Laissez les bons temps rouler! We are officially in Mardi Gras season, and the good times are rolling down in the Big Easy; paraders are marching down the streets of the French Quarter and gumbo is being eaten by the barrel-full. All of that will culminate in a grand bash on the official day of Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, which this year is being celebrated on February 28.
Food has always played a huge role in the celebration of Mardi Gras. In fact, Fat Tuesday is so named because it has traditionally been the last day to stuff yourself full of goodies before the Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday.
You don’t have to live in New Orleans to eat delicious Mardi Gras treats. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite Cajun/Creole delicacies for you to try in your own kitchen. From King Cake to Etouffee, we’ve got you covered with these traditional Mardi Gras staples.
The quintessential New Orleans food, gumbo is a stew that is often made with whatever proteins are readily available: usually in New Orleans that means some kind of seafood, chicken, rabbit, or duck. We’ve steered clear of the rabbit and duck, and found this chicken and andouille sausage recipe from Three Olives Branch that will leave your taste buds playing “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. Of course, the great thing about Gumbo is that, once you have the basics down, you can adjust it to your tastes without messing it up. Want to leave out the okra? Go for it; just add a little extra file powder to help thicken it up. Feel free to experiment, and pretty soon you’ll have your own custom gumbo recipe, that your family will love.
- 1cup all-purpose flour
- 1cup vegetable oil
- 1 bell pepper, finely diced (any color)
- 1l arge yellow onion, finely diced (approx 1 cup)
- 5 stalks celery finely diced
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 2 Tbsp oil (vegetable or olive)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 canstewed or diced tomatoes (28 oz)
- 3 split chicken breasts (bone in)
- 2 smoked sausages
- 8 oz frozen okra
- 2 cartons chicken stock (32 oz each)
- 1/2 Tbsp Cajun seasoning
- 1tsp cayenne pepper
- 1tsp hot sauce
- 1Tbsp gumbo file (a thickening agent made from ground up sassafras leaves)
- Make the roux: Combine the 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of vegetable oil in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for approximately 30 minutes. You want to turn it off when the mixture gets to the color of milk chocolate as it will continue to cook and darken. Ultimately you want it to be a dark chocolate brown color.
- Add 2 Tbsp of vegetable or olive oil to a large pot. Heat over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the oil in the pot and brown on both sides, approximately 5-7 minutes per side. Remove chicken and set aside.
- To the same pot, add the bell pepper, onion, and celery. Cook vegetables for 5 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.
- Add the chicken, still whole, back to the pot as well as the chicken stock. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook until the chicken is cooked through.
- Remove the chicken and add the roux, bay leaves, tomatoes, and seasonings. (Be careful when adding the roux as it may bubble or splatter if it is still hot).
- Pull the chicken off of the bones and shred. Discard the bones and add the chicken back to the pot.
- Slice the sausage into coins and add to the pot. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1.5-2 hours.
- In the last half hour, add the frozen okra.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Serve with rice and/or french bread.
Étouffée is the New Orleans version of smothered shrimp (or other seafood). If gumbo is that recipe that grandma used to labor over for hours, creating dark, deep, rich flavors and focusing intently on every detail, étouffée is more like a quick, delicious meal that you put together after work. Sure, some die-hard purists can spend hours making their own stock from the shrimp shells, but the dish can work out just as well with store bought stock. After all, if it’s good enough for Cajun trailblazer Emeril Lagasse, it’s good enough for us. Here is Emeril’s recipe:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups onions, chopped
- 1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
- 14 1/2 ounces diced tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons Emeril’s Original Essence
- 3 lbs medium shrimp (21-25 count)
- 4 cups vegetable stock (or water)
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup green onion top, thinly sliced
In a 3.5 quart dutch oven (or heavy pan) set over medium heat, melt butter,
Once butter melted, add flour to pot and stir continuously to make a roux,
Stir roux over medium heat until it becomes the color of peanut butter, about 5 minutes.
Add onions, peppers, celery and garlic to roux, cook stirring often for about 10 minutes.
Pour tomatoes into pot and season with bay leaves, salt and 1 tablespoon of Emeril’s Original Essence, Cook tomatoes for 2-3
minutes and then add stock, Use a whisk to briskly incorporate the stock into the roux, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer,
Cook the etouffee stirring occasionally for 45 minutes.
Peel and devein the shrimp – I left tails on. Season the shrimp with the remaining tablespoon of Emeril’s Original Essence and add to the pot, stirring
to evenly distribute shrimp, Cook the shrimp for 5-7 minutes, or until shrimp are cooked through, Add chopped parsley to pot and stir to combine, Serve etouffee with steamed white rice, Garnish with green onion tops.
Fried Oyster Po’Boy
If you’ve never had a Po’ Boy, you don’t know what you’re missing. The classic New Orleans Po’ Boy is constructed from either fried shrimp or oysters, fresh cut lettuce, tomatoes, and a mayo based remoulade. We chose this fried oyster Po’ Boy recipe from Guy Fieri for its deliciously crunchy oysters and spicy remoulade. Not a fan of oysters? No problem, just like the Vietnamese Bahn Mi, Po’ Boys are eminently customizable. In fact, the first Po’ Boys in New Orleans were made with just potatoes and gravy as a cheap meal for laid off construction workers…hence the name and the saying “Give the Po’ Boy a sandwich”.
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce (recommended: Crystal)
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 16 medium-size oysters, shucked, liquid reserved
Breading and Frying:
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 2 tablespoons granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 to 3 teaspoons sea salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
- 1 1/2 cups canola oil
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 4 soft French or hoagie rolls, split
- 3 tablespoons butter, softened
- Miss Dixie’s Remoulade, recipe follows
- 1 1/2 cups shredded romaine lettuce, loosely pack, dark green ends discarded
- 2 to 3 heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1/2 cup thin sliced dill deli-style pickles
Miss Dixie’s Remoulade:
- 2/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup loosely packed Italian flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons Memphis-style BBQ sauce
- 2 tablespoons Creole-style mustard
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
- 2 green onions, ends trimmed, roughly chopped
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 medium Anaheim pepper, roughly chopped
- 1/3 large red bell pepper, seeds removed
- 1/2 stalk celery
For the wet soak: In a nonreactive bowl or gallon re-sealable bag, combine the buttermilk, beaten egg, hot sauce, basil, granulated garlic and white pepper and mix well. Add the oysters and any liquid from shucking. Cover and refrigerate 15 minutes.
For the breading and frying: In a shallow bowl, combine the panko, cornmeal, flour, dried basil, granulated garlic, cayenne, 1 teaspoons salt, pepper and paprika and mix well.
Heat the oil to 350 degrees F in a large cast-iron skillet.
Drain the oysters from the brine and dredge through the breading mixture, pressing gently to adhere. Carefully add to the hot oil in batches, to not crowd, and cook 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and season with the remaining 1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt while hot.
For the sandwiches: Preheat the oven to a low broil. Butter the rolls and place on a baking sheet. Broil until golden, 2 to 3 minutes, and remove from oven.
Spread Miss Dixie’s Remoulade on both sides of the rolls. Layer on the oysters, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. Top with other half of bread and serve immediately.
Miss Dixie’s Remoulade:
In a food processor, add all ingredients and process until smooth, 25 to 35 seconds depending on blender speed. Scrape down sides as needed. Refrigerate until ready to use.
There are many legends surrounding the origin of the King Cake, from human sacrifice to an overzealous salesman, but the general consensus is that this delicious treat is made in homage to the 3 kings from Christianity who visited Jesus after his birth. Since Mardi Gras, and other Carnival type celebrations, are most prominent in Judeo-Christian cultures, this is a logical assumption. Regardless of its provenance, the king cake has come to be the de-facto symbol of Mardi Gras.
The traditional king cake is a sweet Danish type pastry that is braided into a round cake resembling a donut. King cakes can be plain, infused with cinnamon, or filled with any variety of goodies, including cream cheese, jams, or chocolate. Each King cake comes with a small plastic baby doll that is hidden in or under the cake. Tradition has it that the person that gets the baby doll in their slice of cake is the “King” of the party and must host the next party.
King cakes are sold by commercial bakeries in mass during the Mardi Gras season, and they are widely available online to order from places like Haydels. If you’re feeling adventurous, however, you can whip up your own with this recipe from renowned New Orleans Chef John Besh on Epicurious. Just don’t forget the baby doll!
- For the cake:
- 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup melted butter
- 5 egg yolks, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon
- Several gratings of fresh nutmeg
- For the icing:
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars
- 1 fève (fava bean) or plastic baby to hide in the cake after baking
- For the cake, pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
- Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula.
- After the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.
- Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it proof, or rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough between your palms into a long strip, making 3 ropes of equal length. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal. Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.
- Once it’s doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
- For the icing, while the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, condensed milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more condensed milk; if it’s a touch too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.
- Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet. Tuck the fève or plastic baby into the underside of the cake and, using a spatula, slide the cake onto a platter.