Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fear No Cochon


Paper bag with fancy Cochon Butcher stamp.

Cochon Signage

As the swine flu builds to truly pandemic levels, what better a time to celebrate the pig? The culinary world has yet to get it's fill of pork so feel free to indulge while your "sky-is-falling" neighbor avoids all things swine like the plague. Ouch... too early?

The truth is that pork is not a threat when it comes to the flu. Eat up.

During another brief business trip to New Orleans I was happy to visit two of Chef Donald Link's restaurants: Cochon and Cochon Butcher. Cochon is the fancier of the two and serves Cajun Southern Cooking (the sign told me so). The menu certainly supports that with catfish, alligator, rabbit, oysters, and of course pork dominating much of the fare.

Cochon Butcher is smaller, far more casual and is part sandwich shop, part meat market, part bar. Before I go further, I should mention that almost everything in these two restaurants is made in-house. From the cured meats that go into the sandwiches to the cherries and olives that go into the cocktails, it is all made right there on location. To help out in these ventures Chef Link is joined by partners Stephen Stryjewski, Warren Stephens, and Kris Doll. These chefs have fantastic talent and drive.

My dinner on Monday night at Cochon consisted of a couple bourbon-based cocktails (the bar is dominated by bourbon) a plate of wood-fired oysters and the namesake of the restaurant, Louisiana cochon. The oysters arrived on a bed of rock salt, topped with butter and fiery Cajun spices. They were served in their shells plump and barely cooked, (a good thing) yet they were still hot and steamy. I can say they were among the best roasted oysters I've ever had. The main course was wood fired oven roasted suckling pig meat shredded and re-formed into a loose hamburger-style patty. Dusted with flour and pan seared it is served on top of a bed of braised cabbage and turnips, then topped with a crunchy piece of pork cracklin. There are some tangy pickled turnips in there too to help freshen up the dish. Can you ask for much more? I say yes. How about lunch?

Cochon Butcher Signage

Lunch the following day was at Cochon Butcher. When entering the small restaurant and shop your eyes are immediately drawn to the large temperature controlled curing chamber which ceremoniously houses many of their cured meats.

Cured meats?

New Orleans?

Sandwich?

If you guessed muffaletta, you win! This sandwich was packed full of porky goodness. In fact, I think I actually enjoyed the sandwich more than dinner the night before. The warm muffaletta highlighted with their own olives and pickled peppers was phenomenal. If you still think Central Grocery has the best muffaletta in town, you are sorely mistaken.

So next time you're in NOLA, get your pork-lovin' ass down to the Warehouse District and enjoy some of the finest Cajun food New Orleans has to offer.

Cochon Butcher Muffaletta