Fat Tuesday (the day before Lent, Ash Wednesday) is upon us again! This year the celebration of Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, falls on Tuesday, March 8th. Although New Orleans does hold a unique place in the history of American Mardi Gras celebrations, it was actually first celebrated (and still is) in Mobile, Alabama in the year 1703. This goes to show you that the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast are survivors!
Today, the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans is a truly unique experience due to the vast array of cultural influences. The French Quarter (Vieux Carre) alone represents layer upon layer of history and an unbelievable assortment of cultural expressions. Two of the highest expressions of culture are her music (considered one of the birth places of American Jazz) along with Creole and Cajun cuisine.
Creole cooking is most identified with French immigrants in New Orleans and their cooking techniques coupled with other cultural influences, local game, seafood and produce. The word Cajun, a corruption of the word Acadian, refers to the descendants of French refugees relocated from Nova Scotia to the bayous of Louisiana in 1795. In many ways these two cooking styles overlap but are still distinctly different.
Personally, I am tied to New Orleans. My memories go back over 40 years ago and include vivid experiences meeting the chefs and tasting their dishes. In fact, I can even recall the décor inside their grand restaurants along with the exact table in which I sat! My first unforgettable experience was as a teenager with the dishes Coquilles St. Jacques and Pompano en Papillote at Antoine’s Restaurant. During this time, I was also delighted to discover the late night or early morning pleasures of Café au lait with Beignets at the Café du Monde. And many, many years later, I was lucky enough to spend several days at the café learning how to make those infamous Beignets. New Orleans will always remain a Mecca of culinary delights for me and to many others. Visit our Avanti Savoia Menus for a collection of the recipes for this year’s Mardi Gras celebration.
In the spirit of the season we have decided to offer a short and simple glossary of Mardi Gras and New Orleans culinary terms. LAISEZ LE BON TEMPS ROULER, Y’ALL!
ABSINTHE: Used as a generic term for a popular New Orleans’ anise flavored liquor. Although the original product was banned, many anise or licorice flavored liqueurs are available.
ANDOUILLE: Spicy Cajun pork sausage.
ASH WEDNESDAY: The first day of Lent and the day after Mardi Gras.
BEADS: Strings of brightly colored beads thrown during parades.
BEIGNETS: Square donuts with no hole, served with New Orleans’ Café au Lait.
BOUDIN: Local sausage specialty of pork and rice in casing.
CAFÉ BRULOT: Brandy laced coffee served flambéed.
CAFÉ AU LAIT: Chicory coffee with hot milk.
CANAL STREET: Widest thoroughfare in the world.
CHICORY ROOT: Roasted root that gives New Orleans coffee its distinctive taste.
DOUBLOON: Coins tossed during parades.
ETOUFFEE: Cooking method in which shrimp or crawfish are “smothered” in a vegetable sauce in a covered container.
FILE: Powdered Sassafras leaf used as a thickening.
GREEN ONIONS: Called “shallots” in many New Orleans’ recipes.
GUMBO: Hearty soup or stew thickened with a roux and may contain aromatic vegetables, poultry, seafood, ham or sausage and usually served with rice.
HOLY TRINTY: A culinary term referring to celery, peppers and onions.
JAMBALAYA: Creole dish of rice, broth, meats, seafood and vegetables cooked much like a Spanish Paella.
KING CAKE: Coffee cake like pastry decorated in purple, green and gold.
KREWES: Organizations that stage parades and balls.
MARDI GRAS COLORS: Purple, green and gold.
MUFFULETTA: Gigantic sandwich including meats, cheeses and olive salad.
PRALINE: Traditional New Orleans candy patty featuring pecans.
ROUX: Mixture of fat and flour used as a thickener and flavoring.
ZYDECO: Lively dance music combining Cajun, African and American R&B influences.
Dedicated with beaucoup d’amour to Bill, Anne and Edith.