One look at chef Isaac Toups' meatery board and it's easy to see that Cajun culinary traditions are alive and well in New Orleans. The ever-entertaining, self-proclaimed "coonass" grew up in Rayne, Louisiana and now holds court at his eponymous meatery in Mid City, never failing to impress with his meat specialties. And there are a lot of them: lamb neck, the double cut pork chop, the killer burger at lunch and that's just cracking the surface.
Here now, Toups discusses his meat board, Best Stop cracklins, and resurrecting rillons over a pint of NOLA Blonde at Toups Meatery.
What's on the board?
In this corner! We Have! Roasted green pepper terrine, hog's headcheese, chicken liver mousse, Two Run Farms rare roast beef with umami pickle. We have cracklins. We have pimento cheese deviled eggs with fried chicken skin. Candied pork belly, otherwise known as rillons. Fried boudin. Chicken and tarragon sausage. Virginia country style ham. Morrocan olives, squash pickles, radish kimchi, pickled peach, red onion jam, red pepper mustarda, Creole mustard.
What's your favorite meat on board?
The cracklins. That goes without saying. I... just... absolutely... love them. I mean, I'm the kind of sick guy we've been open two years, sell a hundred pounds every week and I still eat a handful almost everyday. And I'll go to the gas station and buy the ones in the bag too. I'm sick. I need help.
I grew up eating Best Stop cracklins. I love them. They're fried hard, and they're seasoned really aggressively, so much so that they're red. They're big. They just crunch in your mouth. They're so iconic, and so stuck in my brain that it's really hard to like any others.
How did you learn to make charcuterie?
As soon as I got into cooking, I was like I want to make sausage, and I want to make cracklins. Some of those things I picked up pretty early, and some of those things I picked up just recently. Like the cracklins. I didn't really get down the proper recipe until I opened the meatery. Because everywhere else I was working was fine dining, and no one really wants to do cracklin in fine dining. So I never had the opportunity either.
Some of the things you learn as you go. Some of the things you screw up five hundred pounds of getting right. I threw out two hundred pounds of pork belly before not threw away, we ate it bregrudgingly. Sometimes we burnt it. getting the cracklin just right.
I've known how to make sausage for a long time, but you know... Perfecting your boudin. Perfecting your deviled eggs. Classic terrines: my sous chefs kind of take over and we create them on daily whims, like, what did we get off the Covey Rise truck? Oh, we got this.
What would you suggest pairing with this charcuterie board drink wise?
We have it right here. We're having ice cold beer with a bunch of hot, aggressively seasoned charcuterie. The only other thing I would want with this is a good, refreshing cocktail, like maybe a watermelon martini or a bourbon drink. Bourbon on the rocks, maybe a splash of soda, maybe a sprig of mint if you're feeling frilly.
Beer. Cracklins. They go hand in hand. All you need is a high school football game, and you've got the Cajun trio of entertainment on a Saturday night.
Who else in town is honoring charcuterie and sausage traditions?
Donald Link comes without saying. He's a good
Cajun boy. Cajun guy. Cajun man. We grew up around the same town, so we visited some of the same spots, though there's an age gap difference, but we're kind of cut from the same cloth.
My boys over at Emeril's Delmonico, where I came from, they're doing really classic salamis, different things from different countries, old school proper charcuterie the right way.
You got Phillip Lopez over at Root, doing some molecular gastronomy on his meat boards, taking it to a completely different level. Whereas I went in a completely more rustic level with the fresh charcuterie. As far as Louisiana goes, we never had dried curing boxes. You hang sausage outside by the fire and you gonna get rotten sausage. We always had the fresh. We had the sausage. We had the boudin. We had the hog's headcheese.
Even the rillons I found in an old Cajun cookbook. It had no increments listed. It was just 'caramelize pork belly with red wine and sugar.' That was it. That was the entirety of the recipe, so I had to go okay, let's try this much sugar. I think it's one of those old things that got lost, and it only made a resurrection with a crazy coonass boy who wanted to come roast some pork belly with some sugar and some red wine.