Andouille Sausage and Its Breton Connection to Cajun Country, USA
I did not come to Brittany to draw connections back to the foods of the United States, but it was inevitable this week when I inadvertently realized that I was in the land of andouille sausage, my favorite sausage back home, with its porky, spicy, smoked flavor. When our train pulled into Auray in the Gulf of Morbihan region of Brittany, I found out quickly enough that we were close to the two homes of andouille sausage in France: Guemene-sur-Scorff, in Brittany, and Vire, in Normandy.
Louisiana and New Orleans food is indebted to the French, including the luscious roux that define all manner of distinctive Cajun and Creole dishes, from gumbo to étouffée. And without andouille sausage, gumbos would suffer, as would any number of family recipes for Monday red beans and rice, including mine.
It’s strange how you know something but then, don’t really know it--or pause to think consciously of it. That’s certainly the case for me when it comes to Brittany’s role, rather than just a general French role, in Louisiana cuisine. So, I paused this week to explore the Brittany-Cajun connection more deliberately.
“Cajun” comes from “Acadian,” and Acadians were descendants of colonists who attempted to eek out a living farming and fishing in the New France colony of Acadia, an area that included the present-day Maritime Provinces of Canada and Maine in the United States. Acadians were known for their ability to turn unforgiving marshland into prosperous fields in the Bay of Fundy, and they were likewise excellent with animal husbandry. Christopher Hodson in The Acadian Diaspora notes that both Great Britain and France recognized these people’s talents--and wished to secure Acadian labour--a part of the story that I had never considered.
Instead, many of us simply know the story of Le Grand Dérangement (1755–1764). When the British won the Seven Years War (1754 to 1763), they were suspicious of the Acadians’ loyalty to France, and in a brutal move, began forcing thousands of them off their land in 1755, often transporting them into forced labour for Anglo-American settlements from Boston to Savannah.
While some Acadians escaped from Nova Scotia to L'isle Saint-Jean (present-day Prince Edward Island), the British captured it as well, and many of them were transported to Northern France, including Boulogne-sur-Mer, near Calais, and Belle-Île in the Bay of Morbihan, the largest of Brittany’s islands (itself briefly under British control).
The fact of it remained that the Acadians were skilled when it came to working the land and making it supply food, shelter, and clothing, and my guess is that regardless of where they were forced to settle, Acadians used their knowledge to make even the most discarded parts of a pig taste good, down to the chitterlings and the stomach lining. Spice and know-how play a large part in making Andouille taste good, after all, not to mention the all-important smoke which along with salt preserves the meat.
Many Acadians refused to remain in Brittany and Normandy, however. In 1785, Oliveir Thériault persuaded some 1600-2000 of them to move to Louisiana to join kin who had already settled there. Spanish ships carried the Acadians to Louisiana because Spain at that time controlled the area. The Acadians brought with them their culinary tastes and techniques.
It appears that most Acadians, when they arrived in Louisiana, were not allowed to settle among their kin in the western part of the state because the Spanish required Acadian farming talent along the less hospitable Mississippi River. The Spanish also wanted to use the Acadians as a bulwark to deter British expansion. Rebellions resulted, as was to be expected.
But out of this messy, bloody history, andouille sausage remained integral to survival, and in past centuries, it has become an iconic US food, not only in the Cajun parishes of Louisiana, but throughout the U.S. as a whole. LaPlace, Louisiana, on the Mississippi, is the self-described Andouille Capital of the World, but just about any self-respecting butcher from Seattle to Kansas City to Boston likely stocks andouille, made primarily of rough-ground smoked Boston pork butt and an array of robust herbs and spices.
I can only surmise that this Cajun take on Andouille is the result of the hard-won prosperity of a people who took the know-how and the flavor profiles from their homelands in Northern France, particularly Brittany, and applied it to more expensive cuts off the pig than tripe and chitterlings that to this day define andouille from Brittany and Normandy. And, as is true with all things American, other immigrants, particularly the Germans with their own sausage-making traditions, likewise played a role in the creation of Cajun Andouille.
If I was going to sample Rennes’ galette-saucisse (in Breton, Kaletez gant silzig), then I was indeed going to sample Auray’s galette-andouille, this time from Crêperie saint sauveur. Sitting outside in the dappled sunlight, I had the privilege of peering into the kitchen where I could watch the expert chef pour the buckwheat batter onto her piping hot billig, swirl the batter with her rozelle (a small wooden rake) into a perfect, thin circle, turn the galette, brush it with Breton salted butter, and then lay on the cheese and thin andouille slices before folding it, brushing it with more butter, and garnishing the finished galette with a circle of the andouille and a cheese wafer. Breton andouille is larger than the Cajun version, more like a summer sausage. Its distinctive white curls within are the result of tripe. Oftentimes, it is served cold along with glasses of beer or cider, but in the Morbihan region, it also makes its way into galettes like the one placed in front of me minutes after ordering it.
And so I can now claim to have eaten the best of Louisiana andouille, as well as the best of Brittany andouille. Each version has a rich story to tell, and in both cases, it is important to realize that a people necessarily understand their heritage not only through their written and oral histories, but through foods that endure over centuries to remind them of who they are, and where they have come from.
Blog posts and photos, unless otherwise stated, are the exclusive property of Andrea Broomfield, who must be fully acknowledged if information or photos are borrowed by others.
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