Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday, the culmination of the season between Christmas and Lent. For many Christians, it's the last chance to party and splurge on food before the Lenten fast begins. That means it's a perfect excuse to enjoy all sorts of great food.
In the U.S., Mardi Gras is most celebrated in New Orleans, a city famous for its celebrations and parades. To fit in with tradition, it's only right to enjoy the classic Cajun and Creole foods that are so popular in Louisiana.
To go along with all that spice, there's the equally famous king cake, complete with its colorful icing and hidden token.
Let's explore some of those quintessential foods that are standard fare for Mardi Gras. As they say in New Orleans, Laissez les bon temps rouler, or "Let the good times roll!"
The Traditional King Cake
No Mardi Gras celebration is complete without a king cake, also known as a twelfth night cake. This is actually a sweetened crescent roll that is typically baked in a ring shape. The cake is frosted with gold, green, and purple icing representing power, faith, and justice respectively. These traditional colors date back to 1872 and were taken from a prominent parade group, called a krewe. Although this cake is colorful and tasty, the real fun is found inside.
The maker of each king cake hides a token in the cake. The tokens may be a dried red bean or a baby figurine, representing the Christ child.
When the cake is cut and shared, the person who finds the hidden treasure is said to enjoy good luck for the coming year. The lucky recipient may also be expected to bake the King Cake or throw the Mardi Gras party the following year.
Signature Spice Blends
Cajun food is often thought of as "country" cooking, where Creole tends to be more elegant and sophisticated, or "city" cuisine.
However, the two are very similar and both rely on signature blends of spices.
Cajun Spice Mix: A classic Cajun seasoning mix is the spicier of the two. It can be used on almost any meat and to flavor a variety of soups and sauces. One batch will last you quite a while and, with 12 different spices, your food will be anything but bland.
Creole Spice Blend Mix: A classic Creole spice blend uses just eight spices. It's slightly milder because it skips the extra chili powder common in Cajun seasonings. This blend can also be used to season any type of meat and many soups, sauces, and side dishes, such as rice.
Cajun and Creole Recipes
- Crab Boil Spice Mix: A crab boil is perfect for any seafood-loving crowd and it can be done with any type or combination of seafood. The key ingredient to a great crab boil is the spice mix. This recipe is a simple mix of 10 spices and it is full of flavor that accents the seafood perfectly.
- Creole Gumbo: Louisiana is famous for its gumbo, a spicy stew that can include an endless array of ingredients. Gumbos vary greatly, though some combinations are just perfect and this recipe shows off one of those iconic duos. This chicken and smoked sausage gumbo has okra, onions, peppers, celery, tomatoes, and a bunch of spices, including that essential Creole seasoning.
- Creole Mustard: Sure, you can buy creole mustard at the store, but making it from scratch gives you more control over the flavor and tends to yield better results. With mustard seeds, a nice selection of spices, and some vinegar, you're ready to make this classic condiment. It's a rather large batch, but it makes a great gift and it tastes so great that you'll definitely want to share.
- Creole Rice: The perfect side dish for any meal, Creole rice is extremely easy to make. You only need six ingredients and they're all kitchen staples so you may already have them in stock. The flavors of onion, parsley, thyme, and carrot offer the perfect seasoning for long-grain rice. It's a mild taste, which is perfect because it doesn't compete with the spicier Creole dishes it's often served alongside.
- Deep-Fried Turkey: So, you want to cook a turkey Southern-style? You will need a turkey fryer because a deep-fried turkey is the best way to go. This is definitely an outdoor project and it's one of the fastest ways to cook a turkey. The result is one of the juiciest birds you'll ever eat and the crispy skin is delectable.
- Shrimp Jambalaya: Jambalaya is the region's other famous dish and it's very versatile. Where gumbo is more of a stew, jambalaya is a rice dish, though it's just as hearty and spicy. A classic shrimp jambalaya is a perfect recipe for beginners. Cooked in a tomato base with those signature spices and the "trinity" of bell peppers, celery, and onions, it's absolutely delicious.
- Jambalaya Fettuccine: If you cannot get enough jambalaya, you'll love this jambalaya fettuccine recipe. It includes everything that's great about the original dish, including sausage, shrimp, and chicken, but it's served over a bed of fettuccine pasta. Not only is this a great recipe, it's also inspiration for a second meal using leftover jambalaya.