All photos by the author, Denny Culbert
In southwest Louisiana, communal pig butchery—called boucherie in Acadiana—is one of the last remnants of Cajun culinary traditions. It’s also one of the only ways to experience the primal first taste of boudin noir, Cajun sausage mixed with rice and fresh pig's blood. The only other way to consume Cajun blood sausage is to visit one of a handful of slaughterhouses that still produce it, or to try cozying up with a pig farmer who can provide you with enough blood to make it at home.
One man steps up and quietly recites a short prayer. The executioner waits with an anxious lean to discharge his weapon. Then the crimson stream is collected, salted, and furiously whisked as the animal’s last remnant of life drains away. The thick, warm, red liquid is set aside. There’s much work to be done. The carcass is carried to the butcher table, singed and scraped, cut and gutted. Meat is divided amongst the cooks—the skin goes one way, the ribs the next—but the liver and the shoulder are delivered to the boudin makers. There is only crusted blood and stray white hairs remaining on the raw wood. The shoulder meat is boiled until the marrow melts into stock; then it's thrown into the grinder with liver and onions. That bowl of deep red is added to the spiced rice, pork, and vegetable mixture, making it shine in a bright violet and red color. It’s slid into its natural casing and boiled black to finish the job.
This is a set of images that I took at a recent boucherie in Lafayette, Louisiana, one led by butcher-for-hire Toby Rodriquez, and his team of seasoned Cajun cooks. There were many dishes prepared that day at the boucherie, but the blood boudin stole the show. I sat down with Rodriguez yesterday over a meal of sausage rice and gravy to discuss his relationship with pig blood, butchering, and Louisiana boudin.
VICE: How would you describe boudin?
Toby: Here in south Louisiana, boudin consists mainly of pork, liver, and rice. Traditionally, it was discarded meat trimmings stuffed into entrails with seasoning and long-grain rice. There’s also emulsified onions, bell peppers, and celery, along with fresh parsley and green onion mixed in. It differs from region to region in Louisiana. Some places are a little spicier, and some have bigger chunks of meat. The prairie normally has more liver, while places like Higginbotham and Link prefer more rice and coarser black pepper. People like the boudin they grew up with. There’s definitely a nostalgia for it. I think boudin and cracklins’ are what gave rise to the many specialty meat markets around Acadiana, where most of the boudin is produced today.
Where does the blood come into the process of making blood boudin?
First off, you’re not going to get blood boudin from a normal specialty meats place. You’re going to get it from a boucherie or a slaughterhouse, and most slaughterhouses don’t even fuck with it at all. The blood is extracted right after the gunshot. You’re going to catch the blood, add salt to keep it from coagulating, and put it off to the side. The blood is reintroduced to the process after the meat is cooked and ground up with emulsified vegetables and seasonings. Once you get it seasoned to the point where you like it, that’s when you add the blood to the meat mixture. It’s very easy to over-salt blood boudin. Someone has to be brave enough at this point to taste the raw blood and cooked meat to figure out whether it needs more salt. The rice can be added before or after the blood is added, but either is acceptable. The important thing to remember is the blood and casing are still raw until you stuff it in the intestine casing and boil it. So if you were to freeze it, you’d want to freeze it raw and boil it when you’re ready to eat it.
Do you eat the intestine casing?
Absolutely. I think that people who don’t are completely missing out.
Do you make blood boudin at every boucherie?
Yes, we always do. I don’t feel good about letting the blood fall onto the ground. We’re trying to make the point that there’s no wasted part of the animal. The only time we didn’t make it was when the blood congealed into a big soufflé. There wasn’t enough salt in it.
What does raw blood taste like?
It tastes like iron. It’s really, really, really rich, like pâté.
What does it feel like to hold the pig as the blood drains out?
It’s violent at first. You can feel all those muscles pumping and struggling. That struggle diminishes with every last heartbeat, and finally the animal is gone. We pump an artery that runs along the shoulder and into the neck to get out the last bit of blood. It’s a very natural and easing feeling. I think that most people who are freaked out about it would realize that if they actually got in there and did it; it almost feels like going to sleep. There’s an innate thing about it. It’s like having sex or anything that we’re born to do. We’re born to be carnivores. I think this is something that everyone knows how to do, but we’re so removed from our natural state as a species. Now people have a knee-jerk reaction to the process. We’ve devolved. We’ve been cut out of our food chain by ourselves. We don’t understand the natural order of things. This should not be something that phases anyone. It should be a completely normal daily event.
Are there many people left in Louisiana who are conducting these communal boucheries?
Not many. There are a few old guys in St. Martinville and Eunice who still do it, and a group of young guys in Lafayette, but that’s about it. It’s very few that still do it, and I can’t understand why. I’m 39 years old, and when my dad was a kid, his family didn’t go to the store. They butchered their own protein. I can’t believe we’ve given up control over our own food chain in such a short period of time. Now I go to the slaughterhouse and buy my pig. When I was a kid, we had our own pigs. You went to the sale barn and picked out a 100-pound pig and raised it until it was 300 pounds.
Can you describe what cooked blood boudin looks and tastes like?
You know it’s going to be a different color, but it comes out as this beautiful violet purple hue. When you boil it, it turns black. There’s nothing prettier. It’s a deep robust flavor. If white boudin were a merlot, then blood boudin would definitely be a cabernet… or maybe the white boudin is a Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, and the blood boudin is like a fucking Night Train Express or Mad Dog 20/20.
Mad Dog 20/20… Got it! Thanks for talking to me, Toby!
Denny Culbert is a Lafayette, Louisiana–based food, documentary, and portrait photographer who’s not afraid to get a little blood on his lens. You can see more of his work at dennyculbert.com.