It my pleasure to share with you my review for Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana by Donald Link.
“The pleasure,” you ask? Seriously? Yes. Because if you could be just a little bit smitten with a cookbook, I confess that I am with this one.
Maybe it’s the way Link describes how he grew up, where “every occasion of [his] life revolved around food,” much like mine has, or how his food memories are rich with the aroma of past meals, lingering “in the thick Louisiana air,” he paints a picture as eloquently with words as with ingredients.
Link explains, “Real Cajun food translates to the best ingredients of the area, simply prepared. The flavors are focused and the food is highly seasoned . . . Cajun food has come to mean different things to different people, but as far as I’m concerned it’s really a very simple concept: Acadiana is populated by farmers who live off the land, and the cuisine is born of this specific location.”
This kind of “farm-to-table” concept, while currently popular as a catch phrase and restaurant theme, is how our grandparents ate and fed their families, and it is certainly, in my opinion, the best way to eat. Enjoying the best of the season, making use of our resources, our garden and our pantry, and preparing food to enjoy with family and friends.
I’ve had this cookbook for a while now, probably almost a year, and have tried three recipes, though I have several more bookmarked for later. In the spirit of family cooking and celebrations, we made the Fried Chicken and Andouillie Gumbo for my son’s first birthday party last spring and served it with the Creamy Potato Salad. For Memorial Day weekend last year, we smoked ribs at home, and I made the Buttermilk Ice Cream, served up with strawberries, for dessert.
The Fried Chicken and Andouillie Gumbo was a feat to behold. Schedule a minimum of 4 hours to make, but the results are so worth it. As I sat there and babied the roux for 45 minutes until it turned a deep, dark brown, I was questioning myself: Why did I choose such a time-intensive dish to review? Once I had a taste with dinner, though, I knew. Because it was worth it (and frankly, next time I’m cooking the roux for over an hour!) It was the best gumbo I’d eaten in years, since we lived in the South, the flavors were so thick and rich, and I was shocked that it came from my own kitchen.
And it finally gave me an excuse to use some of that bottle of filé in the cupboard.
You start by cutting up a whole chicken into eight pieces, frying them until partially cooked and golden, and then using the cooking fat along with more seasoned flour to make the roux. Which you then proceed to stir for the next 45 minutes.
The potato salad was equally as fantastic. When Link mentioned that they make this to go with seafood gumbo, to kind of squish in the bowl together, the concept of the creamy cold salad with the steaming brown gumbo sealed the deal. I had to make it. And since the best potato salad I’ve ever eaten was my grandma’s, and I’d not been able to reproduce it since, I decided to try his. If it could come anywhere nearing Grandma’s, this cookbook would be a keeper. And I’m a bit of a potato salad connoisseur. Just saying.
Best potato salad ever.
I admit, I tweaked with the recipe just a teensy bit (I couldn’t help myself) by sprinkling on smoked paprika rather than sweet and tossing in a handful of chopped dill pickle, but otherwise I made the recipe to the letter and it was truly amazing. Creamy and delicious. A keeper and one I’ll be making often over the summer, and, of course, anytime I make gumbo in the future.
Maybe my grandchildren will be remembering this recipe of mine as much as I treasure my Grandma’s.
I’ve got a few recipes bookmarked to make for the future . . . tasso, a smoked, highly seasoned Cajun ham, and boudin, I’ve always wanted to make authentic jambalaya with tasso, but can never find it in the store. Now that I have a recipe (it’s a multi-day process) and a freezer, I’ll be able to make a big batch and have it available whenever the whim arrises. And Boudin? Yes, please. I’m a huge fan of charcuterie, and will definitely be making up a batch before summer is in full swing.
I’m also looking forward to making Maque Choux with Fried Green Tomatoes once my tomato plants are producing this summer and corn is on stands every few blocks, along with Grilled Oysters with Garlic Chile Butter. Perfect for a hot summer day with a loaf of crusty sourdough.
Oh, and the Chocolate Yummy. A base of pecan shortbread topped with sweetened cream cheese, homemade chocolate pudding and fresh whipped cream. I think I’m going to have to make it for Mother’s Day. As a present to myself.
If I can wait that long.
Overall, I loved the feel and concept of this book, and the recipes can’t be beat. Interspersed with food photographs are Link’s family photos of celebrations, showing life how it really is, from drinking beer in a can on the porch on a hot day, to eating dinner outdoors with a baby on your lap. They’re not posed photos, the clothes don’t always match and sometimes there is a dog in the way, but you feel like you’ve been allowed to browse through a family scrapbook, which happens to be interspersed with family recipes. Especially if that recipe writer is an award-winning restauranteur.
I’m very happy to have a copy of Real Cajun on my bookshelf. Rather than a cookbook that just looks beautiful, one you want to look at and then put back away, with recipes that you dream of making and posed photography to die for, Real Cajun is a cookbook that will actually be used. Frequently. Flour dusted between it’s pages and dirty fingerprints marring it’s binding.
And that, to me, is the mark of a good cookbook.