This coming Tuesday marks the famous New Orleans festival of Mardi Gras, when parades take the city streets for a day of frenzied overindulgence—music, drinks, and some of the city’s most delicious signature foods. Here, we’ve picked some of our favorite recipes to celebrate the holiday, with a nod to Louisiana’s unique Creole and Cajun cuisines.
Invite your friends over, play some jazz, boil spicy seafood and fry hot beignets. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
The excesses of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras are well-known, and many New Orleans bars stay open around the clock. The city is renowned for its signature cocktails, from Mint Juleps to Hurricanes and, of course, the Sazerac. It’s believed by some to be the world’s first cocktail; according to legend, it was created in the 1830s by an apothecary and later popularized at the original Sazerac Bar.
1/4 oz. absinthe
2 oz. rye whisky
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon twist for garnish
Drizzle absinthe into an old-fashioned glass, swirl to coat the inside, and pour off any excess. Pour the rye whisky into a cocktail shaker. Add simple syrup and bitters. Shake the mixture with ice cubes until it is well chilled. Strain the mixture into the prepared old-fashioned glass and garnish with a twist of lemon peel. Serves 1.
You can sub in pastis or any other strong herbal liqueur for the absinthe if you don’t have it. Either shake with ice or strain into a chilled glass.
Seafood is king in south Louisiana, a top producer of shrimp, crabs, oysters and a variety of fish. These delicacies are everyday fare in New Orleans, whether boiled with spicy seasonings or fried golden and crispy. This salad makes a perfect starter, with golden, crispy cakes and a refreshing citrusy dressing.
Crab Cake & Butter Lettuce Salad
2 large eggs
1 Tbs. mayonnaise, plus 1/3 cup (3 fl. oz./80 ml.)
1 lb. (500 g.) cooked crabmeat, picked over for shell fragments and squeezed to remove excess water
1/2 cup (1 oz./30 g.) fresh fine white bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 green onions, including tender green parts, finely chopped
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 heads butter lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
In a bowl, whisk the eggs lightly. Add the 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, the crab, bread crumbs, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and green onions. Stir with a fork until well mixed. Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions and gently form each portion into a small patty.
In a small bowl, whisk together the 1/3 cup mayonnaise, the mustard, lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until smooth.
In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Working in batches if needed, add the crab cakes and cook without moving them until golden brown on the first side, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook until golden brown on the second side, 3-4 minutes. Arrange the lettuce on plates and place the crab cakes on top. Drizzle with the dressing and serve. Serves 4.
If you’re not crazy about seafood, consider making crispy cheese straws (perfect for making ahead!). Otherwise, a bare-bones preparation of fresh cracked crab with a chili dipping sauce makes for a hands-on meal. Don’t forget damp towels and a few lemon slices for easy clean-up.
For the main course, prepare a one-pot meal that’s easy to serve and can feed a crowd. Jambalaya is a New Orleans classic, rich and meaty with a mix of seafood and pork. Here, we use a slow-cooker to bring both the chicken and rice to a wonderfully tender texture.
3 1/2 lb. (1.75 kg.) skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbs. olive oil
3 oz. (90 g.) cooked ham, diced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml.) white wine
1 can (15 oz./470 g.) diced tomatoes, drained
4 cups (32 fl. oz./1 l.) chicken stock, homemade or purchased
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 cups (14 oz./440 g.) long-grain white rice
2 cups (10 oz./315 g.) shelled fresh or thawed frozen peas
1/2 lb. (250 g.) medium shrimp in the shell
6 green onions, sliced
2 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 lemons, cut into wedges
Oil a slow-cooker insert. Pat the chicken dry. Season generously all over with salt and pepper. In a large heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. When the oil is hot, working in batches to avoid crowding, add the chicken and sear, turning as needed, until golden brown, about 8 minutes total. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
Pour off most of the fat from the pan and return it to medium-high heat. Add the ham, yellow onion and bell pepper and saute until the vegetables start to color, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and oregano and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, several grinds of pepper, and the wine and stir to dislodge any browned bits on the pan bottom. Transfer the contents of the pan to the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, stock and vinegar, then stir in the rice. Nestle the chicken in the rice, cover, and cook on the low setting for 3 hours.
Uncover and check to be sure a little liquid is still visible at the bottom of the cooker. If it appears dry, add 1 tablespoon water. Scatter the peas and shrimp evenly over the top. Re-cover and cook until the shrimp are pink, the chicken is cooked through and the rice is tender, 15-20 minutes more.
Transfer the contents of the cooker to warm individual plates or a platter and scatter the green onions and parsley over the top. Squeeze some lemon juice over the top and arrange the remaining lemon wedges around the rim of the plate or platter. Serve at once. Serves 6.
You can’t go wrong with signature seafood and sausage gumbo at a Mardi Gras party. These stews, usually thickened with a roux, are always served over steamed rice with plenty of hot French bread or corn bread. Or, serve a shrimp étouffée—étouffée literally means “to smother in its own juices,” so you know it’s packed with savory flavor.
No tribute to New Orleans is complete without hot beignets, pillow-shaped doughnuts dusted with confectioners’ sugar. They were originally served as a morning meal for dockworkers and merchants at the old French Market. Pair with a cafe au lait made with strong chicory coffee.
New Orleans-Style Beignets
1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml.) heavy cream
1/4 cup (2 oz,./60 g.) granulated sugar
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, beaten
1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) quick-rise yeast
3 3/4 cups (19 oz./590 g.) all-purpose flour, or as needed
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
Canola oil for deep-frying
Confectioners’ sugar for serving
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 3/4 cup (6 fl. oz./180 ml.) cold water, the cream, sugar, butter, egg and yeast. Add 3 cups (15 oz./470 g.) of the flour and the salt. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough that does not stick to the bowl. Remove the paddle attachment and fit the stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Knead the dough on medium-low speed, adding more flour if needed, until the dough is smooth but still soft, 6-7 minutes. Shape into a ball.
Lightly butter a large bowl. Add the dough and turn to coat with butter. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm spot until it doubles in bulk, 1 1/2-2 hours. Or, refrigerate overnight until doubled in size, 8-12 hours; remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before proceeding.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Punch down the dough and turn out onto a floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour. Roll out into a large rectangle about 1/4 inch (6 mm.) thick. Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, diagonally cut the dough into 2-inch (5-cm.) strips. Cut in the other direction, also in diagonal 2-inch (5-cm.) strips, to create diamond shapes. Transfer to the baking sheets and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm spot until the beignets rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F (95 degrees C). Place a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the oil to a depth of at least 3 inches (7.5 cm.) into a deep, heavy saucepan and heat to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) on a deep-frying thermometer.
Using a metal spatula, carefully lower a few of the beignets into the hot oil, being sure not to crowd the pan. Deep-fry the beignets, turning often, until puffed and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a wire skimmer, transfer to the rack to drain. Keep warm in the oven. Repeat until all of the beignets have been fried. Arrange the beignets on a serving plate, generously dust with confectioners’ sugar, and serve at once. Makes about 40 beignets.
More desserts: Bakeries and supermarkets start to stock King Cakes in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. As the tradition goes, if you “get the baby”—a small plastic trinket concealed in one of the slices—you have to bring the cake to the next party. For a showstopper, try Bananas Foster, a restaurant specialty featuring sliced bananas flambéed with rum and vanilla.