This was my lunch. I ate it all.
Avery Island is a gorgeous place; it’s surrounded by a long lace of bayous, has plenty of wildlife roaming around freely (deer, bears, raccoons, alligators), and houses the beautiful Jungle Gardens and Bird Sanctuary. You can spend a full day there soaking up the splendor, especially if you pack in a trip to the Tabasco factory.
We had a lovely, long ride down the bayou to the McIlhenny family’s trapper’s camp, just so we could get in some air boat rides (FUN!) and a little of this:
My favorite lunch in the world! These fellas were HUGE.
I’m only partly responsible for this amount of crawfish carnage. Let’s just say that my tablemate, Cecil, is one fast picker.
Earlier that day, we had a tasting of all seven flavors of Tabasco sauce, led by CEO and Chairman of the Board Paul McIlhenny. His chief flavor developer, Charlie Chang, who has worked for the McIlhennys for over 30 years, was also present at the tasting. It was fascinating listening to the two describe how certain flavors were inspired, or how they were refined to become what they are today. I have to say, my new favorite hot sauce is Tabasco Habanero. It’s Jamaican inspired and has a lot of fruit flavor to it, plus it packs a slow, intense heat that hits you at the end. For the tasting, we had saltine crackers and softened butter to help us tolerate the high amounts of heat in some of the sauces. I discovered that a saltine cracker spread with butter and topped with a little Habanero sauce is extremely delicious–like eating a wicked little butter cookie. I’m in love.
Later, we were treated to a Tabasco-inspired mixology session with Neal Bodenheimer of Cure, a hot New Orleans cocktail spot that’s also up for a James Beard award this year. Now, I’m not really much into cocktails, so I was prepared to be less than inspired by this event; but it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the whole trip, and one of the most engaging. Neal mixed up an “unbloody bloody Mary,” which he calls “Red Medicine;” a smooth banana and rum concoction with Tabasco Green Sauce; and a winy, spicy cobbler. I was completely taken by the pairing of Tabasco Green with banana, and can see it working in all sorts of baked goodies.
We all got to try our hand at mixing a cocktail (under Neal’s supervision), and I chose the Red Medicine (pictured here). Folks, this is by far the cheekiest Bloody Mary I’ve ever had. To call it “spicy” is to do it a disservice. Neal makes a shrub (a vinegar-based syrup) with sugar and Tabasco Red, which simmers down into a tidy little jolt of flavor for the cocktail, and the only source of color–there’s no tomato in it at all. Mixed with vodka, celery bitters, and a little club soda, the Tabasco shrub might just be the eye-opener you’ve always wanted in a Bloody Mary. Goodness.
It’s also the perfect spot for some pickled okra and green beans to hang out.
As a special treat, we also visited Legnon’s Boucherie in New Iberia, where they make about 1,000 pounds of boudin a day!
Even if you don’t like meat or boudin in particular, you’ve got to respect a place that makes a quality product by hand and sells out of it by day’s end. At Legnon’s, they use a ratio of 50% pork, 50% rice in their boudin, while many commercial manufacturers up the rice to 80%. Maybe that’s why this was some of the best boudin I’ve ever had:
Fresh, spicy, and juicy…juicy isn’t usually something I say when I taste boudin, but Legnon’s really is. They also make some wonderful cracklins, from pork belly, pictured above.
Now, I’m back in beautiful New Orleans, getting ready for Jazz Fest (!) and settling down to work on developing some recipes using these wonderful Tabasco sauces. Feel free to send me some ideas if you have any!