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Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana

Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana

4.6 14
by Donald Link, Paula Disbrowe

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An untamed region teeming with snakes, alligators, and snapping turtles, with sausage and cracklins sold at every gas station, Cajun Country is a world unto itself. The heart of this area—the Acadiana region of Louisiana—is a tough land that funnels its spirit into the local cuisine. You can’t find more delicious, rustic, and satisfying country


An untamed region teeming with snakes, alligators, and snapping turtles, with sausage and cracklins sold at every gas station, Cajun Country is a world unto itself. The heart of this area—the Acadiana region of Louisiana—is a tough land that funnels its spirit into the local cuisine. You can’t find more delicious, rustic, and satisfying country cooking than the dirty rice, spicy sausage, and fresh crawfish that this area is known for. It takes a homegrown guide to show us around the back roads of this particularly unique region, and in Real Cajun, James Beard Award–winning chef Donald Link shares his own rough-and-tumble stories of living, cooking, and eating in Cajun Country.

Link takes us on an expedition to the swamps and smokehouses and the music festivals, funerals, and holiday celebrations, but, more important, reveals the fish fries, étouffées, and pots of Granny’s seafood gumbo that always accompany them. The food now famous at Link’s New Orleans–based restaurants, Cochon and Herbsaint, has roots in the family dishes and traditions that he shares in this book. You’ll find recipes for Seafood Gumbo, Smothered Pork Roast over Rice, Baked Oysters with Herbsaint Hollandaise, Louisiana Crawfish Boudin, quick and easy Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits with Fig-Ginger Preserves, Bourbon-Soaked Bread Pudding with White and Dark Chocolate, and Blueberry Ice Cream made with fresh summer berries. Link throws in a few lagniappes to give you an idea of life in the bayou, such as strategies for a great trip to Jazz Fest, a what-not-to-do instructional on catching turtles, and all you ever (or never) wanted to know about boudin sausage. Colorful personal essays enrich every recipe and introduce his grandfather and friends as they fish, shrimp, hunt, and dance.

From the backyards where crawfish boils reign as the greatest of outdoor events to the white tablecloths of Link’s famed restaurants, Real Cajun takes you on a rollicking and inspiring tour of this wild part of America and shares the soulful recipes that capture its irrepressible spirit.

Editorial Reviews

Christine Muhlke
…shows why [Link's] food means so much to the community…The tone is easygoing, the explanations clear. Before I knew it, I was frying up spicy hush puppies and serving chicken and sausage jambalaya while drinking Abita beer.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

If bacon does not immediately come to mind as an essential ingredient of Cajun cooking, then clearly you have been missing Link, the chef-owner of two New Orleans restaurants, Herbsaint and Cochon. He not only begins his premiere cookbook with instructions on making four pounds of homemade bacon, he includes such tempting items as a fried oyster and bacon sandwich, tomato and bacon pie, and catfish fried in bacon fat. Even in his vegetarian twice-baked potatoes, he cannot help mentioning, "Normally I like crisp bits of bacon in stuffed potatoes." And where bacon leads, the rest of the pig is sure to follow. A classic boudin recipe is rich in pork liver and shoulder; deer sausage combines venison with pork butt; and a hearty/scary breakfast dish, oreilles de cochon (pig ears), is boudin-stuffed beignets. There is also plenty of crawfish, be it in a crawfish pie, a traditional boil or in a boulette (deep fried balls of crawfish meat and stuffing). A bourbon cherry lemonade or a plate of fresh peach buckle would cleanse the palate nicely, Eighty color photos enhance Link's efforts, as do his brief meditations on crawfish farming, family gatherings and the joys of making a perfect roux. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Link, who grew up in Acadia, or "Cajun Country," is the chef of two acclaimed New Orleans restaurants, Herbsaint, which serves what he calls "modern Creole" cuisine with some French and Italian influences, and Cochon, a more rustic spot serving down-home Cajun food. His first cookbook includes recipes from Cochon and other family favorites, plus stories and photos of people enjoying great Cajun food, sidebars on topics like the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, and lots of photos of people enjoying great Cajun food. For most collections.

—Judith Sutton
From the Publisher
“Donald Link’s book simply makes me hungry the way I used to be around my grandmother’s kitchen down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He is more than a chef. He is a southern artist using tradition as a canvas and acquired culinary magic as his box of paints, with which he brings to life masterpieces of southern cuisine that ignite our taste buds as well as reminding us of who we are and where we come from.”
—Jimmy Buffett

“Donald Link’s childhood in Cajun Country taught him that cooking is all about family, local ingredients, and, most important, taste. There's no blackened redfish here, just delicious recipes (think Crispy Softshell Crab with Chili Glaze or Satsuma Buttermilk Pie) and great memories, informed by his wry sense of humor and passion for food and place. Real Cajun is the real deal and proves, once again, that Link is not only the soul of New Orleans but also one of the most talented chefs in the country.”
—Julia Reed

“Donald Link is rediscovering traditional Cajun food in all of its diversity and simplicity. His flavors come from backyard organic vegetables, local fish, and heritage breed pork. The essence of Cochon’s cooking is beautifully revealed in this inviting book.”
—Alice Waters

"Donald Link's cooking embodies the very best–the heart and soul–of New Orleans cuisine; there's no one in the business with more credibility. Real Cajun captures the straight-up, un-cut, raw, and wonderful rustic classics in all their unvarnished, unprettified glory."
—Anthony Bourdain

“Real Cajun tells Donald Link’s captivating story of growing up in southwest Louisiana and shares with us the incredible no-holds-barred type of cooking and eating that Cajuns live for. With great traditions, vivid tales, and passionate cooking from a real Cajun chef, this cookbook will be a treasure for all who turn its pages.”
—Frank Stitt

“Real Cajun
is honest, gutsy, and proudly provincial. Read this book and you'll want to mainline shrimp and crab gumbo. Cook from this book and you'll rationalize an all boudin diet.”
—John T. Edge, general editor of Cornbread Nation

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Read an Excerpt

Lake Charles Dirty Rice
Serves 6 to 8

This recipe appears at just about every occasion in Cajun Country. Whether it’s a holiday, funeral, family reunion, or potluck dinner, you can bet there will be at least one form of dirty rice or rice dressing. At the Link family reunion in Robert’s Cove, I counted six versions, all different. The essential ingredients are few, but flavor and texture vary greatly.

The main difference between dirty rice and rice dressing is that rice dressing is generally made with ground beef or pork, whereas dirty rice is made with pork and chicken livers. Many people think they don’t like liver, but when it’s balanced with other flavors, the liver taste is not overpowering. I’ve served this deeply flavored rice to many people who claim they hate liver, only to have them love it.

2 tablespoons canola oil
4 ounces ground pork
1/2 cup chicken livers (about 4 ounces), pureed1
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 cups cooked rice
1/2 bunch scallions (white and green parts), chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the pork and chicken livers and cook, stirring, until browned. Add the salt, black pepper, and chili powder and stir often, but resist the impulse to stir constantly: You want the meat to stick to the pan and get crusty. Add ¼ cup of the chicken broth and cook until it has evaporated, allowing the meat mixture to get browned and crusty and stick to the pan once again. Add the onion, celery, garlic, jalapeño, and oregano and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are nicely browned and crusty and beginning to stick to the pan. Add the rice, the remaining 1 ¼ cups broth, the scallions, and parsley. Stir until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is heated through.

NOTE: When making dishes that involve rice, remember that your flavor base will seem overly seasoned until the rice absorbs the flavors. In Cajun cooking, salt is the most crucial ingredient to get right, so you’ll want to taste the dish after the rice cooks and adjust accordingly.

Meet the Author

DONALD LINK is the chef-owner of Herbsaint and Cochon in New Orleans. He won the James Beard Best Chef South Region Award in 2007.

PAULA DISBROWE is the author of Cowgirl Cuisine and co-author of Susan Spicer’s Crescent City Cooking. She lives in Austin, Texas.

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Real Cajun 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very entertaining, in-depth look into cajun cooking. I cant imagine making my own boudin, but I could with this book. A few practical recipes and lots of colorful info on cajun tradition and cooking. Good gift for a southwestern or Louisianan.
LAHamm More than 1 year ago
I am a native Louisianian, and am often amused at what people think is Cajun cooking. Chef Link is a real Cajun (not a pejorative term in Acadiana), and his recipes sing for lovers of real Louisiana Cajun food. Anyone who owns a restaurant named after the noble hog (Link's New Orleans spot is named "Cochon") is okay in my book. If you are looking for prissy Creole dishes ala New Orleans' signature restaurants such as Galatoire's and Commander's Palace, this is not the book for you. But if you want real, rustic, hardcore Louisiana Cajun dishes, grab this book for your collection.
julesamom More than 1 year ago
I borrowed this from the library in the fall of '09 and kept renewing it, it was so good! My family got it for me as a Christmas present. I have made the fried meat pies, biscuits, twice baked potatoes and the hush puppies so far. All the instructions are clear, and the writing is very conversational and entertaining. And of course the photography is beautiful and makes your mouth water!
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
I have been steadily eating my way through this book and it hasn't steered me wrong yet. Not only is it a beautifully presented book, almost beautiful enough to have on your coffee table, it's more than just a pretty facade. It's filled with true cajun dishes with authentic flavors. Plenty of kick and spice. The dishes are relatively easy and don't require complicated culinary tools or ingredients. A true delight.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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64640 More than 1 year ago
I thought with a name like Link, what does this guy know about Cajun food? Apparently everything!! Was totally surprised..... not only is he a real Coons a$$.... he knows what he is talking about. The recipes are down to earth and explained in a way that a non-cook can follow. Not only will the food get you hooked, the stories that accompany each recipe will take you back to your own grandparents' kitchen table. Only going to give it 5 Stars, because they don't have 10..... Thank you Mr. Link for the journey; I was able to see Acadia through your words and recipes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a history book that tells a great story as well as a book that has true cajun recipes. It is an easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
love this book, great hints, great recipes, good reading about the cajun lifestyle.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a native of South Louisiana, I thoroughly enjoy reading and using Donald Link's book. The stories are so heartfelt and entertaining while bringing a real sense of the Cajun culture to life. Each page makes my mouth water for more. The recipes are very authentic and very easy to follow.
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