Mark your calendars for March 4, 2014! Time for Mardi Gras!
When most of us in the U.S. think of this celebration, our thoughts drift to Louisiana but this day is celebrated in many cultures. I am not a native of this fine sate, but am in love with all things New Orleans. I especially love the foods born from the blending of a variety of cultures and evolved through the need to use local resources, readily available and free.
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”—the final feasting before the fasting of Lent, which begins Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday is also called Shrove Tuesday, a name that comes from the practice of shriving—purifying oneself through confession—prior to Lent. Many of the names applied to this day relate to food and eating. In many Latin countries, Mardi Gras is the culmination of the carnival season of revelry and feasting. Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, this Tuesday is Fastnacht (fast night), and everyone enjoys the traditional fastnachtkuchen, a rectangular doughnut with a slit in the middle. If you’re not up to traveling to the big Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, you might want to sample some of the foods unique to this area and plan your own party.
I will direct you first to the blog Acadiana Table by George Graham. His love of the area is apparent in his stories of Cajun and Creole cooking and his luminous photography. His latest post, “Rox’s Roux” speaks to the lost art of making roux from scratch. He advised me to check out a book called Season’s of Louisiana by Chef Peter Sclafani.
Wow! This is a beautiful book with easy to follow recipes and mouth-watering photos (available on Amazon). With recipes like Corn & Crab Bisque, and Creole Tomato Salad, I plan to try many of these offerings. I decided to first try the one below, made with one of my favorites, crawfish. Also called crawdads, these are fresh water crustaceans that resemble tiny lobsters, claws and all. The meat of these small creatures is primarily in the tail so I usually buy crawfish tails, already picked and cleaned available in one pound packages. I buy them from a local source that brings them in from the gulf. Check with your fish monger to see if he/she carries it or can order it for you if you do not live where it is readily available. They are mild in flavor and much like lobster have sweet and succulent meat, and are versatile in their use. Worth a try if you have never had them.
Here’s how it goes down.
CRAWFISH MARIA Serves 8
Recipe by Chef Peter Sclafani featured in “Seasons of Louisiana”
1 lb. fettuccine (any type of pasta can be substituted)
1c onions, peeled and chopped
½ c celery, chopped
½ c red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1T garlic, minced
½c dry white wine
2 quarts crawfish stock (chicken or seafood stock can be substituted)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon oregano, dry
2t fresh thyme, chopped
2t fresh basil, chopped
1T Creole seasoning
2t sea salt
1t fresh ground black pepper
½ t white pepper, ground
¼ t cayenne pepper, ground
2c heavy whipping cream
2lbs. Louisiana crawfish tails
½ c green onions, sliced
¼ c fresh Italian parsley, chopped
- Bring a large stockpot of water to boil. Add salt to make it taste like the sea water. Cook the pasta until al dente, just cooked through but still firm. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile heat a large stockpot over medium high heat and melt the butter. Sauté the onions for about 5 minutes. Add the celery, and bell pepper and sauté and additional 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for one more minute.
- Stir in the flour and cook to make a white roux. Add the wine and whisk into the roux. Add the stock and continue to whisk to remove any lumps. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Add the bay leaf, oregano, thyme, basil, Creole seasoning, salt, black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne pepper. Let simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add the cream and taste for seasoning. Stir in the crawfish tails, green onions and parsley. Toss with the hot pasta and divide into 8 bowls. Serve hot.
This recipe makes a lot so I cut the recipe in half. It still made a lot as it is very rich. This could be a special occasion dish as it is creamy, and has the feel of celebration. When I make it for everyday, I will cut back a little on the butter and cream. Still very satisfying but a bit lighter. I used a commercial Creole seasoning but Peter has a recipe in his book that is easy to assemble.
So thanks to Chef Peter and George Graham for keeping the traditions and cuisine of this fine region of our country alive. I am already thinking of my Mardi Gras party menu and urge you to do the same. These resources will really help you get excited for this celebration and for those amazing and vibrant tastes.