Breakfast in South Louisiana is a celebration of farm-to-table goodness. The farming traditions of the region are rooted in a tough work ethic that is handed down through generations of French Acadian families that harvest the sugarcane, rice, sweet potatoes, soybeans and other significant crops. Early to bed and early to rise is the routine of Cajun and Creole farmers.
In the 1950s and 60s, my wife’s grandfather Clodius Fontenot was a farmer in northern Jeff Davis Parish between Jennings and Hathaway. As was prevalent at the time, he lived on and farmed a piece of land owned by another family in a mutually beneficial exchange. His typical day started an hour before daylight sipping a cup of deep, dark Louisiana coffee as he headed off to the fields. Long about 8am he returned to the house with his farm hands to sit down to a hearty Cajun breakfast prepared by loving hands. Mo Mo Eve mixed up biscuits and sweet dough breakfast pies from scratch and fried up fresh sausages and farm-raised eggs to feed the crew. It was a major production, yet a daily ritual that the hungry men depended on.
Early life in Acadie was a matter of survival and making the most of what you had. Those culinary traditions live on, and over the years breakfast remains an important and culturally significant meal in Acadiana. French traditions at the hands of creative cooks have influenced a number of creative dishes that have become classics such as this one.
My recipe focuses on a savory black iron breakfast dish that launches a spicy pepper punch on top of a smooth custardy foundation. Fresh eggs are plentiful on rural farms of Acadiana, as are preserved peppers and tomatoes that line the shelves of every canning room. Fresh chaurice sausage – a highly seasoned raw sausage – can be found more readily in the rural markets dotting the parishes surrounding Lafayette. I love its unique peppery pork flavor, and buy it whenever I see it. It is perfect for building an added layer of complexity for this spicy breakfast dish. Serve it family-style as a centerpiece for your Acadiana table.
- 14 large eggs
- 1 cup half and half
- 4 (1-inch-thick) slices day-old French bread
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 cup bulk chaurice sausage or any spicy bulk sausage
- 1 cup diced yellow onions
- 2 tablespoon diced green onion tops
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 (10-ounce) can mild diced tomatoes and green chiles, drained, such as Rotel
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- Non-stick spray
- 1 cup (jarred or canned) red and yellow bell pepper slices, drained
- 2 small red tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tablespoon diced fresh jalapeno
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Sprigs of fresh rosemary, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- In a large mixing bowl, crack all the eggs and add the milk. Whisk until fully combined. Add the bread slices and let soak for one hour, making sure they are all fully immersed.
- In a 10-inch black iron skillet over medium heat, add the bulk sausage. Render the fat out of the sausage by sautéing until browned and fully cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage pieces to a platter.
- In the same skillet, add the onions to the remaining fat and sauté the onions until they turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the green onions, garlic, and rosemary, and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the diced tomatoes and green chiles, as well as the hot sauce, and turn off the heat. Pour any excess grease from the skillet. Add the mixture to the platter with the sausage. Rinse the skillet and wipe dry.
- Spray the cast-iron skillet with non-stick spray, place the four slices of bread and pour over the egg mixture. Spoon the vegetables and sausage mixture in and among the egg mixture and bread portions. Lay the sliced peppers and tomatoes randomly throughout the mixture. Sprinkle the cilantro and diced jalapenos around the mixture. Season lightly with salt and black pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the egg is set and the blade of a knife comes out clean.
- For serving, slice the portions of seasoned egg-encrusted bread and place on a plate. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary and serve it like any good Cajun farm family would, with more hot sauce on the side
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