With the first bite of this tender Jalapeño Pepper Jack Stuffed Tasso Roast, smoke and spice are the flavors that flood your taste buds, but then the depth of a peppery cheese stuffing and a dark roux-based onion gravy fill you with comfort. This may be my new favorite fall recipe, and I owe it all to T-Boy.
Paul Berzas, alias T-Boy, has created quite a stir in boudin circles. In just the past five years, this mild-mannered Cajun from Mamou, Louisiana, has brought to market one of the most sought after links in all of Acadiana. His brand of A+ rated (source: Boudinlink.com) boudin has placed first in numerous blind-tasting competitions edging out some big names in the business.
To find out how, I decided to go to the source, and during a beautiful fall morning, I jumped in my truck and headed out to find this boudin aficionado. After a couple of stops in Ville Platte, and directions from a local, I drove out Chataignier Road heading southwest toward Mamou. It’s a tricky drive from that direction (easier coming from Eunice to Mamou), but I enjoyed the scenic ride and discovered several new food purveyors along the way. I turned off at Pine Point Road and drove another 5 miles to T-Boy’s located in a simple one-story storefront crowded with cars.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I found was a bustling marketplace of shoppers lined up at the various counters with armloads of meat products and a hankering for a link of boudin or two for the ride home. When I asked if T-Boy was there, I was sent toward the rear of the store behind the meat counter to a back door leading to a woodpile, and what appeared to be the hardest working person in the place.
A meat market is a messy business, and not for the timid. A bevy of butchers, sausage stuffers, and counter personnel were hard at work slicing, sawing, prepping, and packaging, a variety of different meats. While I could see a limited selection of beef products offered, this is pork country and every tail-to-snout cut of the pig is presented for sale in one form or another. Nothing wasted here; I even picked up a bag of smoked bones for stock making.
There was much to learn in this shrine to all things pork, and I had a barrage of questions starting with boudin. T-Boy is a gracious host and welcomed my prodding for more about his operation. He willingly shared his secrets for his award-winning boudin, and he is not shy about saying how proud he is of helping promote the boudin culture of South Louisiana.
When I asked about how he makes his best-selling boudin he ushered me back through the butchering station, down the long wood-stacked hallway, and out a big metal doorway that he opened as he said with a smile, “let’s start at the source.”
According to T-Boy, there are four secrets to his boudin:
- Hogs out the back door. Yes, T-Boy raises his hogs, slaughters, and butchers them for the freshest pork available.
- Spice it up. T-Boy keeps it simple when it comes to his proprietary blend: black and red pepper, and salt. That’s all, and it’s that level of simplicity that is pure genius in letting the flavors of the meat shine through.
- Traditional is best. T-Boy doesn’t take any creative spins with his boudin; his recipe keeps with tradition in a balanced level of pork, liver, rice, and spice.
- Blessings of God. As T-Boy puts it, he feels blessed to bring his products to market and help keep the Cajun boudin culture alive.
But what T-Boy showed me next was a pork revelation–Jalapeño Pepper Jack Stuffed Tasso Roast. In all my travels, I’ve only seen this Cajun specialty done once before. Every sausage maker worth his salt makes his personal brand of pork tasso—chunks of pork shoulder highly seasoned and smoked. But T-Boy trims down his pork shoulder to a small 4-pound roast and gives it an added depth of flavor with the introduction of amped-up spice and meaty flavors before he smokes it. T-Boy is looking for tenderness, and he says it is important to cut his pork so the grain of the meat is running in the same direction; that way, it cooks up fork-tender after slicing. The stuffing is a combination of his raw pork sausage and thick wedges of pepper jack cheese with fresh jalapeño slices. He holds it all together with butcher’s meat netting, or optionally you can tie it together with twine.
Although the tasso roast you buy from T-Boy is smoked, it is only partially cooked and needs to spend considerable time cooking down to fork tender. For my version, I am oven-braising my tasso pork roast in a covered cast-iron pot with an onion gravy. In my book, this pork roast—seasoned, smoked, stuffed and trussed—can only get better with a dark roux-infused onion gravy.
Oh-boy! Thank you, T-Boy.
- 1 (4-pound) pork shoulder roast, trimmed so that the grain runs in the same direction
- ¾ cup Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 pound bulk raw Cajun sausage or Jimmy Dean-style breakfast sausage
- 4 (1-inch long) wedges pepper jack cheese
- 1 large fresh jalapeño, stem and seeds removed and chopped
- 1 tablespoon bacon grease
- 2 large yellow onions, sliced thick
- 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced thick
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 cup sliced smoked pork sausage
- 1 tablespoon dark roux
- Prepare an outdoor smoker and set the temperature to 200ºF.
- Lay the roast on a cutting board and slice open the center lengthwise forming a large pocket (do not cut all the way through). Sprinkle the inside with Cajun seasoning and stuff the pocket with as much of the raw sausage as will fit. Poke the cheese wedges and jalapeño inside the sausage and seal inside. To hold it together, cover the roast with butcher’s netting or tie with twine. Coat the outside of the roast with the rest of the Cajun seasoning. Place in the smoker and smoke for 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- In a black iron pot with a heavy lid over medium-high heat, add the bacon grease. Once hot, add the smoked tasso roast and brown on all sides. Add the onions, carrots, rosemary, and sausage, along with 3 cups of water. Once the water comes to a boil, add the roux. Stir until the roux melts into the cooking liquid, about 5 minutes. Cover the pot and move to the hot oven. Cook for 2 hours.
- Remove the pot and uncover, moving the roast to a deep serving platter. Carve the roast against the grain into thick slices. Remove the stems from the rosemary sprigs, arrange the carrot chunks around the roast, and pour the onion gravy onto the platter. Serve with steamed white rice or mashed potatoes.
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