Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, falls the day before Ash Wednesday, or the first day of Lent. Lent is a period where many Christians traditionally give-up a food or bad habit. Fat Tuesday is the last day to indulge before this period of abstinence. While many countries all over the world celebrate Mardi Gras, sometimes calling it Carnival, New Orleans is most famous for its Mardi Gras celebrations, parade and, of course, food.
Most popular Cajun dishes are derived from original New Orleans French and Spanish settlers. Below are a few of these traditional Cajun foods and the history behind them.
King Cake, is a sweetened yeast bread baked into the shape of a ring and frosted with gold, green and purple icing, the colors of Mardi Gras. Traditionally the baker of the King Cake hides a treasure inside the cake, usually a small plastic baby doll. When the cake is cut and shared, the person who finds the doll is crowned "king" and said to enjoy good luck during the upcoming year.
Jambalaya is Cajun comfort food and is similar to Spanish paella. Jambalaya originated from Spaniards who first settled the French Quarter and created the dish using local ingredients. This popular one-pot dish usually consists of rice, stock, tomatoes, onions, celery, green bell peppers, and various meats, shellfish and poultry.
Beignets are the New Orleans version of a French fritter. These fried doughnuts, are square pieces of sweeten yeast dough that have risen and then are deep fried and served topped with powdered sugar. Cafe du Monde, a New Orleans coffee shop and bakery established in 1862, have helped make beignets a world famous New Orleans staple.
Gumbo, is one of the most famous dishes in Cajun cooking. It has sometimes been described as Louisiana's version of chili, as the ingredients can vary from recipe to recipe. Gumbo usually starts with a roux to create a thick sauce, but may also be thickened with the addition okra or file powder. Other common gumbo ingredients include sausage, seafood, chicken, onions, celery, green bell peppers, and creole seasonings.
Celebrate Mardi Gras on Feb. 21, by enjoying a big bowl of this classic chicken and sausage gumbo and sharing in the Mardi Gras traditions.
Sausage and-Chicken Gumbo
Pre Time: 15 minutesCook Time: 55 minutesServes 6-8
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1⁄4 inch rounds
1⁄3 cup vegetable oil
3 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
2⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cup onion, chopped
1⁄2 cup celery, chopped
2⁄3 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cup hot cooked rice, for serving
1 clove garlic, minced
5 cup chicken broth or water
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1⁄4 cup sliced green onions, optional, for serving
In a large sauce pan, brown the sausage over medium heat. Remove from pan, and drain on paper towels to remove some of the fat. In the same skillet, heat vegetable oil over high heat. Brown chicken pieces in hot oil. Turn frequently until golden brown on all sides. Transfer chicken to a dish and set aside, leaving oil in pan.
Make a roux by whisking flour into the hot vegetable oil in pan. Turn heat down to low. Continue cooking flour and oil mixture, stirring constantly, until it reaches a dark brown color, about 10-15 minutes. When the roux is a dark brown color, quickly add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic. Cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in 5 cups broth and spices. Add chicken and sausage. Bring mixture to a boil, and reduce heat.
Serve gumbo over rice and top with green onions.
• Chef Heather Hunsaker attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. She currently serves as a writer and recipe developer for meal planning service www.foodonthetable.com