Sausage City: Butcher & Larder's New Orleans Boudin Blanc
The front windows of Butcher and Larder are always steamed up, which is a welcoming sign as you walk by their storefront on Milwaukee Avenue. It means that serious cooking is going on inside. When you open the door and walk into the space—spare, white, with high ceilings—the centerpiece of the room is a massive wood butcher block table, the staging area for everything they make and sell in the shop. You can usually find owner Rob Levitt or another butcher trimming a side of beef, sawing ribeyes, or preparing ingredients for one of the daily sausages. It's all front, center, and on display.
To put it simply, this is not the kind of shop trying to hide the reality of being a carnivore. It reminds me of the cover of The River Cottage Meat Book by British writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, which has a giant slab of meat on the cover. At first it's off putting. And then you think If you're going to eat meat, you might as well confront it head on. And when that meat is humanely raised and of high quality, what is there to be ashamed of?
In fact, as Chicago's first all whole-animal butcher shop, some serious cooking is going on in the shop, including plenty of sausage making. On a recent visit I was told the story of how they make their boudin blanc—a New Orleans specialty which was in demand this past weekend due to Mardi Gras. Rob starts with cuts of pork from all over the animal (perhaps bits of shoulder, spare ribs, or neck) and braises them down with the "holy trinity" of creole cooking: onions, celery, and green peppers. A bit of cayenne or jalapeño is added for spice, and then the meat is separated from the bones and the whole mixture is ground together with rice and raw pork liver before being stuffed into casings. After they sold me the sausage, I received careful cooking instructions: bring it to a boil in a pot, turn off the heat, and let it sit for 15 minutes to gently poach to doneness.
Boudin blanc is an example of the kind of unique, handmade product you might stumble upon at Butcher & Larder. And though the Boudin is a special occasion kind of sausage not always available, every one of Butcher & Larder's sausages show not only Rob's devotion to quality ingredients, but also his inventiveness as the former chef of Mado, one of Chicago's early restaurants that ran a whole-animal butchery program in house.
The array of other sausages available when I visited were the house Italian sausage, a spicy "atomic" sausage, a link of toulouse (the sausage commonly found in authentic cassoulet), and two breakfast sausage patties. I left with at least one of each.
The Butcher & Larder
1026 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642 (map)