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02.16.10

What to Eat: Mardi Gras

Beads and booze are just a small part of New Orleans’ biggest celebration, which also boasts some truly outstanding regional cuisine.

Seafood Jambalaya
by Ti Adelaide Martin and Jamie Shannon

The dynamic duo behind one of New Orleans’ most famous dining destinations offers the ultimate jambalaya recipe.

There are many stories about the origins of the name of this classic Creole-Cajun dish. Some linguists say it comes from the combination of the French words for “ham,” “jambon,” the article meaning “in the style of,” “à la,” and “ya,” a West African word for rice: jamb-à la-ya. Others believe that the name comes from the combination of Spanish words for ham, “jamon,” and paella, a similar seafood-and-rice dish from that country. Still others rely on the folk tale set in an old New Orleans inn, where the inn’s owner instructed his cook, Jean, to throw some food together for a late-night traveler—“balayez” in the local dialect—saying, “Jean, balayez!” Whatever the true source, there are few foods as emblematic of Creole-Cajun cooking as this shrimp, meat, and rice stew.

Click here for the recipe.

what-to-eat---chicken-gumbo
Joseph DeLeo

Chicken Gumbo
by David Waltuck

A James Beard award winner shares the perfect way to prepare this savory and satisfying stew.

The primary difference between gumbo and jambalaya is rice: Gumbo is stew served over rice, while jambalaya is stew cooked with rice. Though this distinction may seem minor to those not from Louisiana, to those from Louisiana it is immense. Made thick with a roux or served soupy, the base of this dish is always the Holy Trinity of Creole-Cajun cooking: onion, green bell pepper, and celery. Gumbo also features filé powder, sometimes called gumbo filé, made of dried and ground sassafras leaves, which adds a distinctly smoky flavor—and can serve as a thickening agent when okra is unavailable.

Click here for the recipe.

what-to-eat---etouffe
Joseph DeLeo

Crawfish (or Shrimp) Etouffée
by Paul Prudhomme

A man born in the bayou shares a dish perfect for celebrating Mardi Gras and perfect for the snowy weather.

Jambalaya can have sausage, chicken, shrimp, or duck, tomatoes or no tomatoes; gumbo can be thick or thin or dark or light. These variations are not quite so acceptable in étouffée. The base is always a brown roux, which chef Paul Prudhomme makes with vegetable oil rather than butter so that the roux can get very dark. (The dark roux is what gives this dish its reddish color.) Crawfish is the protein here, though for those making this outside Louisiana, shrimp or crab are acceptable substitutes. The fat held in crawfish heads is a valuable addition to this stew, though, and adds a lot of flavor. “Etouffée” means smothered, which is how this dish should be served: smothering the rice underneath it.

Click here for the recipe.

what-to-eat---beignets
Joseph DeLeo

Beignets
by Tom Fitzmorris

A lifelong New Orleanean teaches non-natives how to do this unforgettable dessert like they do it in Crescent City.

Who can resist fried dough? Especially beignets, which are the New Orleans cousins of Italian zeppoli, Spanish churros, and state fair funnel cake. Fried to a golden brown and covered in confectioners’ sugar, these are doughy and light, yeasty and sweet, and fantastically delicious. Served with a café au lait, this is the perfect snack for breakfast, brunch, midafternoon, at midnight… basically any time.

Click here for the recipe.

what-to-eat---sazerac
Joseph DeLeo

Sazerac
by Christopher Idone

Cheers to at-home chefs’ success at preparing a delicious Mardi Gras meal with this quintessential cocktail.

Invented in pre-Civil War New Orleans at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel, the Sazerac is one of the most classic of all American cocktails. Based originally on a blend of cognac, absinthe, Peychaud bitters, and sugar, Sazerac now commonly contains rye or bourbon in place of the cognac and Herbsaint of Pernod in place of the absinthe. Served in an old fashioned glass with a lemon peel garnish, many believe the Sazerac to be one of New Orleans’ most emblematic culinary treats. And the state of Louisiana agrees: In 2008, the drink became the official cocktail of New Orleans.

Click here for the recipe.

Click here for more Mardi Gras recipes from Cookstr.com.

Plus: Check out Hungry Beast, for more news on the latest restaurants, hot chefs, and tasty recipes.