Love From the Big Easy in the Learning Center

At a recent class in our Learning Center, Instructor Clarina Cravins brought her cultural background to the foreground with a class devoted to classics from New Orleans (or, N’awlins, if you prefer)!  Students enjoyed much-too-addictive pork cracklins, kept their energy up with rich chickory coffee from the famous Café du Monde, experienced a traditional and very hands-on crawfish boil, and when their stomachs permitted, savored the fluffy and sweet delights called beignets.

First, we talked about pork cracklins, which if you don’t know is an amazing snack unique to the South and could be described like pork confit (pork meat cooked in pork fat).  Clarina cut up the pork belly into cubes and then fried them in lard with a little water, acknowledging that while it may seem simple to do, it’s actually a delicate procedure which should always be performed outside.  We mean that; cracklins get their name from the fat popping in the hot lard, and if they pop too aggressively or you have too much lard in the pot, you’re setting yourself up for a serious fire hazard.

We happily (and safely) made a few batches of these treats, and once the pieces of pork belly were nice and fried, they were transferred to paper bags and tossed with a special blend of Cajun spices.  And then, as you might imagine, they were devoured.  Quickly.

While the cracklins were finishing up, we moved on to the crawfish boil, which was the real star of the evening.  Each team got to make their own huge pot full of crawfish, sausage, potatoes, and corn flavored not only with the Trinity blend (celery, onions, and bell peppers) but also with Old Bay seasoning and hot sauce to boot!  Wrangling the crawfish- which were caught fresh that morning in Louisiana- was interactive to say the least and required constant attention lest they get the idea to fly the coop, as it were.  (Which, as a matter of fact, one did- right into Clarina’s glass of drinking water!)  Good thing we all had plenty of strong chickory coffee to keep us alert.

Once the crawfish were divided and the vegetables were prepped, they all went into the pots to begin the “boil” portion of the crawfish boil.

And what is a crawfish boil without a long table to pour it all out onto once it’s done?  (Well, it’s totally possible and a fine way to approach this dish if you don’t want to make a mess, but we wanted to keep it traditional.)  Each group brought their pots over to the table, scooped out their piping hot and perfectly-seasoned crawfish and veggies, and sat down together to enjoy the results of their hard work.  Boils in the South are equal parts social and eating; they are just as much about community as they are about food, and we just love that.

So the students sat together and ate away, polishing off large portions of their crawfish and even finding room for a few beignets, classic pillow-y raised doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar made by Erin, the Learning Center Assistant.

It was a little taste of New Orleans right here in Burlington, Vermont, and we certainly felt the love.