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March 10, 2009

Real Cajun with NOLA Chef Donald Link

Cajun
Chef Donald Link's Real Cajun,
due out April 21.

by Mollie Chen

New Orleans chef Donald Link has been busy these past months. When I met with Link back in December, he was finalizing the details of a wine bar and shop, and the space was still a mess of exposed ductwork and raw concrete. How quickly things change: Cochon Butcher has been open for just a couple of months, but it's already a huge success. The tidy little restaurant has a handful of stools for snacking and sipping, plus a retail counter stocked with house-made charcuterie, specialty products, and baked sweets. Our fantastic intern Katherine Kims was down south recently, and she came back from NOLA raving about Link's ultra-fatty pressed duck pastrami sandwich and his salty-sweet bacon praline. The chef also just finished his first cookbook, Real Cajun. We've got a sneak peek at the book, due out April 21, with one of Link's own favorite recipes. Check it out after the jump.

Lake Charles Dirty Rice
Serves 6 to 8
This recipe appears at just about every occasion in Cajun Country. Whether it's a holiday, funeral, family reunion, or potluck dinner, you can bet there will be at least one form of dirty rice or rice dressing. At the Link family reunion in Robert's Cove, I counted six different versions, all different. The essential ingredients are few, but flavor and texture vary greatly. The main difference between dirty rice and rice dressing is that rice dressing is generally made with ground beef or pork, whereas dirty rice is made with pork and chicken livers. Many people think they don't like liver, but when it's balanced with other flavors, the liver taste is not overpowering. I've served this deeply flavored rice to many people who claim they hate liver, only to have them love it.

2 tablespoons canola oil
4 ounces ground pork
½ cup chicken livers (about 4 ounces), pureed
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder
1½ cups chicken broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño  pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 cups Perfect Steamed Rice (page 36) or other cooked rice
½ bunch scallions (white and green parts), chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the pork and chicken livers and cook, stirring, until browned. Add the salt, black pepper, and chili powder and stir often, but resist the impulse to stir constantly: You want the meat to stick to the pan and get crusty. Add ½ cup of the chicken broth and cook until it has evaporated, allowing the meat mixture to get browned and crusty and stick to the pan once again. Add the onion, celery, garlic, jalapeño, and oregano and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are nicely browned and crusty and beginning to stick to the pan. Add the rice, the remaining 1½ cups broth, the scallions, and parsley. Stir until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is heated through.

Note: When making dishes that involve rice, remember that your flavor base will seem overly seasoned until the rice absorbs the flavors. In Cajun cooking, salt is the most crucial ingredient to get right, so you'll want to taste the dish after the rice cooks and adjust accordingly.

Comments

I am cooking my way through this book, and the dirty rice was the first recipe I tried. Everything I have made is excellent -- you cannot go wrong! Mr. Link is a master at seasoning, and it all comes out tasting just perfect. I would encourage anyone to buy this book -- I gave away five at Christmas after getting mine from him at a farmer's market last summer! Kudos, Donald Link

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