Mardi Gras Made Easy

Live large with this Fat Tuesday feast, complete with New Orleans's best dishes and libations.



Aside from being New Orleans’s most famous dish, gumbo has long served as a metaphor for the Big Easy’s rich culture, with its heady stew of influences from the Creoles, Cajuns, French, Spanish and African-Americans who have occupied the city over its 294-year history.

That history, evident in New Orleans’s musical, culinary and social traditions, is celebrated annually when NOLA plays host to the world’s largest masked party, known as Mardi Gras.

For residents, the colorful celebrations and raucous parades held on the bead-strewn streets of the French Quarter have an almost spiritual purpose. Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday) is the last day before the Christian season of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday, when followers traditionally fast, refrain from eating meat or give up selected indulgences.

Facing a prolonged period of sacrifice, there’s room for some serious indulgence, Southern style, and it goes way beyond gumbo.
“Shrimp Creole over jambalaya, fried chicken, milk punch and king cake are just a few of the parade foods,” says Lally Brennan, co-proprietor of New Orleans’s landmark restaurant, Commander’s Palace.

A proper Mardi Gras parade-watching party might include “masks and costumes, beads. Lots and lots of beads. And plastic cups for drinks to sip while watching the parade,” notes Brennan.

In celebration of this uniquely American fête, a last chance of sorts to give in to the pleasures of food and flesh, we talked to some of New Orleans’s top chefs for tips on putting together a full-throttle Fat Tuesday feast complete with traditional recipes, wine pairing suggestions and killer cocktails.

So put on a mask, don some beads, and laissez les bons temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)

Grilled Oysters on the Half Shell

Courtesy of Chef Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace, New Orleans, commanderspalace.com

With Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south, New Orleans is surrounded by waterways. With many sections of New Orleans below sea level, this proximity to water proved tragic during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But much of New Orleans’s identity is tied to its closeness to the Gulf of Mexico: scenic vistas, riverboat cruises and amazingly fresh seafood. No Mardi Gras celebration is complete without oysters.

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Hot sauce, to taste
1 dozen oysters, on the half shell
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
cheese, divided
French bread, for garnish

Preheat a grill to 400°F.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter on a stove over low heat. Stir in the garlic, pepper, thyme, salt and hot sauce. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.

Spoon half of the garlic-butter mixture over the oysters and sprinkle with half of the grated cheese. 

Place the oysters on the prepared grill and cook for 2–4 minutes.

When the oysters are cooked to your preferred doneness, top them with the remaining garlic butter and cheese. Serve immediately with French bread. Makes 12 oysters.

Wine Recommendation

“There are several different directions you can go with this classic New Orleans dish,” says Dan Davis, sommelier at Commander’s Palace. “I love oysters with Muscadet. The wines are fresh, crisp and well-suited to shellfish. From Commander’s cellar, we like the 2005 Pierre Luneau-Papin Pueri Solis Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine.” Since aged Muscadet can be difficult to obtain, feel free to pour a more recent vintage. 

Death by Gumbo

Courtesy of John Folse and Rick Tramonto, chefs of New Orleans’s Restaurant R’evolution, opening in early March 2012 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, revolutionnola.com

This decadent, quail-based gumbo recipe was created by Folse for Craig Claiborne of The New York Times. Claiborne asked Folse to come to his home on Long Island to create a special dinner depicting the evolution of Cajun and Creole cuisines, and this unusual dish was the perfect choice.

For the gumbo
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cups flour
2 cups diced onions
2 cups diced celery
1 cup diced bell peppers
½ cup minced garlic
1 cup sliced mushrooms
½ cup julienned tasso (Cajun-spiced ham)
12 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and cracked black pepper, to taste Granulated garlic, to taste
12 stuffed and seasoned Bobwhite quail (recipe below)
1 cup sliced green onions
1 cup chopped parsley

To prepare the gumbo:
In a 2-gallon stockpot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Whisk in the flour and stir constantly until the mixture turns golden brown.

Add the onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic, and sauté until the vegetables are wilted, about 3–5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and tasso, and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Stirring constantly, add the chicken stock one ladle at a time. Bring the gumbo to a rolling boil, then mix in the thyme. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust the seasoning using salt, pepper and granulated garlic.

Place the stuffed quail into the gumbo and allow to simmer for another 30 minutes. When the quail are tender and the legs easily separate from the bodies, remove the birds to a platter and keep warm.

Pass the gumbo through a fine-mesh sieve, making sure to reserve the liquid and discard the solids. Return the liquid to the pot. Add the quail, green onions and parsley, then return the gumbo to a simmer.

For the quail
12 boneless Bobwhite quail*
Salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
Granulated garlic, to taste
1 cups white rice, cooked
1 teaspoon filé powder                                                                                                            
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
12 oysters
12 (1-inch) slices andouille sausage

To prepare the quail:
Season each quail’s cavity with salt, cracked black pepper and granulated garlic. Season the cooked white rice to taste with salt, pepper, granulated garlic, filé powder and chopped parsley.

Shuck the oysters over a small bowl, making sure to reserve the oysters’ liquid. In a small sauté pan set over low heat, poach the oysters in the reserved liquid until they’re partially cooked through, about 3–5 minutes.

Stuff each quail’s cavity with 1 tablespoon of the rice mixture, 1 slice of andouille and 1 oyster, then top off each cavity with another tablespoon of rice. Continue this process until all of the birds have been stuffed, then cover with plastic wrap until needed for the gumbo. 

To serve:

Place 1 quail in the center of each soup bowl and cover with the gumbo liquid. Serves 12.
*Although it’s best to use boneless quail for this recipe, bone-in quail may be substituted if boneless are not available.

Wine Recommendation

Wine and Spirits Director Molly Wismeier of Restaurant R’evolution recommends Niepoort’s 2009 Charme from the Douro in Portugal to pair with this refined gumbo recipe. “This is an elegant, rich, red fruit-driven wine that marries well with the complex spice component of the roux in the gumbo and the textures of the rice and andouille sausage stuffed inside the quail,” says Wismeier. “This wine drinks like a grand cru Burgundy, with bursts of intense fruit and minerality from grapes that hail from vineyards over 100 years old.”

New Orleans King Cake

Courtesy of Haydel’s Bakery, New Orleans, haydelbakery.com

“King Cakes represent everything that Mardi Gras is about,” says Master Baker David Haydel. “You have the vibrant colors, the trinkets and, of course, the feast.”

Opened in 1959, this family-run bakery ships thousands of King Cakes each Mardi Gras, and has even won two Guinness World Records—one in 2010 for creating the largest King Cake, which looped around the Superdome.

A long-standing Mardi Gras tradition, the ring-shaped confection is decorated with green, purple and gold, the colors of Mardi Gras. Baked into each cake is a tiny plastic baby or coin. Tradition has it that whoever gets the slice of cake containing the trinket has to host a Mardi Gras feast the next year.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup all-purpose shortening,
2 large eggs
2 (-ounce) packs active dry yeast
1 cup milk (room temperature)
¼ teaspoon lemon extract
¼ teaspoon orange extract
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon butter extract
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus
1 tablespoon for rolling the dough
Cup canola oil
Cup cinnamon-sugar blend*
3 cups multicolored sugar (recipe below)

In a stand mixer set on low speed, mix the sugar, salt and shortening until well creamed. Add the eggs and continue to mix until the eggs have incorporated.

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk, then add in the extracts and stir. Pour the milk mixture into the egg mixture and continue to mix over low speed. Slowly add the flour and mix until the dough tightens, but doesn’t become tough, about 2 minutes. 

Remove the dough from the mixer and form it into a ball. If the dough feels too sticky, sprinkle it with some of the tablespoon of flour. Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 1 hours.

When dough has risen, use a rolling pin to roll it into a rectangle, sprinkling the dough with the remaining flour to prevent sticking, if necessary. Brush the dough’s surface with the oil, making sure to coat it evenly, then sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar blend liberally on top. When the surface is coated, fold the dough in half lengthwise.

Cut the dough into 3 long ropes. Arrange the dough ropes vertically side-by-side on the work surface, and  braid the dough as you would hair.
Once braided, use your hands to gently shape the braided dough into a ring. Place the shaped dough on a parchment paper-covered baking pan, and allow the dough to rise again until it doubles in size, about 1 hours.

After the dough has risen for the second time, preheat the oven to 370°F.

Sprinkle the dough’s surface with the colored sugars. Bake for 12–15 minutes until the surface turns golden brown. Let it cool slightly before slicing and serving. Serves 8.

*The cinnamon-sugar blend may be purchased in many markets. It can also be made by combining  cup sugar with 1 tablespoon cinnamon.

Multicolored Sugar
3 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon purple food coloring
1 teaspoon yellow food coloring
1 teaspoon green food coloring

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the sugar with the purple food coloring. Mix well until the sugar is evenly colored. Repeat this process in separate bowls to create the yellow- and green-colored sugars. Makes 3 cups.

Wine Recommendation

Beverage Director Jose Montalvo of the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans recommends Errazuriz’s Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. “It’s a great dessert wine and the perfect complement to King Cake,” he says. The floral aromas and textural richness of a fortified Muscat, like the Les Petits Grains Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois from Les Vignerons de la Méditerranée would also work.

R’evolution Big Easy Punch

Courtesy of Wine and Spirits Director Molly Wismeier, Restaurant R’evolution, revolutionnola.com

In a city well known for its hurricanes, it’s no surprise to see rum-spiked punch served at parties in New Orleans. This tea-accented libation is a great party pick for a Mardi Gras meal, as it can be made several days ahead of time.

4 cups chai or rooibos tea, brewed, using twice as much tea as the brand recommends
1 cup Hum Botanical Spirit Liqueur
1 cup Old New Orleans Rum
2 cups fresh sour mix (see recipe below)
Seasonal fruit, chopped, for garnish
6–8 mint sprigs, for garnish

Combine the tea, liqueur, rum and sour mix in a large punch bowl and mix well.

Serve over ice in oversized wine glasses, and garnish with seasonal fruit and mint sprigs. The fruit may also be added to the punch ahead of time to allow the flavors to marry.

The punch may be made and refrigerated up to 5 days in advance. Serves 6–8.

Sour Mix
2 cups cane sugar
1 cups water
 cup yuzu juice*

Prepare a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir the mixture continuously until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the simple syrup to cool. When the mixture has cooled, add the yuzu juice and mix well. Makes 2 cups.

*If yuzu juice isn’t available,  cup fresh lemon juice and the zest from the squeezed lemon may be substituted.

Here are some must-have Mardi Gras-inspired cocktails:

The Mr. Leroy

Courtesy of Commanders Palace, New Orleans

This cocktail is a great sidekick to grilled oysters.

1 ounce of Maker’s Mark Bourbon
1 ounce of apricot brandy
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes of rhubarb bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir and strain into a coupe glass.

The Queen’s Soup

Courtesy of John Folse and Rick Tramonto, chefs of Restaurant R’evolution

Created to honor the Queen of Mardi Gras at the extravagant carnival balls where elegant foods are a major part of most functions, this soup is a hit. Featuring sumptuous ingredients, it’s traditionally served in large, gilded tureens.

16 cups chicken stock
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup wild rice
½ cup white rice
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
½ cup diced carrots
½ cup diced yellow bell peppers
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped sage
¼ cup chopped chives
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Garlic croutons, for garnish

In a large stockpot, bring chicken stock to a simmer over medium-high heat. Poach the chicken breasts in the hot stock for 10–15 minutes, or until thoroughly cooked. Remove and allow to cool. When cool, dice the chicken into ¼–inch cubes and set aside.

Add the wild rice into the simmering stock and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the white rice and cook for an additional 15 minutes, or until tender. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour, stirring constantly until a white roux is achieved. Next, add the carrots, bell peppers, thyme, sage and chives, and let cook for 3–5 minutes. Add the roux mixture to the chicken stock, stirring constantly. Add the heavy whipping cream, stirring constantly and bring the mixture to a boil. Season with salt and black pepper, add diced chicken and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Additional stock or water may be needed to retain a soup-like consistency. Adjust seasonings, if necessary, according to taste. Serve in soup bowls over fresh garlic croutons. Serves 6.

Wine Recommendations: Rolly Gassmann 2004, Pinot Gris (Alsace). This complex wine, full of ripe citrus and nutty notes with a lush texture, complements the creaminess and intense spices of the soup.

Sazerac

Adapted by Molly Wismeier, wine and spirits director of Restaurant R’evolution, New Orleans

Legend has it that the Sazerac was created by Antoine Amadie Peychaud, a Creole apothecary who relocated to New Orleans from the West Indies in the early 19th century. Made famous at the Sazerac Bar in New Orleans, this libation was declared the city’s official cocktail by the House of Representatives in 2008, and features Peychaud’s Bitters. It’s the perfect pairing with Death by Gumbo.

1 ounce Paul Beau VSOP Cognac
1 ounce Old Overholt 4-Year-Old Rye Whiskey  
¾ ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Splash of absinthe
Lemon peel, for garnish

Fill a rocks glass with ice and let chill. In a second rocks glass, combine the Cognac, whiskey, simple syrup and bitters. Fill with ice and stir to chill.

Scoop the ice out of the first rocks glass once chilled. Add absinthe, and swirl the glass to coat the inside and discard the excess. Strain the chilled cocktail into the coated glass, twist the lemon peel and drop it into the drink to garnish.

Grilled Wild Boar Chops with Southern Comfort Apricot Glaze

Courtesy of Tory McPhail, Chef of Commander’s Palace

For the Southern Comfort apricot glaze:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Southern Comfort Liqueur
1 cup dried apricots, thinly sliced
1 cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the grilled wild boar:
2 26–ounce wild boar racks (9 ribs each), frenched
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
Vegetable oil, for coating

To make the southern comfort apricot glaze: Combine 1 cup Southern Comfort, apricots, corn syrup and red pepper flakes in a small skillet with vegetable oil and bring to a simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick and reduced. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of Southern Comfort.

To prepare the wild boar: Turn on the grill to medium-high heat. Rub oil on all sides of wild boar racks and season with Creole seasoning. Place the rack halves on the grill, fat side down, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the fat starts to crisp (watch for flare-ups as the fat renders from the meat). Turn over and cook the other side for about 8 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 130ºF (for medium-rare.) Once achieved, brush half of the glaze all over the racks and grill for 30 seconds more on each side.

Transfer the boar onto a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Let cool for 10 minutes. Cut between each bone and partition into separate chops. Arrange the chops decoratively on a platter and serve the remaining warm glaze on the side for dipping. Serves 6.

The Apricot Fizz

Courtesy of Commander’s Palace, New Orleans

This apricot brandy-based libation complements the Southern Comfort-Apricot glaze on the wild boar.

½ ounce Calvados
½ ounce apricot brandy
1 ounce sour mix
Sparkling wine, to top
Lemon twist, for garnish

Combine ingredients, shake well and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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