It’s officially March (how did that happen??), which means one thing for sure: Mardi Gras is here!
Now, I didn’t get a chance to go straight to the source in New Orleans, but I have a special treat that could be considered just as good… or at least an A for effort.
In honor of the very colorful holiday… I present a true Mardi Gras meal of Shrimp, Crawfish & Andouille Gumbo, Jalepeño Cornbread and fried okra.
The boyfriend is: 1. A medical school student, 2. An absolute fanatic of anything Cajun/Creole/from Nola/etc., 3. Willing to give anything a try if there is recipe for it (especially if it’s by Alton Brown, as I have previously mentioned in this post).
I have always wanted to try my hand at making Cajun food, but to be completely honest, didn’t trust myself to remotely compare to that of New Orleans or of the French Market Grille in Augusta.
When a fellow med school buddy and his fiancee from New Orleans invited us to a Mardi Gras party, we couldn’t resist. It was the perfect opportunity to try out some recipes. Plus, we knew that if they turned out poorly, the Pat O’s Hurricanes could mask the flavor.
Enter the Recipe Inspiration:
Alton Brown’s Shrimp Gumbo Recipe
This is the recipe we used for the gumbo but we took the creative license to add in some crawfish (Chip’s favorite). Also, we weren’t able to find file powder at the store, so we just forgot about it completely. File is used as a thickening agent. After a bit of research, we discovered that you can use a little bit extra flour in the mix. Also, the okra is a natural thickener, so it ended up being pretty good regardless.
For our version, we also added a bit of extra celery and green peppers for some extra crunch:
My initial job was to dice the veggies and then to work on the roux. Boy, was I intimidated by that. Everyone who I have ever talked to about cooking has said that the roux is the toughest part to get right. It can burn, it can be too light, it will determine the flavor of the entire dish. Talk about pressure. The gumbo was going to ride on if I could get the roux to look a whole lot like this:
And success! A nice brick color was just what we were looking for. My advice: keep the burner on low heat and stir constantly. Feel free to bring a book along to pass the time.
While the other ingredients were added to the roux to cook, we began working on the Jalepeño Cornbread, of which our inspiration came from a combination of Chip’s college cookbook and this recipe:
Ina Garten’s Cheddar Dill Cornbread
Take out the dill, add the jalepeños. Pretty simple. We actually accidentally grabbed “Hickory Smoked Cheddar” rather than the regular cheddar, but it was quite a hit!
We suggest using pickled jalepeños in a jar. They save time since they are already diced and they also add a nice kick with a hint of sweetness from the pickling process.
As we stirred the gumbo and cooked the andouille, our reinvented cornbread recipe waited patiently for the oven to preheat.
Notice: Jalepeños, Cajun Andouille and Spices (do you see a trend here?)
As the gumbo simmered and flavors collided, there were lonely little okra pieces left over from the gumbo. We couldn’t just let them go to waste, so we decided to wing it with some friend okra. Apparently, Chip had mentioned to the med school friend that there may be a little extra crunch on top of the gumbo, but I have a confession… the okra didn’t even make it out the door.
They. were. divine. (and easy as can be). See here:
Chip & Lauren’s Easy Okra (real original name, right?)
- Fresh okra
- Vegetable oil (or leftover grease from the andouille)
- Cut the okra into pieces about 1/2 inch thick.
- Rinse under cold water to get rid of the sliminess.
- Dust the okra lightly in cornmeal.
- Put them in a pan with the oil and fry ’em up nice and quick.
- Eat. (We sure did…)
Disclaimer: We can't claim to be the neatest of chefs, but we always promise to clean up.
Once those babies made it to this paper towel, they didn’t last long:
In fact, by the time our jalapeño cornbread made it out of the oven, the okra was already eaten… didn’t even make it to a plate. Sorry, med school class, it was too hard to resist. And here is the lovely cornbread, looking nicely browned around the edges:
After all that cooking, we quickly cleaned up and headed right out the door. Once the food was on the table, we never had a chance to take a picture of the final product. It was eaten up too quickly. I guess that’s a good sign, right?
But don’t worry, there was quite a pot luck spread including shrimp, crabcakes, beignets, red beans and rice, and many other dishes decked out in Mardi Gras style.
The party was wonderful and came complete with delicious food, great friends and plenty of beads. (Don’t worry, we didn’t do anything crazy to get them.) So all in all, my first Mardi Gras celebration was a success!
My next Cajun recipe endeavor? Crawfish étoufée. I’ll let you know how that goes.
So, do you have any great Mardi Gras plans or hopes to eat some delicious Cajun food for Fat Tuesday? Do tell.
As for now… Laissez Bon Temps Rouler!