Restaurant Reviews

Diner's Notebook

For full-fledged members of the brotherhood and sisterhood of boudin, no trip is too long if, at its end, can be found authentic examples of the legendary Cajun pork-and-rice sausage. That's why some don't think twice about traveling through the piny woods and across the border into Louisiana to find the good stuff. But the journey is unnecessary; great boudin is available right here in the Bayou City.

Long a secret of the boudin underground, the sausage made daily at Jim's Market in southeast Houston is considered by boudin connoisseurs to be the city's finest, and the equal of most anything to be found in those areas where the Napoleonic Code still holds sway. The source of this boudin beneficence is the market's butcher, Johnny Washington, a native of Alexandria, Louisiana, who has been making and selling his boudin literally by the ton for the past 18 years.

It was Washington's grandmother who taught him the secrets of good sausage, though Washington admits that since coming to Houston he's changed the family recipe a bit. Not that he's ready to reveal any secrets. "I have my own recipe that don't anybody know about," he says cryptically.

Still, you don't have to know how to make it to have a good idea of how to enjoy it. Washington's boudin is dense and flavorful, packed with rice, ground pork butt, fresh parsley, onion, garlic and four different kinds of pepper. Stuffed into natural pork casings that Washington describes as a little more expensive but "tender to the bite," the sausage comes in two speeds: mild and hot, the latter being colored reddish orange from the abundance of hot pepper.

Located four blocks east of Cullen Boulevard on Yellowstone, Jim's Market sits in a desperately poor but still lively neighborhood. Customers, though, come from all over Houston as well as from out of town to buy Washington's packets of spiced pork. Roadside vendors purchase it in bulk to sell from their trucks in San Antonio, Austin and Corpus Christi, and it's shipped as far away as Tennessee and California. It can also be found served in local soul food and barbecue restaurants, perhaps most notably at Martha's Kitchen at 322 South Jensen Drive, where the sausage is served smoked.

The large, heavy links of boudin sell for $1.99 a pound and are meals in themselves; already cooked, they require only heating in a microwave or oven. Washington warns against warming the sausage in water. "It ruins it," he says. Jim's Market will also sell you the sausage heated and ready to eat, though you'd better not dawdle in getting there: by early afternoon, the day's supply of boudin is generally all gone.

-- Susan Chadwick

Jim's Market, 4703 Yellowstone, 748-3475.

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Susan Chadwick