Saturday - Boudin Cook-off
The annual Boudin Cook-off is a one day event held at a public square in downtown Lafayette. Over twenty linkeries setup booths where people could sample their boudin creations and other pig parts like cracklins. Admission was free, you pay for what you eat or drink. Beyond eating, it is a family friendly atmosphere with bouncy houses, a rock climbing wall, live music, and mini games that involve throwing a fake boudin through a pig’s mouth or pin-the-tail on the pig.
The cook-off featured three different categories:
- Traditional Link – Steamed / Boiled sausage with rice, pork and red pepper
- Specialty Link – A more open category serving non-traditional sausage. For example, the boudin link would be smoked or served with crawfish instead of pork. One entry poured BBQ sauce on top.
- Unlinked – The most open category, serving boudin in a dish that wasn’t a sausage. Some examples include King Cake with boudin or pecan boudin pie.
Lastly, there was a People’s Choice
award for the most popular cookery. Participants could purchase sample tickets for fifty cents apiece and get Dixie-cup portions from the competitors. Afterwards they would submit their favorites to a polling booth where the results would be tallied at the end of the day.
With the exception of Bob (Boudinlink.com) friends from Jacksonville, Florida, all the competing restaurants were from Louisiana. People were initially skeptical of Bob’s out-of-town friends who called themselves “The Redneck-Riviera Beachbumbs,” but they were drawn to their duct-taped labeled sign and king-cake boudin dish which sold out in less than two hours!
After getting acclimated to the event, it was time to start the judging. Each of the three categories had over twenty submissions, and I was assigned to both the traditional and specialty link category. I was joined with five other people and we rated the boudin on the following characteristics: presentation, rice, casing, meat, texture and taste. Each was waited differently, and an overall score was given to the dish that helped determine the winner.
I don’t think any of the judges sampled this much boudin before, so it took a couple links before we found a rhythm for getting through all the dishes. Boudin is starchy, so we quickly learned that beer was essential for cleaning the palate of both carbohydrates and spice.
Before the judging began I was nervous if I would be able to distinguish between good and excellent boudin. Coming from the northeast, where boudin is non-existent, I felt disadvantaged from those who grew up in Acadian country. Thankfully it wasn’t an issue - 20% of the boudin was exceptional, 70% was very good, and the remaining 10% was difficult to get through. The very best had tender and succulent pork, smooth texture, completely void of cartilage, and a warm spice that would slightly pepper the mouth. The bottom ten percent had a natural casing with visible veins, poorly cooked rice, and meat with occasional chunks of cartilage.
The judging process went as follows - A facilitator would retrieve a uniquely numbered clamshell filled with boudin and each of us would grab a sample and squeeze the contents into our mouth and then take notes on the scorecard. It took me around three bites before becoming comfortable assigning a score. After a few samples, my plate would fill up with leftover links that I would routinely offer to obliged bystanders hovering over our shoulders – “you can’t let all this great boudin go to waste” proclaimed a hungry spectator.
The specialty link category was my favorite because it was open to creativity. A bacon-wrapped boudin was the most unique, but my favorite had to be the smoked boudin varieties. The rice and meat had a backcountry BBQ flavor, while the natural casing was snappier than the boiled varieties so it was easier to digest.
Smoked boudin in the bottom-center:
Who were the winners? NuNu’s from Youngsville was the overall champion. They took the title for Traditional, Unlinked and the People’s Choice award. The Sausage Link got first place for their bacon wrapped boudin in the Specialty category. While my vote only counted 1/6th
of the total, and I agree these places were some of the very best, it is important to reiterate that excellent boudin can be found throughout Louisiana. If you are visiting in the area, don’t just limit yourself to this year’s winners.
Photo of the NuNu's crew:
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