First and foremost, I love New Orleans. The food, the culture, the food, the rich history, the people, did I mention the food? Cajun, creole, Southern…call it what you will, the food is damn good in the part of the country. Access to affordable, fresh seafood certainly helps. But it’s really the history that makes the current cuisine in New Orleans some of the best in the country. It’s the background of cooking with the little you have, making some of the less-than-choice cuts of meat desirable by cooking for hours, seasoning just right, and really getting by with what you have; which was very little in this part of the country for longer than most would care to remember.
However this, all of this, is adding to the immensely rich food culture that is brewing in the Big Easy today. Sure, you’ll likely hit Johnny’s, Parkway, or Domilise’s for a po’ boy; and someone will certainly talk you into going to Galatoire’s or Antoine’s for historical sake; and if you’re lucky you’ll sneak uptown for actually good old school food at Commander’s Palace or a trendy Magazine Street place; and all of this is fine and well. But if you leave, if you get on a plane, in a car, or mount a horse, without going to Cochon, you will never really know what painstakingly long time, care, and attention to detail, while preserving the historical significance of New Orleans food and the history of this type of cooking really is, unless you go to Cochon. Oh, and did I mention the food is just really that damn good? No? Well it is.
Opened in 2007 by Chef Donald Link and business partner Chef Stephen Stryjewski, the pair serve traditional Cajun Southern dishes using locally sourced pork, fresh produce and seafood, focusing on traditional methods, creating authentic flavors of Cajun country. Oh, and no big deal, but in 2007, Chef Link earned a James Beard award for Best Chef South, and in the same year, Cochon was nominated for Best New Restaurant. And this year, the James Beard Foundation again nominated Chef Link for the prestigious award of Outstanding Chef. Lot’s of chefs have awards and even Michelin stars, but at Cochon, you can order, from the menu, boiled peanuts for $5 and there isn’t a dish above $26. Why? Because the food is that damn good and these guys are that damn serious about serving quality product each and every night.
Tucked in a very non-pretentious part of town, in a old warehouse off Tchoupitoulas (pronounced chop-i-tu-los) Street is Cochon. The interior is rustic, comforting, and lends itself to a vibrant atmosphere with a lively crowd having fun and enjoying the amazing food. The menus is split into small plates (appetizers essentially), soups/salads, boucherie, entrees (all cooked or finished in a wood burning oven), sides, and I think a dessert menu (I’m a double the pork chop, I’ll pass on pie guy myself, so can’t be sure about this, apologies).
To start, get the perfectly crispy fried chicken livers that you’ll spread on toast points and top with a sweet/pepper jelly. Or fried alligator (pictured) with a chili garlic dipping sauce. Perfectly crispy and hot, the fresh white meat tastes similar to chicken and is a perfect snack over an Abita.
I am torn as I write this because I certainly do not want to hyper inflate the demand for these, but alas I must share. Not listed on the menu are fresh, deep fried pork cracklin’s, pork skins, fat back, whatever you want to call them. They come in a paper cone (pictured) and are amazing. That crap you buy at the gas station in a plastic bag don’t come close. Imagine a thick cut wedge french fry, but instead of a potato, it’s bacon, and the outer layer is as crispy and crunchy as it can be and the fatty meat layer is thick, salty, and intensely porky. I think I just blacked out typing that…
For dinner, their namesake is a must for first timers. The “cochon” is a perfectly tender slow cooked piece of pork, I assume shoulder meat, on a bed of cabbage, turnips, a thick, savory sauce and topped with that pork-crack (or fat back) I mentioned above. On my most recent trip there I ordered the rabbit and dumplings (pictured). Think of tender roasted rabbit with roasted carrots, onions, potatoes, swimming in a sauce made from the liquid they were cooked in, all in a cast iron skillet. Then imagine plopping dollops of biscuit dough ontop of that mixture and sliding it in that wood burning oven until they rise to form dumplings semi-submerged in the dish. I know, you need to change your pants. It’s ok.
I don’t know the chefs personally, I don’t advertise I have this site, I never ask to get a recipe, or go in the kitchen, so sometimes I’m not 100% (like was the cochon made with pork shoulder, just a guess), but if they’re reading this, you guys seriously kick major culinary ass and I cannot wait to eat there again. May you be blessed with a never ending bag of cracklin’s and extra fatty pork chops for eternity.
Where: Cochon Restaurant, 930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130. Online.