Nowhere will the celebration of Mardi Gras on Tuesday be more exciting than in New Orleans. Thus, it is only right that if you must miss the party there, and eat at home, the recipes should at least be for Creole and Cajun dishes.
While Mardi Gras -- a celebration of plenty on Shrove Tuesday before the advent of Lent -- translates literally as "fat Tuesday" from the French, Southern Louisiana was inhabited over the years by a variety of ethnic groups, and its cooking reveals influence from the Spanish, American Indian and Acadians as well. Creole cooking, according to Paul Prudhomme, evolved in New Orleans as a combination of these ethnic styles and availability of local ingredients, be it on the coast or inland.
The Cajuns, a group of twice-displaced Frenchmen booted out of Acadia (Nova Scotia) by the British in the mid 1700s, brought to Louisiana influences from France and the eastern seaboard of Acadia and coupled them with the abundant local Louisiana products -- rice, peppers, file' powder, pork and seafood.
In Creole and Cajun cooking, seasonings and vegetables are repeated in many dishes. Distinct qualities are achieved by varying their proportions and the time at which they are added during cooking.
This is evident in the homemade Mardi Gras celebration that follows and the recipes for Shooters (Emporium Style), Barbecued Shrimp, Oyster and Sausage Gumbo, Chicken Jambalaya, Rice Pilaf, Burt Greene's Roots in Escabeche and Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce. A gewurztraminer wine would go well with the shrimp and gumbo, while a zinfandel would complement the jambalaya.
Shooters are a remarkable appetizer. They incorporate the best of both worlds from Louisiana -- fresh seafood and peppers. A single oyster or clam is tossed back neat with just enough peppered vodka, in the words of a New Orleans Emporium staffer, "to make the clam tipsy."
Barbequed shrimp with the shell on are a favorite New Orleans appetizer. Just as we all have our own version of the best chili, so there are endless variations of this popular dish. The shrimp are messy to eat, but fun, especially when served with lots of French bread to enjoy every last morsel of sauce.
The gumbo is a hearty, savory dish teaming succulent oysters and garlicky Creole sausage with the flavor base of a smokey dark brown roux. Look for the traditional Cajun vegetables -- onion, green peppers and scallions. Gumbo is usually served with a mound of rice in the centre, but may be served without it, if rice is present in another course.
Spanish paella was the forerunner of jambalaya, with the rice cooked in the same pot as the chicken and vegetables. I like to cook the jambalaya separately if serving it with red beans and rice or rice pilaf.
Present the roots in escabeche in a separate dish to retain its unique character. Green olives an tangy white vinegar season the carrots and tiny turnips, balancing the richness of the gumbo and jambalaya.
End the meal with a velvety pecan ice cream napped with luxurious warm caramel sauce as a grand finale to your Mardi Gras celebration. SHOOTERS, EMPORIUM STYLE (About 30 servings)
* 1 3/4 cups vodka
3/4 ounce dry white vermouth
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded, quartered
1 pint fresh shucked oysters or clams (halve if very large)
3 fresh lemons, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cocktail sauce (optional)
* Mix the vodka, vermouth and jalapeno pepper and marinate at room temperature for 24 hours. Taste and let stand an additional 12 hours if more heat is desired. Remove peppers.
To serve shooters, fill a shot glass with 1/4 ounce peppered vodka. Slip in a freshly shucked oyster or clam, add a pinch of salt and top with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper. Cocktail sauce may replace the lemon juice. Down clam and vodka together. Have plenty on hand for delighted hungry guests. BARBEQUED SHRIMP (8 appetizer servings)
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into chunks
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves, crushed (a mortar and pestle work well)
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 pounds large shrimp in shell, washed, dried well
1/2 cup white wine, preferably gewurztraminer
In a large wide skillet, melt 4 tablespoons butter and saute' garlic on low heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the bay leaf, rosemary, paprika, black pepper, lemon juice, basil, oregano, salt, brown sugar, cayenne and worcestershire sauce and cook for 1 minute.
Increase heat to medium, add shrimp and shake pan to coat shrimp with seasonings for 2-3 minutes. Add wine and remaining 4 tablespoons cold butter. Swirl pan and shake to cook shrimp for 2 more minutes. Do not overcook. If pan is small, cook shrimp in two batches.
Serve shrimp in bowls with sauce poured over each portion. Peel shrimp and pass crusty French bread. OYSTER AND SAUSAGE GUMBO (6 to 8 first-course servings)
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallion tops
4 cups cold water
1/2 pound Creole smoked sausage, French garlic sausage or kielbasa
3/4 pound okra (frozen may be substituted)
1 pint fresh oysters and liquor (1 1/2 cups)
FOR THE SEASONING MIX:
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
In a small bowl, mix the parsley, salt, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, bay leaf and garlic.
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet or dutch oven for about 5 minutes, or until almost smoking. Gradually whisk in flour a third at a time and cook roux for 4-5 minutes, whisking constantly, to prevent black specks from forming. The roux should be a very deep red-brown when finished.
Reduce the heat and add the onion, green pepper, scallions and 1/4 cup water all at once, stirring to prevent sticking. Cook vegetables on low heat while mixture thickens for 2-3 minutes.
Cut half the sausage into 1/2-inch cubes and slice the rest very thinly. Stir the sausage and 1/4 cup water into the vegetables, cooking for 5-10 minutes.
Stir in the seasoning mix and 1/4 cup water and cook on low heat for 2 minutes. Add the okra and stir in the remaining 3 1/4 cups water and oyster liquor, about a cup at a time. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 50 minutes, stirring often.
Uncover and bring to a boil for 10 minutes, degreasing gumbo during this time. Refrigerate overnight and skim any remaining fat from the top.
Just before serving, reheat gumbo over low heat, add oysters and cook 4-5 minutes until edges of oysters begin to curl. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Gumbo is traditionally served over rice, but in a menu containing rice, it may be served simply in flat soup plates.SW SK agcrdt3 Adapted from: "Chef Paul Prudhomme's Lousiana Kitchen" (Morrow, 1984). CHICKEN JAMBALAYA (8 servings)
2 tablespoons bacon drippings or corn oil
4 1/2- to 5-pound fryer, cut up
1 1/4 pounds cooking onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped redbell? pepper ( 1/2-inch dice)
2 bunches scallion tops, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 pound kielbassa sausage, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili pepper
1/4 teaspoon each cayenne, thyme, basil
1/8 teaspoon each ground cloves, mace
2 bay leaves
6 whole black peppercorns, in cheesecloth
3 to 4 cups boiling chicken stock
In a heavy dutch oven, heat bacon drippings or oil until very hot. Brown chicken parts, a few at a time, turning several times. When golden brown, drain on paper towels and set aside. Do not crowd the pan or the chicken will steam instead of fry.
Reheat the oil in the pan, and add the onions, pepper, scallion tops and parsley. Cook on medium heat for 10-12 minutes until softened. Add the sausage and all the seasonings. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
Add chicken to sausage mixture, toss until coated and add chicken stock to almost cover. Stir to mix spices. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes. Do not allow jambalaya to boil or the chicken will become tough. Let mixture stand refrigerated overnight for best flavor. Skim hardened fat from the top. Remove chicken from refrigerator 1 hour before reheating. Simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes or until hot. Stir occasionally. Serve over plain long grain rice or rice pilaf. sw sk agcrdt3 Adapted from "The New Orleans Cookbook" by Rima and Richard Collin (Knopf, N.Y. 1975). BERT GREENE'S ROOTS IN ESCABECHE (10 to 12 servings)
2 1/4 pounds carrots, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 1/4 pounds small white turnips, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 small white onions, peeled, sliced 1/8-inch thick
2 cups olive oil
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup minced pitted green olives
1/2 cup minced pimiento
1 large garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Hot pepper sauce (optional)
* Cook carrots in boiling salted water until tender-crisp for about 8 minutes. Drain and dry completely on clean tea towels. Repeat for turnip slices. Place carrots, turnips and onions in a large heat-proof bowl.
In a heavy saucepan combine the olive oil, vinegar, olives, pimiento, garlic and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Pour marinade over vegetables and stir. Let stand at room temperature for 3 hours before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and hot pepper sauce, if desired.
Refrigerate up to 4-5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving. Remove vegetables to serving dish with a slotted spoon.
Adapted from Cuisine magazine 1979. RICE PILAF WITH ORZO (8 servings)
5 cups chicken broth
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 cup orzo
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
Salt and pepper
Bring chicken broth to a boil and simmer until ready to use.
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat olive oil or butter and saute' orzo until brown. Add rice and toss.
Carefully pour in stock, stirring constantly. Boil rice uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until craters form in the surface of the rice.
Remove pot from heat, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook rice covered for 5 minutes, then let stand off heat without removing the lid for 5 more minutes. Stir with a chopstick to separate grains. Taste and adjust seasonings. Keep warm until ready to serve.
To make rice one day ahead: Pour hot rice onto several cookie sheets and stir to cool. Loosely cover and refrigerate in a shallow baking pan overnight. Bring rice to room temperature before reheating. Cover pan with foil and heat at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Poke holes in foil with a skewer to allow some steam to escape while heating. PECAN ICE CREAM WITH CARAMEL SAUCE (8 servings ice cream and 2 cups sauce)
1 recipe caramel sauce (recipe follows)
9 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups light cream, scalded
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark rum
1 cup (4 ounces) pecans, coarsely chopped
FOR THE CARAMEL SAUCE:
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
5 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold butter
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons dark rum
To make the sauce, mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt together. In a large heavy skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the sugar mixture and stir constantly for about 10 minutes until sugar browns and melts. Be careful not to burn. Remove from heat.
Very carefully add the boiling water, stirring constantly. The sauce will become lumpy and may spatter. Place sauce back on heat and bring to a boil. Scrape bottom and stir until sauce is smooth.
Remove from heat and stir in remaining butter, vanilla and rum. Serve at once or refrigerate.
For the ice cream: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, off the heat, mix the egg yolks, sugar and salt with a flat-edged wooden spatula. Gradually blend the scalded milk into the eggs, scraping sides and bottom of pan to dissolve sugar.
Place pan on medium heat. Stir constantly until surface bubbles disappear and mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula. Remove pan from heat and pour custard into a large bowl. Whisk vigorously to cool and prevent further cooking.
Stir in the vanilla, rum and pecans. Chill overnight if desired. Process in an ice cream machine according to directions. This ice cream is soft enough to serve directly from the freezer, even if frozen overnight. Serve with warm caramel sauce.