin was a part of many of the distinct provincial variations of that ultimate French comfort food, cassoulet. Since the boudin has already been remade by the New World, I thought it only appropriate to take the rest of the dish along with it.
To go with the boudin, this recipe is spicier and livelier than traditional cassoulet. I’ve also replaced the traditional haricot beans with black-eyed peas for a further Southern twist, making a dish which is filling, hearty, and a great way to warm your plate on a cold evening.
Incidentally, this also isn’t the first time that cassoulet has been remade by the New World. The haricot beans that are essential to French cassoulet were unknown in France until 1533, when a bag of them was sent to the country as part of Catherine de Medici’s dowry. Before that, native French broad beans were used in the dish. Even the word haricot is foreign to the French language, having been derived from ayacot, the Aztec word for the beans. Houston has strong cultural ties to Mexico, too, so I guess we just beat the French at everything.
- 2 good sized links of boudin
- 1/4 lb salt pork
- 1/2 lb dried black-eyed peas
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 6 plum tomatoes
- 2 medium onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/4 loaf good bread
- 2 tsp filé powder
- olive oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 2 tsp thyme
- 2 tsp dried parsley
Soak the dried black-eyed peas in water overnight.
Place the dried peas in a large pot with 8 cups of water and a dash of salt. Bring to a boil and let boil for 40 minutes.
As the peas are cooking, carve the salt pork into 5 or 6 very thin streps lengthways, and then slice these strips again into 1/4 inch strips.
In a large, deep saucepan or dutch oven, fry the boudin and salt pork over a medium-high heat in a little olive oil until the boudin is done. Remove the boudin from the pot and set aside.
Thinly slice the onions, peel and chop the garlic, and add these to the pot with the salt pork. Let cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent.
Finely chop the tomatoes.
Add the chopped tomatoes, seasoning mix, and chicken stock to the pot. Reduce the heat to a very low simmer and let cook for about 30 minutes. If you’ve timed it right, the peas and tomatoes will be done at the same time.
Drain the liquid form the black-eyed peas and add the peas to the pot with the tomatoes. Let this cook for about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat.
Heat the oven t0 350°.
Remove the crust from about 1/4 loaf of a good, crusty bread. Slice the bread into 1/4 pieces, and then quarter the slices. Very lightly brush the bread with some olive oil.
Transfer the cassoulet from a pot to medium-sized deep casserole dish. Sprinkle the top surface with the filé powder.
Cut the boudin into 2″ slices and lay these on top of the cassoulet. Completely cover the entire cassoulet with the sliced bread.
Place the casserole dish in the oven and let cook for 40 minutes.
Serve with some biscuits and a good red wine.