Cook Me Something, Mister
16 top foods of the Louisiana Mardi Gras
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Carnival has never been about fine dining but more about party food or munching on the go. Vendors offer the standard fare found most anyplace; far better are those items that really reflect the state and its Carnival. Here (in alphabetical order) is our list.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Along parade routes throughout the state.
• Advantage: Smoking pit provides for a picnic setting while waiting for the parade.
• Disadvantages: Sometimes messy cleanup after the parade. Moving the pit may require
• Comments: There’s a place somewhere to the west of Louisiana called Texas where barbecuing consists of pork or beef. They don’t barbecue chicken over there perhaps because they don’t have Mardi Gras parades to wait for, and so they can take their time. Chicken cooks faster and is perfect for parade preparation without having to light the coals before dawn. Sauce is optional.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Along parade routes in Lake Charles, Lafayette and Acadiana and as far north as New Roads.
• Advantages: Portability and packaging. Can be eaten like a hot dog.
• Disadvantage: Sometimes the stuffing might squirt out when chomped into. Eat with caution.
• Comments: We’re talking about the so-called “white boudin” and not “red boudin,” which is blood sausage and is best served to the vampires in your party.
Cracklings (aka Cracklins, Gratons)
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Throughout the state, though not so much in the New Orleans area.
• Advantage: Easy to snack on while waiting for a parade.
• Disadvantage: Deep-fried salted pork skin is never confused with being a
• Comments: Although we would not recommend eating them every day, a perfectly prepared crackling provides a bouquet of flavors in which the saltiness from the skin combines with the sweetness of the meat, and both are enhanced by the crunchiness of the bite.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Backyard parties throughout the state.
• Advantages: Knowing how to peel them is a good way of separating the locals from the Yankees. Tossing potatoes, onions, garlic and sausage into the pot can add to the feast.
• Disadvantage: Seasonal availability may fluctuate. Because mudbugs are not yet in their prime during Carnival time, they may be a bit small.
• Comments: Sucking the heads is not only appropriate but should be required by law so as not to waste the full flavor of the crawfish.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Mostly in rural and Cajun prairie areas but also anywhere there are Popeyes Fried Chicken outlets — which is almost everywhere.
• Advantage: Makes a convenient rice dish that combines organ meats with spices.
• Disadvantage: Combines organ meats with spices.
• Comments: Dish’s name has become commonly Americanized to “rice dressing.” There are some dishes that Popeyes does very well (see fried chicken below); dirty rice, which is referred to on the menu as “Cajun rice,” is not one of them. Best versions are found on home stoves.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: At parade parties, primarily in French Louisiana.
• Advantage: Provides a good hearty “smothered” dish cooked in a pot and made with shrimp or crawfish, tomatoes and seasonings ladled over rice.
• Disadvantage: It’s hard to bring the pot to the parade, especially if it is cast-iron.
• Comments: This is an ultimate Louisiana dish combining native seafood and, most likely, homegrown rice. Consider it your patriotic duty to go for seconds.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Throughout the state, along parade routes and even discreetly on some floats.
• Advantages: Classic parade food; easy portability.
• Disadvantage: Greasy fingers could cause beads to slip through.
• Comments: Popeyes, which originated in New Orleans, not only provides the best commercial fried chicken but also has set the standard for other chicken outlets. If done at home, remember that frying chicken correctly takes time, so plan accordingly.
Grillades and Grits
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: After the ball at late-night krewe breakfasts in New Orleans.
• Advantage: Provides a good, flavorful late-night meal with a Southern touch.
• Disadvantage: Buffet plates must be handled carefully to avoid spilling on evening dresses or tuxedos.
• Comments: Grillades can vary; they are most often grilled pork or beef served in a gravy. Grits can be hit or miss. Butter helps.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: In Cajun Country, especially in homes along the route of the Courir de Mardi Gras.
• Advantage: When done well, it can be a several-course meal in one bowl.
• Disadvantages: Varies considerably in quality from place to place. Depends highly on individual roux-making skills.
• Comments: There are many variations, but for Mardi Gras, we are talking about chicken-and-sausage gumbo. This and King Cake are the only foods that are an actual part of Mardi Gras rituals. Riders in the Courir de Mardi Gras steer their steeds from house to house to “steal” gumbo ingredients.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Statewide, mostly at parties.
• Advantage: Mass quantities can be produced inexpensively and served hot.
• Disadvantage: When done right, it can be excellent, but when diluted just to feed the masses, it can be bland. In that case, just pick away at the sausage fragments.
• Comments: Like gumbo, variations can feature either chicken and sausage or seafood, though mostly shrimp. For chilly parade-going days, the meat versions are heartier.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Once exclusive to New Orleans, but now made at bakeries throughout the state.
• Advantages: This is Carnival’s most indigenous food and the only confection linked directly to Mardi Gras. Complements any occasion.
• Disadvantage: Lots of sugar.
• Comments: King Cake has been experiencing its golden era since bakers began injecting the confections with various flavored fillings. No longer are King Cakes a tasteless brioche; they have become a flavor explosion. If you get the baby in your slice, the protocol is to admit it and buy the next King Cake. At the New Orleans society ball of the Twelfth Night Revelers, the queen is symbolically selected by getting the slice with a gold bean in it.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Along parade routes after being tossed
• Advantages: Arrives safely wrapped in cellophane. For those who need it, it can provide a quick sugar jolt.
• Disadvantage: Frequently placed with other parade catches where it gets squashed and crumpled easily.
• Comments: Moon Pies are the Mobile Mardi Gras’ (via Chattanooga, Tenn.) gift to the nation’s Carnival. The circular pies have just the right heft to be thrown from a float. In some places it is illegal for riders to toss food, but Moon Pies, because they are packaged, usually win the law’s approval.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: In northern Louisiana as a side dish with barbecue; in southern Louisiana as an accompaniment to gumbo.
• Advantage: Great versatility including many styles, textures and flavors. (We like it smooth with egg, bacon, mayonnaise, mustard and –– yes — apple.)
• Disadvantages: Not strictly a Louisiana dish but goes well with Louisiana foods. Tends to get overlooked at the serving table.
• Comments: In some parts of Acadiana, most notably St. Martin Parish, potato salad, rather than sweet potato (see below), is often served in the gumbo.
Red Beans and Rice
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: New Orleans area.
• Advantages: Beans are a healthy food — sausage and/or pickled meat add a jolt of flavor. Warm, lightly salted rice can be soothing.
• Disadvantage: Not as versatile as jambalaya, another rice dish, in terms of ingredients. (You never hear of red beans and shrimp, though someone should try.)
• Comments: This is the only dish with a day of the week attached to it: Monday. In New Orleans red beans and rice is the traditional lunch for that day. With the emergence of the Lundi Gras celebration, the dish is ideal
for that day.
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Cajun Country and up into Central Louisiana.
• Advantages: As though planned by nature, Carnival season is also near the time of the winter boucheries, so the meat is not long off the hog. Roasting fires can heat up cold February days.
• Disadvantage: Roasting a pig is not really something you can do along a parade route; it’s better for before or after the parade.
• Comments: Boucheries also provide auxiliary products such as headcheese, sausage and cracklings (see above).
• Where most commonly served during Mardi Gras: Southern, Central and North Louisiana, though most often as a side dish for gumbo.
• Advantage: Rich in protein, iron, calcium, vitamins A and C plus complex carbohydrates, the sweet potato is one of the healthiest of all foods.
• Disadvantage: There is none.
• Comments: Baked in an oven, it develops a fragrant caramelized smell that makes you glad to be in the kitchen. As an accompaniment to gumbo, we agree with those who plop the tuber in the bowl and use its sweet taste to
counterbalance the spiciness of the gumbo.