Nearly a month into hunting season and I’ve been out twice. The results have been a mixed bag. One wounded Axis, never to be recovered, a downed whitetail buck, and one rabbit. None of which were shot by me. As it seems to happen each year, the killing has been outsourced to others. I like taking people hunting for the first time, and as I’ve discussed here before, I haven’t come to enjoy the killing part. Truth be told, I’ve had about a dozen fantastic shooting opportunities in the last few years that I haven’t taken because I was much more content to sit and watch the show. My friends would hear me say, “Oh I didn’t feel like doing all that work for a tiny doe.” The reality is that I quite enjoy the work that most hunters loathe . . .
The buck, shot by my friend Richard, went to the local processor to be turned into dried sausage. My mother keeps a freezer full of the stuff and hands it out throughout the year at various social gatherings and shindigs. As I do my hunting on my parents’ land, I defer to their requests. First deer of the year always gets made into sausage. The part of that buck that I did get to keep was a very large, very healthy, and very bloody liver.
The rabbit was the result of Richard justifying a late model sedan’s worth of night vision and gun. Yes Virginia, given enough gear, you too can hit a big old Jack at 100 yards, in the head, on the run, in a pretty decent rain storm. I’d originally told Richard that the rabbit would go to a buddy of mine who has been looking to add some variety to his dog’s raw diet.
A fresh liver and a big rabbit carcass went in the cooler and I returned home on a Monday night. Early Tuesday morning, I hopped a flight to LA where I spent two days grinning and gripping hands. I also made time to visit our very own Dr. Vino for fish tacos and gun talk. Upon my return, I spent an evening deboning the rabbit, and clearing the meat of most of the sinew, gristle, and (no shit) old cactus spines. The liver got chopped into cubes, and both went into the fridge covered in brine.
During my time in LA, I’d scoured the web for a recipe befitting my haul. And by “the web” I mean Hank Shaw’s oft referenced website where I found a recipe for boudin. For those of you not accustomed to a part of the world where “eaux” is tacked to the backside of a great number of words, let me explain.
Boudin is whatever protein can be scavenged, stewed in spices until it gives up any hint of what it used to be, and then mixed with rice, other vegetables, and stuffed into hog casings. And when I say any protein, I mean any protein.
Thanks to the long brining and stewing periods, even the gamiest pieces of muscle can be relieved of their particular “stank” to be replaced with aromatic and sometimes spicy notes. Any toughness is promptly dealt with by the blades of the grinder. Its the perfect solution to a very real world problem. Namely, having to feed more than one person with a small amount of protein. Like most of the foods I love (brisket and collard greens come to mind), boudin is what happens when resources are limited and ingenuity is needed.
With that in mind, I found myself shuttling bowls of meat back and forth from the sink over the next few days as I exchanged bloody water in favor of clean brine. On one of those trips, I caught my toe on the threshold from the kitchen to the garage, where my “game” refrigerator hums away. That stumble nearly sent a bowl of rabbit meat flying onto the hood of my wife’s car. That was terrifying for a few reasons. The first of course is that my wife has never dealt with me throwing rabbit meat on her car, and I’m unsure of her response. The second, and much more serious concern, is that the meat from an old Jack isn’t easily replaceable. I’d have to drive two hours outside of town, wait until it got dark, walk or drive around with a spotlight, find a Jack, and hope that the thousands of hours and rounds I expended practicing would allow me to make a clean kill.
I could certainly make boudin from store bought chicken, and I imagine the result would be similar, albeit less stressful. Using wild game, though, is a great way to reconnect with my inner hunter/gatherer who might have only been able to bring home one rabbit’s worth of meat during the course of a week’s worth of hunting. I find the added pressure to be a welcome change of pace. Five days later, the buck’s liver had finally stopped giving up blood, and I was ready to get cooking.
After two and a half hours of gently simmering, I had solids and I had liquids. The solids went into a dish to chill while the liquid was measured out and used to cook up four cups of rice. Hank’s recipe called for reserving the liquid for later flavoring, but it seemed far too potent to do anything but get soaked into some long grain rice. This is where I should have done a bit more thinking as Hank’s recipe calls for a pretty good amount of salt. That’s fine if you’re using the liquid sparingly to add a bit of moisture for the final product. Not so great if the whole lot of it gets absorbed in the rice. Boudin 2.0 will omit most of the salt from Hank’s original recipe.
Once the rice was cooked, I ran the solids through the coarse disk of my grinder, and chopped up some green onions and parsley. I pushed up my sleeves and dug in, mixing the whole thing by hand for the better part of ten minutes, adding water along the way as it started to get sticky.
While I did a bit of interim cleanup in the interest of maintaining harmony in my marriage, I checked my watch and was shocked to find that I was nearly four hours deep in the boudin-making process. Given that I’d promised some Cajun candy to a coworker the next day, I got to stuffing. Before long I had cranked out nearly two dozen of the links you see at the top of this piece.
Part of Hank’s recipe included a breakdown on weighing and measuring the meat and spices. I ended up with three pounds of rabbit meat which required a pound of deer liver, and a pound of pork fat (I used bacon). In addition to this, several stalks of celery, a whole onion, and a mess of jalapeños from my garden gave their lives for the cause.
The sum total for all this cost me less than $10 and easily fed a couple of coworkers, provided appetizers for sixteen people at Thanksgiving, and will provide still more appetizers for a friendly New Year’s gathering in a month. All in all, I estimate that nearly thirty people will end up sharing in Richard’s kills from the second week of November.
Boudin is a great reminder that there won’t always be plenty, but being poor doesn’t have to taste poor. We’re quite blessed that my wife and I have great jobs that allow us to buy what we want at the grocery store, but it’s very easy to start seeing meat as nothing more than cellophane-wrapped pink globs occasionally on sale for a $0.99 a pound. Harvesting my own food is a novelty for me at this point in my life, but it comes with it a great deal of responsibility.
I’m the one who spotted that buck first. I am not the one who squeezed the trigger. But I am the one who sat on my heels, hand on his side, silently praying, as that buck took his last breaths, his eyes quickly clouding over and becoming unresponsive while his blood pooled in the leaves around his neck. I am the one who slipped his still hot liver from his belly, and got it quickly on ice.
I am the one who spotted that old Jack. I am the one who carefully removed the hide from his body, and the meat from his bones. I am the one who spent hours simmering, grinding, mixing, and stuffing. Because of that, I am the one who smiled most as links of steaming boudin came off the grill spilling rice, rabbit, and deer from inside its split casings on Thanksgiving day.