notes from maggie's farm
The forecast called for rain, and lots of it. But no rain would deter me from my appointed rounds. I was toting an ice chest all over the state of Louisiana for one purpose, specifically. Andouille and tasso. Andouille and tasso from LaPlace, Louisiana, The World Capital of Andouille. The very best andouille and tasso known to man.
Why, yes, you can get andouille and tasso in most any market in the state, and, in fact, most any state. We've come to find several sources of acceptable andouille, and sometimes tasso, in many markets here in Texas, in fact. Acceptable. Not outstanding. LaPlace, Louisiana is the source of the standard bearer in andouille and tasso, and I aimed to tote home as much as my cooler, and my budget, would allow.
Halfway between my starting point in Hammond, over Bayou Manchac and Lake Maurepas on Highway 51, evidence acrued of a storm brewing. And the closer I got to my destination, the more ominous the clouds overhead. By the time I reached the city limits of LaPlace, the rain was falling steadily, and true to form, I was lost.
Oh, I wouldn't admit quite yet that I was lost. I like to think I was just wandering. As they say, all that wander are not lost. They say that. But, of course, I was lost. Yet I drove on, in what was now a bonafide downpour. It was 10:30 in the morning, and it looked more like 10:30 at night as I reached the dead end of the road upon which I'd exited Highway 51 and Interstate 10. I think. There were lots of turns and signs and I just drove as if I had closed my eyes and pinned the tail on the map of South La.
There I sat--two ways to turn, left or right. I slushed my trusty little car through what appeared to be a small flood (though nothing new to my fellow drivers, who blew by me in the veritable monsoon, tires throwing a tidal wave of rainwater into my windshield, wipers furiously whipping back and forth and struggling helplessly to keep up). I made a treacherous left turn into what seemed to be a parking lot, though I couldn't tell for sure, and pulled into what might have been a parking space to consult my traveling assistant--the I Phone.
It had been some years since the last visit here, and none of the landmarks that were visible looked even vaguely familiar. So imagine my surprise to find my little 'you are here' marker situated directly below the 'you want to be here' indicator. Bailey's World Famous Andouille was, in fact, right in front of me. Serendipity. Or, perhaps, God's gracious hand on a fool in the rain. Whatever. I thanked Him, and made my way in.
Louisiana Andouille: This Must Be LaPlace, by Emeril Lagasse
What is Tasso?, wisegeek.com
On the way out of town and headed for the Big Easy, I drove through various stages of storm, but serendipity favored my travels yet again. I was creeping along Highway 61, purposely bypassing most of the longest bridge in Louisiana, over Lake Ponchartrain, when I spied, in the swampy ditch at roadside, an egret! Native Americans believe that the egret teaches one balance; the ability to progress and evolve --to walk into deeper waters without fear. I took that as a good omen, and made my way, confidently, down the road.
Days later, upon my return home, I found a burgeoning vegetable garden that had been the host of the same storm which followed me on the last leg of my journey. The unseasonable warmth and humidity had encouraged a big plot of asian greens to grow by leaps and bounds, and, in fact, the pak choi was testing the waters for a getaway-- a few shoots beginning to bolt. I caught them just as they prepared to make a run for it, and I knew just what needed to be done.
butter & beer braised pak choi
with andouille and tasso
you will need
a big mess of greens (we used the asian cabbage called pak choi) about a half bushel, or the equivalent of about 4 market-sized bunches, rinsed 2-3 times, sliced horizontally, every 2-3 inches, stems and all.
4 oz cubed tasso
8 oz andouille, sliced in half lengthwise, then horizontally in 1/2 inch half moons
4 medium onions, sliced in half stem to root, then vertically, in 1/2 inch slices (see picture, below)
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1t-1T crushed red pepper, to taste
1 stick unsalted butter
24 oz (2 bottles) of pale lager
salt, if needed, to taste
In a heavy-bottomed dutch oven, slowly braise tasso with onions, until onions are transparent, then toss in the garlic and cook an additional 5 minutes on medium low heat.
Add cabbage (or greens of your choosing) in batches, stirring down as they wilt, and adding more to fill the pot. (This took 4 batches for us.) Add andouille, crushed red pepper, and pale lager. Simmer, uncovered, 30-45 minutes, or until beer has reduced by about half, and stems of cabbage are tender. Correct seasonings.
We served this with pork crackling cornbread, and quick-pickled radishes--recipes to follow in days to come.
As they might say way down south, this is good eatin' cher!
Note: If you are unable to secure tasso, another smoked, boneless meat can be substituted. Boneless smoked ham hocks, cubed, would be a good alternative. Up the spice ante, accordingly, as tasso is highly seasoned, whereas hocks are simply smoked, not seasoned. If andouille also proves to be unavailable, a good quality kielbasa can be used in its place.
For more information about LaPlace, the Andouille Capital of the World, don't miss Louisiana Rambles: Heritage by the Link, and the St. John Parish Andouille Festival, which is held annually and promises a rollicking good time. (If you're interested in that sort of thing, remind me to tell you about my brush with rock and roll fame at this festival, many years past, Johnny Winters AND Leon Russell. You know there's a story there.)
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
Henry David Thoreau