Slimed! Happy Mardi Gras!
It’s a celebration of all things Nawlins, like slippery okra, steaming beignets and shrimp shrimp shrimp.
New Orleans is what I think of on Fat Tuesday, although Venice and Rio also have amazing traditional festivities on this day before Lent begins.
The two most notable cuisines of New Orleans are Creole and Cajun, although the line between them can blur, particularly as chefs get creative and tastes evolve. Based on visits some time ago, Commander’s Palace would be my favorite for Creole style, and K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen for Cajun.
Creole cuisine can be deliciously complex, often rich, and is based on the mélange of cultures who settled in Louisiana: people from France, Portugal, Spain and Africa. French cuisine is its closest relative, and many classics of Creole cuisine have French sounding names like Etouffee and Remoulade (which bears little resemblance to its Gallic namesake).
Cajun can be complex as well, but is more earthy and evokes the memories of struggles in a new country as immigrants from Acadia (“Acadians” morphed into “Cajuns”), also French speaking, learned how to adapt to their new environment and ingredients.
Think of Redfish with Lump Crabmeat Hollandaise and you’re thinking “Creole”. Think of Blackened Redfish, and you’re in Cajun territory.
Okra is a favorite of mine in any cuisine, and it’s a staple in New Orleans. Calling okra “gumbo” is a common misnomer. Gumbo is a stew. Okra is sometimes an ingredient, its gooey texture serving as a thickener. Ground sassafras, also known as file powder, is another thickener, as is roux (flour/butter paste), and sometimes a gumbo will contain all three.
Beignets, French doughnuts with a sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar, are another glory of New Orleans and at their best at Café Du Monde with a cup of café au lait made with their signature coffee/chicory blend. They’re available elsewhere, and you can take home a box of mix. In my opinion, they are a treat worth the fat and calories, but only if enjoyed on the spot, hot from the fryer.
Andouille sausage is another favorite with French origins, but with little in common with its forebears. The delicious andouille sausage of Louisiana is part of the Cajun repertoire, hot and spicy, and traditionally made of pork, although chicken and turkey versions are available for the health conscious. They bear no resemblance to French andouille and andouillette both made of pork chitterlings (intestines).
Bananas Foster, a dessert classic which sounds innocuous enough (How bad can a banana be for dessert?) is a great example of New Orleans decadence: bananas braised in butter, brown sugar and banana liqueur, flamed in dark rum and served over ice cream.
How perfect is that for Fat Tuesday?
I consider myself adventurous when it comes to my taste in food. I love trying new things. Okra is just one of those foods that grosses me out. I don’t even want to tell you what that gooey consistency reminds me of. People tell me I just haven’t tasted it prepared properly. Hidden in a gumbo doesn’t count, but I defy you, Mary Ellen, to find a way to prepare okra that I would enjoy!
I won’t tell you when, but okra will be on the menu in some mysterious guise!