Big Jones, Paul Fehribach’s Andersonville Southern food restaurant, is a pretty laidback place. But Fehribach is plenty serious about two things— using artisanal ingredients from the whole animal, and exploring the South (and Southern cookbooks) for half-forgotten regional specialties.
Those interests come together in one of his most popular items right now— chaudin, a kind of sausage similar to boudin, which he sells as fast as he can make it for Sunday brunch. Chaudin is meats and seasonings wrapped in stomach, not unlike a haggis (though it doesn’t have some of haggis’ other, scarier ingredients), and that means Fehribach is buying every stomach he can get from farmer Greg Gunthorp to keep up with the demand. We stopped by Big Jones to find out more about this heritage foodstuff.
So what is chaudin?
I think it means stomach, maybe not in French but at least in Cajun French. We take pork trimmings, liver, kidney, heart, and some rice, and season it with lots of paprika, ground onion, ground garlic, thyme, celery salt, black pepper— basically the same things you use in an andouille. The original recipes use bread crumbs, which is more of a French thing, but I like using rice with liver. Liver by itself is kind of mealy, but with the rice, it has that boudin texture, which is still a little mealy but in a good way. And it doesn’t just taste like liver then.
In the old days you’d have just stuffed it all in the stomach through the esophagus. But the health inspectors cut open the ones we get to inspect them. I don’t know what’s supposed to be so scary about a stomach, but they do that. So we wrap it tightly with cheesecloth and put them in a pan, two at a time, with a lot of white wine, and steam them for about six hours.
Where did you hear about this? Is it a traditional Cajun thing?
It is, but it’s hard to find any more. It’s just about gone.
A couple of years ago I was in Louisiana trying out different boudin shops. Which are often masquerading as gas stations or little groceries. And I went in this one called Bourque’s, in Port Barre, west of Lafayette. They had what they called ponce, which was the same thing. But like I say, it’s hard to find. Not many places left making it, even though it’s a great way to use up the whole animal.
So you’re selling so much you have to get extra stomachs in?
Yeah, it’s funny. This is not the most adventurous neighborhood— I don’t sell as many oysters as I should, to name one thing. But I started making this, basically to use up the whole animal, and now I have to get extra ones from Gunthorp. I’ll make 20 pounds of this for the weekend, that’s four stomachs, and it’ll be gone by Sunday night.
So that’s what you do, just roam Louisiana around looking for old recipes?
Yeah, and the Carolinas. That’s where there’s really the most heritage of these old foods.
I also read old cookbooks. Which are hard because they aren’t like cookbooks now— they assume you know how, or have servants who do. They’ll be like— throw in a glass of wine. Add a soup-spoon of this or that. But even so, the food’s surprisingly sophisticated, you’d think it would be pretty rough, boorish cooking back then, but it isn’t. I was looking at a recipe for sweetbreads in one from the 1700s, and basically you cooked them in lard, but then basted them in butter. And that’s pretty much what we do to this day.