Smoked sausage is the north star that guides Louisiana’s best red bean cooks.
Sunday nights in New Orleans means one thing: Emptying a big bag of Camellia beans into a glass bowl filled with cold water for a good overnight soak before you make your family’s red beans and rice dinner on Monday.
That tattered old note card with your great aunt Ophelia’s recipe? It stays in the cupboard. You know the formula by heart.
Red beans and rice has a thousand mothers, each claiming primacy, but there is one ingredient revered above all others, and that is smoked sausage.
The following is a survey of sausage brands available in the Gulf Coast region of the US.
Double D Meat Company was founded in 1967 in Bogalusa, Louisiana by Dutch Stogner and Don E. Johnson. The two young men became known as the Double D boys, and quickly developed a reputation as premium sausage makers and all-around meat experts. The business started small but eventually grew into the present day behemoth that produces nine tons of sausage daily. D&D comes in two primary flavors “mild” and “hot.” Even the hot will not set you on fire so keep that canister of red pepper handy when you fire your bean kettle.Conecuh Sausage Company got its start in 1947 in Evergreen, Alabama by grocer Henry Sessions. There, in deep southern Baldwin County you’ll find their intensely hickory-smoked sausages in a regional dish called Swamp Soup (featuring turnip greens, and white beans) but here in New Orleans local cooks favor it for our classic red beans and rice with just a little Alabama twist. Conecuh has really broadened their sales footprint in the South. Rufus Kiolbassa founded his Kiolbassa Provision Company in San Antonio, Texas in 1949. His forebears were part of the first wave of Polish émigrés to arrive in the United States, and they brought with them a crucial skill – the art of butchery. By the start of the 21st century, the family had gotten out of the hog-slaughtering part of the industry and focused on their greatest skill: sausage making. In Texas it’s common to find restaurants and snack bars selling links of Kiolbassa sausage stuffed into flour tortillas with a schmear of yellow mustard. Here in Louisiana we just chop it up and toss it into our bean kettles.
In 1967 Frank Comeaux, a firefighter, teamed up with his lunch lady wife Eula Mae to open their eponymous grocery store adjacent to the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette. The business started small selling groceries and sundries but it was Mr Frank’s hot boudin recipe that kept his clientele coming back for more. Nowadays it’s easy to find that boudin as well as Comeaux’s Smoked Sausage in grocery stores across Louisiana.In 1949, Tom Savoie and his wife Eula opened a small grocery store on Port Barre Road in Opelousas, Louisiana. It wasn’t long before Miss Eula was building value into their small business by making sausage from scratch using her mom’s old Cajun recipes and a weathered, hand-operated meat-grinder. Soon, truckers driving loads through the region heard about the company’s sausage and began beating a trail to their front door. A decade in, Savoie was selling 17 tons of sausage annually and had begun shipping across the US and Mexico. Today they’re one of the biggest purveyors in the state and you can find their meats across the Gulf South. Richard’s Cajun Foods was established by Lonnie Richard in 1981. Lonnie had earned his stripes in the sausage business by bringing home three ribbons for his boudin at the 1976 International Rice Festival in Crowley. He learned his craft at the knee of his Cajun mawmaw. Richard would begin making and vending handmade sausages from a small grocery store in Church Point before selling his business outright in the mid-90s. That brand is still being produced from a plant in Acadia Parish and you can buy packets of it across the continental US. Chappell Hill, Texas is a small Polish community located midway between Austin and Houston. You may run into a few Czechs and Germans there too. With that said, you know there’s going to be good sausage coming out of the region. Area old-timers still lament the closing of Brazos River Dance Hall which marks the spot where Chappell Hill Sausage Company now stands. The sausage market has been around since the sixties, and their meats are now available as far south as the Gulf region.
There’s a long rich history of hog-rearing, slaughtering, and rural charcuterie in Mississippi. Thomas King started producing MaBell’s Smoked Sausage at his King’s Packing Company back in the 70s. Over in the Magnolia State, good cooks spend hours hovering over their bean pots on the weekends when it’s dinner time, and like as not, they dashed into their local Piggly Wiggly and procured MaBell’s sausage at the start of the cook.
Manda Fine Meats has been in operation since 1947 when three brothers: Vincent, John and Bennie joined forces to form Manda Brothers Provisions Company. The first few years of the operation saw the trio dedicate themselves to distributing wholesale groceries but nowadays the business focuses on producing Cajun and deli meats. In New Orleans during crawfish season you’ll find thousands of cooks tossing their economical smoked sausages into massive backyard boiling kettles. There is no season for beans, and you’ll find Manda sausage and pickled pork burbling away in big cook pots across the US Gulf coast year-round.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in southeast Louisiana you may visit any number of small, mom and pop butcheries. Here are four of the best:Vaucresson Sausage Company was founded in New Orleans’ 7th Ward in 1899. The failure of the levees surrounding the city following Hurricane Katrina shuttered the long-running concern but owner Vance Vaucresson is preparing to reopen in 2021. Mr Vance is one of the last Creole butchers in the entire city and his sausage is the pinnacle of the form. If you want that real Creole flavor order some Vaucresson sausage online for that battered old bean pot that’s lived on the back of your family stove for generations. Terranova Brothers Superette is approaching a century in business and is still run by the same family that flung the doors open in 1925. Walk across the well-worn terrazzo floors to the meat counter in back to buy handmade sausage for your kidney bean kettle. Generations of New Orleanians have toted white paper packets of the Terranova family’s legendary green onion sausage home to chop up and toss into their red beans and rice. Benny Terranova is one of the best butchers in the city. Alphonse Taglialavore opened a small butcher stall, Tag’s Meat Market, in the French Market of New Orleans in 1938. As his business evolved he migrated; first to the 9th Ward and finally to Chalmette where the old meat market is still turning out top flight sausages for area bean cooks. You’ll know you’re in the right neighborhood when you spy the massive black Angus bull statue that holds sway over the building. Mr Alphonse died in the 80s but in-law Mickey Michalik turned out to be a fine butcher and steward of the company. Oh, and the tiny cafe in the same building is a first rate sandwich joint. Jeanfreau’s Meat Market on Paris Road in Chalmette has one of the great old-school Louisiana butchers manning the grinder-extruder. Mr. Larry’s been professionally wielding knives for over a half-century and his sausage work is non-pareil. At Jeanfreau’s I like to double up from the meat case and add house-made ham trimmings to my bean pot alongside Larry’s world class hot links.