New Orleans amply earns its reputation as one of the South's most lauded culinary destinations, in large part because of the Cajun and Creole dishes from Southern Louisiana that play starring roles on menus throughout the Big Easy. One prominent food item in the Cajun cuisine category is andouille, a style of spicy sausage that's ubiquitous in New Orleans and all along the Louisiana Bayou Country. But what exactly is andouille, where does it come from, and how can it be used in a home kitchen?
What Is Andouille?
Andouille is a smoked pork sausage of French origin that is very closely-associated with Cajun cooking. Louisiana andouille is usually made from the pork butt, and because it's smoked before it's sold, it can be served raw (like as a meat item on a charcuterie platter) or cooked.
One distinguishing factor that separates andouille from other types of sausage involves its texture. "Most sausages are made from minced or ground meat stuffing, but andouille differs in that the stuffing is chopped or sliced, giving it a different texture," explains Chef Donald "Chef D" Smith, a New Orleans-based cookbook author and personal chef who specializes in Creole and Cajun cuisine.
French Andouille vs. Louisiana Andouille
Cajun andouille is a descendent of French andouille, which first came to Louisiana via French colonizers in the 17th century. The biggest difference between French andouille and Cajun andouille involves the use of offal. French andouille is made from the digestive tract of a pig, with the stomach and small intestine chopped up, seasoned with onions and herbs, and encased in the large intestine of the same pig.
While Cajun andouille does sometimes include organ meat (like chitterlings), it's primarily made from the meat on the pig's upper shoulder (also known as "pork butt"), along with pork fat and seasonings. As far as seasonings go, Cajun andouille traditionally features garlic, salt, and black pepper, which delivers a subtle level of spice to heighten the sausage's natural umami.
Another important characteristic of Cajun andouille is the fact that "it's double-smoked," says Chef D. The andouille-making process involves two rounds of smoking: first, you smoke the pork butt before chopping it for the sausage. Once the sausage filling is in the casing, it gets smoked again. As a result, a smoky flavor is very prominent in Cajun andouille, and it combines with the spices and the rich flavor of the pork to make for a bold, vibrant, and absurdly delicious piece of charcuterie.
Purists will claim that you can only find great Cajun andouille in Louisiana. While the finest versions may indeed be found in this sausage's homeland, it's still possible to find quality andouille outside of the Pelican State. Chef D says that Aidells, which "you can probably find in your local supermarket," is an accessible version of andouille that doesn't skimp on flavor. While pricier, Whole Foods Market also has a quality option regularly in stock. Also, check your local butcher; some butchers outside of Louisiana also make their own Cajun-style andouille. Finally, if you're determined to get the real deal from Cajun country, consider placing an order on Goldbelly, which will send andouille directly to your door from top purveyors in New Orleans and other Southern Louisiana cities.
How should you use andouille?
Andouille is closely associated with Cajun and Creole dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice. That said, there are many other ways to make use of this distinctive sausage. You could simply put a link of andouille in a hot dog bun and dress it like a spicy Southern version of a hot dog, you could fold andouille into leftover grits to make grit cakes (ideal vessels for poached eggs), or even sauté it with vegetables and toss it with pasta. Andouille fits perfectly into any recipe that involves sausage!