I love getting new cookbooks, and recently my son, who understands my enthusiasms, sent me a copy of Donald Link’s Real Cajun. This is his first cookbook and is focused on a rich family history of cooking good food out of the Louisiana pig pens, rivers and swamps. It’s also the inspired work of a great chef.
Link runs Herbsaint and Cochon in New Orleans, two remarkably good places to eat in a city full of fine restaurants. I particularly like Cochon, having dined on pigs with great gusto most of my life, including an evening at Au Pied de Cochon (pigs foot) in Paris. Link, like the French, takes his swine seriously and makes all his own bacon, sausage, tasso, boudin, pork belly cracklins and andouille. I highly recommend tasting a sampler, his boucherie plate, as a heavy appetizer to acquaint yourself and the table with his skill.
Link has the heart of a butcher and as a devout meat eater he reluctantly includes dishes for vegetarians. But, he’s also a good husband and his wife doesn’t share his devotion to meat. Hence his recipe for Maque Choux, a dish I’ll be serving from his recipe July 31 at the third Hot Rock Hollow dinner concert at the Flying Monkey. I’ve had various versions of this simple corn, pepper and tomato dish, but Link’s is lovely. It’s spiced with fresh thyme, basil and bay leaves. It has a bit of heat in the peppers, but not too much, and it is especially good this time of year in Alabama when the tomatoes, corn and peppers are fresh out of the field. Vegetarians will love it, as will the meat eaters.
Jambalaya is also on the menu, though the version I’ll be preparing is more of a Creole version, according to Link, since it is cooked in stock with tomatoes and includes shrimp, chicken and tasso served under a rich tomato sauce. Cajun jambalayas lose the tomatoes and are heavy on chicken and sausage to flavor the rice. Not a bad combination, either.
I highly recommend the book to lovers of Louisiana cooking, and if you don’t want to bother with the book, or with cooking, do come taste some good food while you listen to good music at the next dinner concert.