CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, seems late this year. It usually falls in February, but this year March 8 marks the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Traditionally a day of celebration before the abstemious Lenten period observed by Christians between Ash Wednesday and Eastertide, Mardi Gras features great food and parties.
Fat Tuesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday, which refers to a time of penance before Lent. Shrove Tuesday followers serve pancakes as dinner on the day of reflection.
Because New Orleans residents throw flamboyant Mardi Gras celebrations, the Cajun and Creole foods of the area are commonly associated with Fat Tuesday. Hearty dishes such as gumbo, etouffe and jambalaya contrast nicely with the lean, meatless dishes traditionally served during Lent. Most denominations no longer observe strict dietary restrictions, but the custom provides a good excuse to indulge in rich foods.
I've heard people say they love gumbo, but never make it because they're intimidated by the recipe's first step, which is making a roux. A roux is simply flour added in equal measure to hot oil and constantly stirred until the mixture turns a dark, chocolate brown. It's used to flavor and thicken gumbo. It's not hard, but it requires constant attention because it burns easily.
The longer it's cooked, the darker and more flavorful the roux becomes. A nicely browned roux has a nutty flavor. A burnt roux is bitter.
Gumbo often contains okra, a vegetable that I've never learned to love. So I was pleased to find a recipe in Southern Living magazine that didn't call for okra. It was a New Year's recipe, so it included black-eyed peas. I substituted rice.
Jambalaya has to be one of the most versatile dishes prepared by Cajun/Creole cooks. The rice-based jambalaya may be made with beef, pork, chicken, duck, shrimp, oysters and crayfish. Andouille sausage is essential, and available in most grocery stores. Green peppers, cayenne pepper, tomatoes, celery and onions are usually in the mix.
Typically, broth or water, tomatoes, seasonings and uncooked rice are added to a pot of sautéed vegetables and meats. The mixture simmers until the rice is done. Shrimp or any other seafood that should not be overcooked is added near the end of the cooking time.
The first step in the jambalaya recipe is making stock, but you could skip that step and substitute boxed stock and cooked chicken. Jambalaya is a great vehicle for leftover meats.
Brightly colored king cakes provide a sweet finish to Mardi Gras meals. The yeast dough, which is more a hot roll than cake mixture, is rolled out and spread with butter, cinnamon and sugar, or with a cream cheese filling, then rolled into a log. The log is baked in a circular design and iced with a glaze, then sprinkled with purple, green and gold sugar.
Each cake contains a plastic baby baked into it. Whoever finds the baby is king or queen for the day.
For years, students at several area schools look forward to snacking on king cake on Mardi Gras. At Charleston Catholic High School, Chrissy Hovorka spearheads the annual baking tradition. About 25 volunteer parents bake 56 cakes, one for each classroom. Some follow a traditional recipe, printed in "Southern Living" in 2006, while others use a recipe based on boxed hot roll mix.
The year, Hovorka offers an alternative recipe for bakers intimidated by yeast dough. After several experimental versions, sampled and expertly evaluated by her family, Hovorka settled on an easy-to-make recipe based on refrigerated crescent rolls. The ingredients in Easy King Cakes are more expensive than the from-scratch variety, but the cakes can be prepared and baked in about an hour.
Both the traditional and easy king cake recipes are below.
Whether you use canned stock or make your own for jambalaya, or knead your own dough or crack open cylinders of crescent rolls for king cake, celebrate Mardi Gras in festive New Orleans style with these seasonal favorites.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 14-ounce cans low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/2 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 cups cooked rice
1 pound peeled, large raw shrimp
HEAT oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat; gradually whisk in flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes or until flour is chocolate colored. Do not burn mixture. If you do, toss it out, and try again.
REDUCE heat to medium. Stir in onion and next four ingredients, and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Gradually stir in chicken broth; add chicken and sausage. Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Add rice and shrimp, and cook 5 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink.
Based on a recipe in Southern Living
1 small broiler-fryer chickens
1 stalk celery (cut into bite sized pieces with leaves)
1 onions (quartered)
4 garlic cloves
2 cups converted long grain rice
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
1 pound ham, cubed
1/4 cup butter
1 cup yellow onions, chopped
3/4 cup green bell peppers, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 large bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound cooked and peeled shrimp
COVER chicken with water in a large pot and add the celery, quartered onion, and the 4 cloves of garlic. Boil until tender, about 1 hour.
COOL stock and pour it through a sieve to remove solids. Reserve stock. Remove the chicken from the bones and cut, slice or shred meat. Discard bones and vegetables.
COOK rice in five cups of stock until liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes. The rice should be slightly moist.
SAUTE sausage and ham in Dutch oven, until slightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.
REMOVE the sausage and ham from the Dutch oven and set aside.
ADD butter to Dutch oven and sauté the chopped onion, green bell pepper and parsley until tender, about 3 minutes.
ADD chicken, sausage, ham, 2 cloves of minced garlic, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper to butter and vegetable mixture. Mix thoroughly.
MIX in rice and cooked shrimp.
COOK over low heat, stirring constantly, to warm rice and shrimp.
REMOVE bay leaf and serve.
Source: adapted from recipe in www.food.com.