As Fat Tuesday approaches, many of us begin to crave fresh crawfish and andouille sausage.
The combination can be found in many Mardi Gras specialties. And local chef Matt Falcone, a Louisiana native who owns Bayou Bluegrass Catering, is seeing to it that Central Kentucky has the freshest ingredients for the celebration.
Falcone will leave Lexington on Friday and return Sunday with a 26-foot refrigerated truck filled with live crawfish, andouille, tasso, boudin, Camellia red beans, Café du Monde coffee, and fresh bay leaves — straight from the bayou.
Falcone's first stop Saturday will be to pick up a load of pecan wood.
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"It's very plentiful down there, and it gives the flavor I like for smoking game and fowl," he said.
Falcone does not pick up items from a Louisiana food purveyor; he could do that by ordering over the phone or online. He goes straight to the source. Falcone knows which fishermen will have the best price on crawfish and the specialty meat market that sells the highest quality tasso (Cajun smoked pork), and he will load up on Camellia brand red beans.
"Red beans and rice isn't the same without Camellia red beans," Falcone said.
The fresh bay leaves he uses in jambalaya and étouffée come out of his mother's yard in Independence, La.
"I get cracklin's that are made fresh every day in a little Cajun meat market. It's not uncommon to see a whole pig there, which they skin and make cracklin's and take various parts and make sausage and boudin," he said.
According to The Southern Boudin Trail, boudin is made from the parts of the hog that can't be preserved — liver, hog jaw, belly, heart, kidney. It is ground and mixed with rice, green parsley, green onions, onions and other secret spices and is squeezed into a sausage casing. The pieces that a commercial slaughterhouse might discard or sell for animal feed, the boudin enthusiast saves and uses.
Calvin Trillin, in his essay "The Missing Links: In Praise of the Cajun Foodstuff That Doesn't Get Around" wrote: "I figure that about 80 percent of the boudin purchased in Louisiana is consumed before the purchaser has left the parking lot, and most of the rest is polished off in the car. In other words, Cajun boudin not only doesn't get outside the state; it usually doesn't even get home."
Falcone gets smoked meats, sausages and tasso in Ville Platte, and about 3,000 pounds of live crawfish in Cottonport.
In Lexington, Will Pieratt and Kevin Heathcoat, the owners of Bourbon n' Toulouse, and Rob Ramsey, owner of Ramsey's Diners, reap the benefits of Falcone's contacts.
"We have piggybacked our order with Matt for the last three to four years," Ramsey said. "Prior to that, we had them flown in and had to go to Louisville in the middle of the night to pick them up. We hooked up with Matt after Katrina because no one could guarantee that the flight could get out of New Orleans or that the crayfish wouldn't get bumped. Matt brought some beautiful crawfish, and obviously has the crawfish connection to be the pipeline to New Orleans. He also brings me some wonderful boudin and Cajun sausage."
Pieratt agreed with Ramsey's assessment.
"Matt always brings back great quality crawfish," Pieratt said.
Ramsey's Diners will prepare 1,000 pounds of crawfish, 85 gallons of gumbo, 75 gallons of red beans and 150 pounds of rice to serve on Fat Tuesday at all of its locations.
At Bourbon n' Toulouse, 829 Euclid Avenue, the Mardi Gras crawfish boil begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and the Chevy Chase Inn next door will join in the celebration by providing extra seating and live music from The Tall Boys. "We'll be running drink and food specials all day," Pieratt said. "And we'll have king cake and bread pudding for dessert."
If you'd like to try all things Cajun, Bayou Bluegrass's celebration will be Tuesday at The Red Mile Clubhouse, 1200 Red Mile Road. Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., is $14.50. Dinner, 5:30 to 9 p.m., is $26.
The dinner menu includes boiled crawfish, bayou-fresh fried alligator and catfish, red beans and rice, shrimp étouffée, jambalaya, Cajun smoked beef brisket, crawfish pie, chicken Creole, Louisiana gumbo, bread pudding, king cake and Na'wlins pralines. Call (859) 233-0814.