New Orleans, La. –
Farmers turn to almanacs to judge harvest time. Hunters mark the start of game seasons on their calendars. And in LaPlace, La., sausage makers track weather forecasts to determine when to boost production of their primary product. That would be andouille, the French-German-Louisiana hybrid that has put this small river town outside New Orleans on the map for food-obsessed Louisianans.
When the first cold front of fall moves in, LaPlace butcher shops see a dependable boom in demand for andouille. At its simplest, this stuff is just smoked sausage made with coarse pork shoulder, garlic and other seasonings. There's nothing at all seasonal about its ingredients, so something else must be at play here.
Andouille is by far our region's most famous sausage, and to my palate it reaches its most intense and complete form at the handful of deeply-traditional smokehouses in LaPlace. There's Bailey's and its neighbor Jacob's, which sit practically beside each other along the town's busiest suburban shopping strip. About two miles away, closer to the river, the air is again aromatically seasoned by andouille in progress at Wayne Jacob's Smokehouse, a separate operation from Jacob's. Of the three, Jacob's has the heaviest smoke and Wayne Jacob's is the thickest and spiciest, while Bailey's holds down the middle ground.
Andouille from any of these makers is remarkably different from the packaged versions widely available in Louisiana grocery stores. Huge and potent, they are redolent with pecan wood smoke, brown as cigars and thick as a lady's wrist. The casings crackle delightfully when crisped, and a cross-section reveals different colors of pork pressed together and streaked with fat, like white veins in fine Italian marble.
The andouille tradition is by no means limited to LaPlace, but here the style is bigger, brawnier, and most of all smokier. Sausage makers here fret over the smallest details of production and put their own nuanced stamp on seasoning, mixing and smoking. This means that finished andouille from each smokehouse in this small town can differ as greatly from each other as wines produced in the same valley, and parsing their distinctions can be as pleasurable as chasing the same varietal from one vineyard to the next.
There's a history lesson in there too. What we call andouille is remarkably different from the delicacy of the same name served in France, where it's made with tripe and chitterlings. But in Louisiana, ethnic Germans and their French neighbors long ago developed the distinctively local andouille style that is lean, chunky and altogether more akin to thick German wurst. It's no coincidence that traditional Louisiana andouille thrives around LaPlace. After all, this riverfront region is also known as the German coast for all the German families that once settled there.
So why does demand for andouille rise so sharply and predictably in the fall? The answer is in the seasonal triggers of shortening days and dipping temperatures that send local cooks back to the stoves with their gumbo pots and stew pans. It's the time for football tailgating, for long-simmering dinners at the hunting camp and for the long-anticipated holidays. When autumn talks to a Louisiana cook, tradition is served and the smoky, peppery savor of andouille is so often a part of the seasonal spread.
LaPlace Andouille Shops
Bailey's World Famous Andouille
513 W. Airline Hwy., LaPlace, 985-652-9090
Jacob's World Famous Andouille
505 W. Airline Hwy., LaPlace, 985-652-9080
Wayne Jacob's Smokehouse
769 W. 5th St., LaPlace, 985-652-9990
Other River Parishes Andouille Specialists
Cox's Meat Market
1162 Highway 44 (River Road), Reserve, 985-536-2491
Don's Country Store
318 Central Ave, Reserve, 985-536-2316
In New Orleans
930 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, 504-588-7675
This upscale butcher shop makes the closest approximation of LaPlace-style andouille in the city.