Mardi Gras: A Delicious Party!
What celebration says "party" more than Mardi Gras? Whether or not you can make it to New Orleans' French Quarter for the floats and festivities, you can still celebrate the occasion with authentic Mardi Gras music, decorations, and -- most importantly -- food!
Mardi Gras Time
Actually a days-long celebration, the Mardi Gras Carnival starts on Twelfth Night (January 6, the feast of Epiphany) and continues until midnight on the day of Mardi Gras. The date of Mardi Gras -- celebrated with formal balls, processions, masks, throwing of beads and coin-like trinkets known as doubloons, and general hoopla -- changes each year, depending on the date of Easter. The day before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), Mardi Gras (or "Fat Tuesday) can happen any time between February 3 and March 9. This year it is on March 4.
Planning a Mardi Gras celebration is half the fun. Decorate with abandon, using beads, masks, and traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple (representing justice), green (for faith) and gold (for power). Turn on some tunes from the Bayou State, choosing from a rich musical heritage of zydeco, jazz, gospel, blues/soul and Cajun.
Plan to serve traditional Mardi Gras drinks and treats, or even a full, informal meal, complete with desserts.
Mardi Gras Food
Traditional Mardi Gras food draws on local Cajun and Creole cuisine. While these overlap, there are some distinct differences. Cajun food grows out of a strong country food heritage, from the "acadiens" (descendants of French refugees from Acadia, Canada) who lived off the land and its abundant supply of fish, shellfish, and wild game.
Many Cajun dishes are one-pot comfort meals. Creole cookery, on the other hand, descends from the rather wealthy 18th-century farmers of European descent and draws on classic French cooking, Spanish spices, and African American staples.
All of which is to say that Louisiana food is truly a melting pot of flavors -- extremely flavorful but not too spicy hot. Cooks tend to use what's on hand, and it's often crab, shrimp, catfish, redfish, oysters, sausage, rabbit, chicken, smoked beef (tass) and crawfish. Okra, filé powder (ground sassafras), and various spices often make it into the mix, too.
Here are some suggestions for authentic Mardi Gras fare:
* Bisque -- This rich soup is traditionally made with seafood (such as crab, shrimp, oyster) and cream, wine or sherry, and an occasional vegetable and/or chicken meat.
* Etouffee -- Thicker than gumbo, etouffee typically includes crawfish, crabmeat, shrimp and/or chicken, onions, green peppers, and celery in a tangy tomato sauce. It's often served over rice.
* Gumbo -- This spicy stew of meat or shellfish is served by both Creole and Cajun cooks. Cajun cooks start with a dark roux (a sauce base made from butter or oil and flour that's darkened by cooking over high heat), spices, and shellfish or poultry, while Creole cooks combine shellfish, tomatoes, and a thickener such as okra or filé powder (dried sassafras leaves). Always hearty, gumbo often includes sausage or ham. There's also a meatless gumbo made from greens; it's thickened with a roux and served with rice.
* Jambalaya -- Similar to Spanish paella, jambalaya comes from the Spanish "jamon," or ham. Cajun and Creole cooks make it from what's on hand -- a mixture of meats (ham, chicken, sausage, pork) and/or seafood (oysters and shrimp), rice, and seasonings. The vegetables and meats are cooked, then the rice is added to the broth and the flavors meld as the rice cooks.
* Louisiana Dirty Rice -- This Cajun dish is economical and delicious. Chopped chicken livers give the rice its "dirty" appearance, but ground beef or pork might also be included. The dish typically also includes the "holy trinity" of bell pepper, onion, and celery.
* Muffuletta Sandwich-- Served on a dense, round, crusty Italian bread sprinkled with sesame seeds, this hero sandwich is often filled with salami, ham, provolone and Emmentaler cheeses, and olive salad, slathered with mustard. Muffulettas can also be made with smoked turkey or other meat or poultry.
* Po'Boy -- A poor boy is a sub sandwich traditionally made with fried meat or fish. It's served on a baguette or soft roll along with veggies such as caramelized onions, greens, and tomatoes, as well as cheeses, pepper sauce, Cajun seasoning, dressings and/or mayo and mustard.
* Red Beans and Rice -- A Creole favorite, red beans and rice can be served with or without andouille sausage or smoked turkey sausage. Red kidney beans are traditional, with onions, garlic, chili peppers, celery, thyme, oregano, marjoram, Tabasco sauce, and ham shank for added flavor. Serve the beans over the rice, with a sprinkling of green onion on top.
There are many, many more traditional Louisiana foods! Look online or in cookbooks for authentic recipes, and stop by FBFC for inspiration and fresh ingredients. And Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez! -- Let the fun begin!
•1 yellow onion, diced
•1 bell pepper, diced
•3 celery stalks, diced
•3 garlic cloves, minced
•1 pound chicken breast (cut into bite-sized pieces
•4 tablespoons butter
•4 tablespoons oil
•1/2 cup all-purpose flour
•2 cups chicken stock
•2 tablespoons tomato paste
•1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
•1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
•1 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder
•Salt and pepper to taste
•Hot sauce to taste
In a large stockpot, heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken pieces evenly on all sides (about 10 minutes), then remove from the pot and set aside. To the same pot, add the onions, peppers, celery, and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the remaining oil and butter and let melt, then slowly stir in the flour to make a roux. Continue stirring for about 10 minutes until the roux starts to brown. Add the spices, tomato paste, chicken stock, and browned chicken. Stir well and season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes until the etouffee is thickened.
Vegetarian option: substitute veggie broth for chicken stock and add baked tofu or seitan instead of chicken once the vegetables are cooked and sauce is thickened. Do not overcook the tofu/seitan!
Serve in a shallow bowl or plate with a scoop of hot rice and a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs. Spicy jalapeno cornbread or buttermilk biscuits are perfect for sopping up every last bit of sauce.