The food at the New Orleans Jazz Fest doesn’t change much from year to year. For 2016 there are only two new dishes – a pecan square with bacon at Congo Square and a strawberry and yogurt trifle by the Kids Stage.
But it turns out new dishes aren’t the only way to try something different at Jazz Fest.
This year, I’ve been revisiting old favorites around the Fair Grounds and I’ve also been combining them for my own mash up noshes.
Some have proven delicious, others ill-advised. The field trials continue.
For the first batch, I started simple by adding one game-changing ingredient: cracklin’.
Cochon de cracklin’
Someone, some time ago put the idea in my head: a cochon de lait po-boy topped with cracklin’. The cochon de lait is one of the top dishes at Jazz Fest, and it’s a personal favorite. Could cracklin’ make pork perfection better? I can’t remember just who hatched this idea, or when. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed inevitable I would try it, and the precedent is certainly there. Chef Frank Brigtsen tops his definitive cochon de lait at his Brigtsen’s Restaurant with cracklin’, and that dish is platonic.
The po-boy version, I’m here to say, is obscenely good. The cracklin’ comes from Fatty’s over at Food Area II; the cochon de lait is from Love at First Bite at Food Area I (just look for the longest line). Together, the cracklin’ adds an intense, audible crunch to the creamy crunch of the po-boy’s slaw, and brings a dense meaty savor to the tender strands of cochon de lait.
Plus, it just looks audaciously good. It’s a conversation piece until the last bite is gone. And then it weighs on the stomach like a cast iron skillet. Should you try this combo, split it with a friend or else plan on retiring to the Grand Stand for a nap afterward.
Tasso and cracklin’
In theory, the cracklin’ can garnish just about any dish out here. But for further exploration, I chose another dish that shares its roots at the boucherie, the communal hog slaughtering tradition in Acadiana that brought us so many Cajun butcher shop staples.
So, from cochon de lait with cracklin’, next up was tasso with cracklin’, courtesy of the chicken and tasso with Creole rice from TJ Gourmet, located right around the corner from Fatty’s cracklin’ stand in Food Area II.
Tasso, the smoky, strongly-seasoned Cajun ham, is ordinarily the star of this dish, soaking in a peppery, ruddy-red rustic sauce. Add cracklin’ over the top and it quickly softens in the sauce, adding a crust of salty savor that seems to belong there all along.
A bid too far
After two trials, and two successes, and I began to think cracklin’ could do no wrong. This is a seductive but dangerous notion, and I took things too far.
Someone mentioned their admiration for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a plain, no-fuss $3 snack at the Kids Area. Peanut butter and bacon go together. Why not peanut butter and cracklin’? But no. Loaded up the cracklin’, the white bread fell apart, and the cracklin’ maintained its rigidity. It was a mess, and not a glorious mess. Just a disintegrating bread mess.
But, the Kids Area visit did reveal another food area cross-over combination that was highly successful, which I’ll share in our next update. The quest continues.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.