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What seemingly looks like a simple pork sandwich is described best by the name of the restaurant that made it famous, “Love at First Bite.” It has become the most popular bite at the New Orleans Jazzfest where I had my first experience with the Cochon du Lait. The sandwich is a fairly new phenomenon, but the Cochon du Lait is a Cajun tradition that dates back to when the first Acadians made their way to the Louisiana swamps and marshes. Translated into English, it means “Milk of the Pig.” The Cajuns don’t always make it into a sandwich or rarely make it from pork butts, rather, they slowly roast and smoke the whole hog over an open pit until it is undeniably tender. The French Cajuns way of saying really tender and juicy or creamy is lait or milk.
So back to the sandwich. It’s good, so good that the music line-up at the Jazzfest is secondary to linking up with that loving bite. A whole year would pass between these experiences until I decided to make them myself. I’ve had a few imitators, but they were just that, imitators. They failed to do things right. They made them in ovens or crock pots and added liquid smoke to get the effect, yuck! Double Yuck!! The components seem simple, but simplicity often lies in the details and they missed the mark.
The sandwich is essentially pulled pork, a Creole mayonnaise, a tangy slaw and French bread. A lot of you out there can smoke a butt, so you’ll do fine, but making all the other elements requires the right ingredients, especially the bread. Poboys or sandwiches in New Orleans are always judged by the bread. Leidenheimer’s, Zip and Binder seem to be the gold standard. Luckily, most good grocery stores and bakeries make decent French bread, so you should be OK. Look for a crusty but not hard exterior and a soft inside. I serve mine with a Southern style potato salad and Zapp’s Potato Chips. Your favorite potato salad and kettle chips will do.
Smoking pork in Louisiana is usually done with pecan wood, so if you can get it, use it. Otherwise, use what you like or what is local. Now enough talking, let’s do this.