Andouille sausage is a spicy pork product that has its origins in French cuisine, but also has a revered place in Cajun cooking, a culinary style popular in the southern U.S. state of Louisiana. It is typically made from pig intestine stuffed with coarse pork meat and hot chili peppers, though other spices can be added in at the maker’s discretion. The most traditional links are homemade, but the sausage’s worldwide popularity has led to a number of different commercialized versions as well. Different manufacturers tend to have different styles and ingredient lists, which often means that there is some variety when it comes to what, exactly, a link labeled “andouille” contains — though spice and smoky flavor are all but guaranteed.
Modern Production and Additions
Although there are variations, the andouille sausage that is available in most markets today usually contains "mainstream" pieces of pork — meat from the thighs and shoulder, for instance — rather than the internal organs, as was traditional. The sausage may also be made in synthetic casings rather than in the animal’s intestine, which often eliminates the need for a freshly slaughtered pig. It is also common to find products with artificial smoke flavor added in, which gives a more traditional taste without having to invest the time in slow-smoking over a fire.
There tends to be a lot of variation when it comes to what, exactly, this sausage contains in addition to pork. Different cooks and companies have different takes, and experimenting with new additions and additives has become quite popular. Some brands will add cheese, for instance, while others incorporate proprietary blends of spices, herbs, and vegetables like roasted bell peppers or mushrooms. So long as the link is made primarily of pork and has a spicy kick to it, it can usually be sold as “andouille” without complaint.
In the American South, andouille sausage is a key ingredient in gumbo and jambalaya, two Cajun dishes. It is also commonly used in soups, and can also be mixed with beans and rice to create a hearty meal. The sausage is usually best used fresh, but will also freeze well.
When not added to a soup or stew, where it cooks in the liquid of the dish, the sausage can be prepared in a skillet. The cook may want to remove the casing and slice the meat into pieces at an angle before cooking. It can also be chopped or ground up and added to hamburgers, potatoes, stuffing, or grits for a spicy kick.
Despite their global popularity, links are not always readily available in all regions. Cooks who are hoping to make Cajun dishes or who are looking to emulate traditional French fare but cannot find a proper andouille sausage may be able to achieve a similar outcome by using something comparably spicy. Hot Italian sausages sometimes have a similar taste; alternatively, cooks could look for a regular smoked sausage, then add hot peppers on the side to recreate the same basic taste to the meal as a whole.
Cooks in France have been making andouille sausages for centuries, though the first versions were far from the gourmet food items sold in many places today. Early on, this sort of sausage was basically a way for farmers and butchers to make use of every last part of a slaughtered pig. Cooks would simmer parts of the stomach and gastrointestinal system that were otherwise considered “unpalatable” with heavy spices, then stuff them into the intestine to form links.
The links were slow smoked over a fire — usually pine or hickory — then served in soups, stews, or with hearty breads. Most of the time, the spice and smoke disguised the otherwise rough taste of the pig’s internal organs, and often produced a pleasing meal. The process was highly economical and innovative.
Transformations in the United States
Early French settlers who had acquired a taste for the andouille of their homeland brought the tradition to Louisiana when they settled the then-unclaimed territory in the late 1600s. Many of the earliest versions were made in the traditional way, but with locally available ingredients. The peppers were often spicier in Cajun renditions, for instance, and the links were often smoked over sugar cane and pecan wood fires. When pork was scarce, settlers used garlic, peppers, and other ingredients as “filler”; the result was a much more robustly flavored sausage that soon began to take on a character all its own.