In 1976, AC/DC claimed the title of "biggest balls of them all," but Billy's Boudin & Cracklin might be able to claim the most recognizable balls of them all. "And I'm just itching to tell you about them," Billy says to me.
I feel like there's not a week that goes by without the appearance of Billy's balls in my Instagram feed; the constant exposure makes it hard to resist the urge to go buy a few myself. And most of the time, the photos aren't even labeled with a hashtag or a location to let you know they're Billy's—they are just that unmistakable.
When I asked my friend Leah Graeff her thoughts on Billy's, she told me "Billy's boudin balls remind me why I put things in my mouth." And when I inquired of Paul Kieu what emotions came to mind when eating a Billy's boudin ball, his response was, "Excitement. Then ecstasy. Then regret … Then back to happiness. The good feelings end up permeating my body like the grease through the paper bag it came in."
The recipe for the thick layer of fried batter that encases the large, meaty, spicy boudin balls is a closely kept secret of the Frey family. Patsy and her husband Billy opened their first Billy's store in Krotz Springs, Louisiana in 1995. The shop started as a convenience store, but not long after opening, Billy Frey perfected his boudin and cracklin recipes to make some extra cash on the side.
With the help of his wife's local Louisianan family, who are proficient in the art of home hog-butchering, preserving, and cooking, he was able to zero in on the perfect ratios of pork, liver, spices, green onion, and rice for his boudin. Each south Louisiana boudin-maker (in the area known as Acadiana) uses the same general ingredients, but each has come up with his own preferred flavor and texture combinations for the meat-and-rice mix that is stuffed in an edible casing, or fried or turned into any number of other creations. Billy's didn't wait long after finalizing the boudin recipe to add their signature balls to their arsenal of Cajun treats.
Two years after opening in Krotz Springs, they bought Ray's, a small grocery store in Opelousas. They also bought Ray's boudin recipe, described by Patsy as being "less peppery and more rice" than Billy's. (The Ray's version is still served in the Opelousas location, but is not nearly as popular as Billy's.)
Nearly 3,000 pounds worth of Billy's recipe are made daily at the Opelousas location, and distributed to Krotz Springs and the newest Billy's spot in Scott, Louisiana—the official Boudin Capital of the World. They will also ship their products frozen to anywhere. It's sold in the form of links (smoked or regular), fried balls, and roll-ups (think boudin egg rolls). During Lent, they offer a crawfish boudin as well.
In the course of a year, the three stores sell somewhere around 1.7 million boudin balls—that's split between regular and pepper jack cheese-stuffed. The gooey pepper jack-centered balls were invented at Billy's store in Scott three years ago, by former employee Michelle Gonzalez. After that "ah ha!" moment of stuffing their already-popular balls with cheese, Billy's has continued to gain recognition from locals and travelers on I-10, who are lured in by billboards promising the best balls in town.
Most roadside boudin joints sell their own versions of boudin balls, and some have even tried to imitate the pepper jack-stuffed version. Often times, the other's balls are smooth, lightly breaded, fried spheres with a sort of chewy outer crust compared to the glorious, golden, crunchy, addiction-inducing orbs served at Billy's. So it's no surprise that boudin spies have popped up occasionally, asking one too many questions of Billy's employees. Patsy told me that after it got "busy, busy" with employees being asked about how things were done in the Billy's kitchen, a confidentiality agreement was implemented for all workers.
Even after 19 years of business, there are only four people who know the full Billy's recipe. Amazingly, this business hasn't made Patsy too paranoid—just thankful to be able to provide for her family. She wishes well to anyone wanting to try starting their own boudin place.
She does warn, though, that owning your own shop isn't easy. She must constantly check the quality of Billy's products, using her palate's long history with the freshest pork at family boucheries to guide her in tasting most of the batches of boudin coming out of the kitchen. And when it comes to the balls and cracklins, she can tell if any shortcuts were taken in the cooking process just by looking at them.
Patsy Frey reiterated many times throughout our talk about how humbled and blessed she is to have such success and support from the communities that support Billy's. The Frey family is one truly blessed by boudin.
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in October 2014.