Think “Mardi Gras” and the wild parades, fantastical costumes and high spirits of New Orleans come to mind, though the heritage of the phrase is all about its English meaning: “Fat Tuesday.”
The French phrase refers to the centuries-old tradition of consuming all the fat in one’s home prior to Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Among Catholics, the beginning of Lent once meant that one could consume no animal products, including fats of course, until Easter. In fact, elsewhere in the world, “Fat Tuesday” is known as “Pancake Tuesday,” a nod to the tradition of pancakes making cameos in homes as cooks made use of the last of their butter.
All around New Orleans, Carnival—as it’s also known—has begun, and hordes of tourists have descended upon the beautiful city to revel in its classic, famed foods. Here are a few of our favorites, including recipes for kicking up some of that New Orleanian joy at home. Happy Carnival!
Covered in a flurry of powdered sugar, beignets are an iconic NOLA treat for good reason. The most famous place to eat them is the Café du Monde, but we’d argue they’re just as tasty in your own home, fresh from the fryer. This recipe produces a light, crisp beignet in a flash. You could use your deep fryer, but a Dutch oven is just as good.
As sturdy as the spirit of New Orleans herself, the Sazerac has a heritage tracing to the mid-1800s, right here in town. Though its fans tussle mightily over its “correct” ingredients, no one can argue with the fact that it’s as strong as an ox. This recipe (just four ingredients, plus a lemon twist) is one we love. Absinthe coats the inside of the glass; rye whiskey, simple syrup and Peychaud’s bitters do the rest of the work.
Is there a better brunch drink than the Ramos Gin Fizz? We’re not sure there is. Sometimes called just a “Ramos Fizz,” for short, it is the nemesis of craft cocktail bartenders when ordered en masse for several people. The drink requires about a minute of shaking, or frothing, the egg whites to be its Platonic ideal. It’s worth it thanks to a texture one drink historian called “a cloud you lay back on.” Gin, egg whites, orange blossom water and a few other simple ingredients mingle to deliriously good effect.
The city’s signature sandwich is arguably so good thanks to the olive salad spread on top of cold cuts and the vinegary sauce one pours on top. Serving it warm with bubbling Provolone is our own special addition to the classic recipe.
Jambalaya: Always good, always easy to throw together with the right recipe, and always satisfying on a brisk February day. One of the quintessential Creole dishes along with gumbo, this jambalaya brims with more protein than you can shake a stick at: shrimp, chicken and ham.
“Don’t forget about the baby!” Invariably someone has to warn an out-of-towner about one of the signature charms of king cake: its tiny plastic baby. If you’re “lucky” enough to get it, you’re buying the king cake for the next party! The purple, gold and green ring of pastry is traditional to this holiday. It heralds the arrival of kings and queens, who will rule over their floats in the famous Mardi Gras parades. If you’re at the right parties during Carnival, at least one king cake will make a cameo on the table. Throwing your own party at home? Well, it’s easier to execute and just as delicious as that other NOLA classic, Bananas Foster. (And less fiery, to boot!)