Sunday, November 9, 2008

Paradise on a Prairie Plate

We came for the boudin balls; we found paradise on a prairie plate.

This serendipitous discovery began by attendng a simple Cajun cooking demonstration at the Prairie Acadian Culture Center in Eunice, LA, last Saturday. Here we were introduced to Bubba Frey (left), the creator of boudin balls and learned about his restaurant. His niece told us that the restaurant was in Mowata and gave us directions to it.

Now, Mowata is not on the map and is not a community, but everyone in the area knows where Mowata is. Anyone going to Mowata is going to one of three places: Bubba Frey's restaurant, Bubba Frey's Mowata Store (a meat market), or the St. Lawrence Catholic Church--and that is it for almost 10 miles in any direction on Rt. 13. It is just south of Eunice--Louisiana's Prairie Cajun Capital.

We made our way to the restaurant Saturday night. To say it is a modest eatery is an understatement.

We had hoped to hear some Cajun music with dinner, but we had forgotten that many of the local musicians had been booked to perform on a several-day Zydeco Cruise. But we hope to hear some Cajun sounds bouncing off these beautiful walls.

We knew we wanted to order the boudin balls, but what else was the question. Now, boudin is a sausage made from ground and cooked pork (sometimes including the heart and liver), cooked rice, parsley, green onions, and black pepper. It is traditionally stuffed into a natural casing and is a classic example of “poor man’s food.” Early records in France show boudin being made – without the rice – as early as the 1200’s. Initially, the sausage was made from waste meat (you don’t want to know what that means) but is now made with butt, shoulder, pork belly, and even tenderloin. Rice was added to American boudin in the 1920’s as filler when meat was a scarce commodity.

Typically, boudin is steamed or grilled and served in the casing. But boudin balls are more recent and are our favorite way to eat this Cajun delicacy. The pork and rice mixture is removed from the casing, may or may not be dipped in an egg wash, and are rolled in crushed crackers, bread crumbs, or plain flour and then deep-fat fried.

Bubba Frey’s boudin balls – roughly the size of a golf ball - are outstanding. The boudin mixture contains a generous proportion of meat to rice and is seasoned with enough black pepper to give a back of the mouth heat without being overpowering. After frying, the coating becomes a crust that cracks when broken, revealing a moist and steaming interior.

As we were debating entree options, I saw an enormous plate of food being set between two diners at an adjacent table. I called over and asked, only half in jest, if they planned to share that meal. They did. Our decision was made, dinner was to be a shared. It was the “Big Man’s Seafood Platter” – a heaping mound of fries covered by six fried shrimp, six fried oysters, two stuffed shrimp, two stuffed crabs, and four fried catfish strips. Yes, this was paradise on a prairie plate.

I am in awe of the kitchen. Each of the five (four sea foods and the catfish) was coated with a unique non-batter coating that perfectly complemented what lay underneath. The crisp coating on the shrimp was so light as to be translucent – you could see the pinkness of the fried shrimp. The coating on the oysters crackled when bitten, a perfect offset to the soft and moist oyster and was a transcendent eating experience. The mixture that surrounded the stuffed shrimp was seasoned to perfection. The catfish strips were tossed with a seasoned flour and corn meal mixture that gave texture to the moist fish bites. And the stuffed crabs – wow! An empty crab shell was stuffed with crab, crumbs, and seasonings, rolled in a crumb mixture and fried. These were so good we found ourselves scraping the inside of the shell with a knife so as to not miss a morsel. All of this fried food came to the table – including the fries – without a hint of oil.

Our enjoyment with the meal was echoed by the four people at the next table. We learned that one of the people was asking Bubba to cater a party for her in January. A simple party to celebrate her reaching the age of 101.

We congratulated this energetic, vivacious woman--she dances at the jam sessions, knits, crochets, and sews ("I'm a seamstress," she says). She invited us to the party the second Saturday in January. She then asked Chuck if he had ever kissed a queen. When he answered that he hadn't, she said he could kiss her. He kissed her on the cheek.

When she learned that he had never been kissed by a queen, she put both hands on his face had kissed him on the lips. (Her daughter said that if her mother responds with a second kiss, she really likes the person.)

The question: "Queen of what?" remained unanswered, but Chuck has now kissed and been kissed by a queen. In Bubba Frey's. In Mowata. In the Cajun Prairie.

No comments: