Mardi Gras: Food fit for a celebration

(Credit: Urbanite)

By Lucy Cohen Blatter

King cake is a Mardi staple. Photo credit: Kit Wohl

Mardi Gras is next Tuesday. Those with homes on the parade route will likely have a big pot of gumbo on the burner and a king cake in the oven. But even if you live in the Big Apple, not the Big Easy, you can get the flavorful aromas and tastes of N’Orleans food.

According to Kit Wohl, a New Orleans native and author of several cookbooks (the most recent of which is “New Orleans Classic Gumbos & Soups”), gumbos are the ideal parade-route food because they are easy to make and to hold. They also get better as they cook on the burner — good news, since parades last hours.The basis of gumbo is usually roux, a labor-intensive ingredient that Wohl describes as being “made by cooking equal parts flour, oil and patience.”

For a good gumbo it’s essential not to have a scorched roux, so the cook has to stir it constantly. “I use it as a personal quiet time,” Wohl said, saying it can take anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes.

After the roux comes “what we call the trinity — green bell pepper, onion and celery.” Then, there’s stock. “Shame on you if you use water,” she said.

Then it’s up the chef if they want to fill their gumbo with seafood, meat or a combination of the two.

Wohl describes New Orleans foods as “rich, dense and has a high flavor profile.” But she points out that, while New Orleans food calls for lots of seasoning, that doesn’t mean just pepper — it means a diverse mix of spices.

She laments the fact that food designated as “creole” is often too spicy and not flavorful enough. “People who don’t know how to do Cajun food give it a bad name,” she said.

If you don’t want to make your own creole seasoning she recommends Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning or Chef Paul Prudhomme’s seasonings.

For the ultimate Mardi Gras dessert, the coffee cake-like traditional king cake, Wohl offers some time-saving techniques.

“Making a yeast cake is really time consuming. You can either use a box of Pillsbury hot roll mix as the base or pop and fresh dough rolls. Then you pull the biscuits apart and roll them up into a braided rope, add cinnamon and spices.”


Turkey (or chicken) and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Executive Chef Robert Barker

1 whole turkey carcass or two rotisserie chickens

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups corn oil, to make roux

2 large yellow onions, chopped

3 green bell peppers, chopped

4 celery stalks, chopped

1-1/2 gallons turkey or chicken stock

2 cans your favorite local beer and an equal amount of stock or water

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce

1 tablespoon corn oil, to sauté sausage

1 pound andouille or Hillshire Farms

smoked sausage, thinly sliced,

cut crosswise into half-moons


1. Strip off any cooked meat. Cut the turkey carcass in half and, in a large 2-gallon pot, simmer the halves in water to cover until the remaining meat falls off the bones.

2. Drain and reserve the cooking water. This should provide about 1-1/2 gallons of stock.

3.Remove the meat from the bones and discard the bones. Shred the meat. (If this does not yield 2 to 3 cups of turkey, add any poultry meat such as chicken breasts, cooked and cut into pieces.)

4. In a heavy skillet or saucepan, make the roux by heating the 2 cups of corn oil over medium heat, adding the flour and cooking, stirring frequently, until the roux reaches the color of milk chocolate. Be careful not to let it scorch. (Completing the roux will take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Cooking slowly and stirring constantly on low heat is the secret to succeeding with roux.)

5. Add the chopped onions, peppers and celery to the roux. (This will temporarily stop the cooking process.) Cook the roux until the vegetables are tender, stirring constantly.

6. As the vegetables cook, their sugar will be released and the roux will darken even more as the liquid evaporates. Stir in the beer or water, the Worcestershire and the hot sauce. In a large Dutch oven or the original soup pot, sauté the sausage and garlic in one tablespoon of oil until the garlic is translucent and soft. Carefully add the roux mixture to the pot, stirring. (It will spit and sputter.)

7.Warm and slowly add the turkey stock and stir in the basil, oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper. I’ve seen Chef Robert add the leftover turkey gravy to the gumbo. Simmer, covered, for one hour, then add the shredded turkey or chicken) and cook for 20 minutes more.

8.Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as desired.

Serve in bowls over cooked rice

King Cake


1 box Pillsbury® Hot Roll Mix, 16 ounces

1/2 cup granulated sugar for filling

1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon for filling

1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream the butter, sugar, and cinnamon together until soft enough to spread easily.

Follow directions on the Pillsbury® Hot Roll Mix package. Turn one third of the dough onto a floured surface, and roll into a 2- foot x 1- foot rectangle. Spread half of the butter and filling mixture on top of the dough.

Beginning at the wide edge, roll the dough toward you into a long cigar shape approximately 2 inches in diameter. Do the same with the second and third pieces of the dough. Loosely braid the three rolls together. Place dough roll seam side down on a well greased baking sheet, and curve each roll, pinching the ends together to make oval ring. Cover, and let rise in warm place for 20 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake at 375°F for 15 to 20 minutes or until a straw inserted into the dough comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool.

Taking a good thing a step farther, many bakeries now stuff their King Cakes with ingredients such as apple, peach, or cherry pie filling, cream cheese, or chopped pecans with cinnamon sugar. Use your creative imagination.

Another really fast way to make a King Cake is to use two or three cans of the pop out canned Pillsbury dough cinnamon biscuits, roll the biscuits together into three strips, braid and continue as below, eliminating the cinnamon and glaze but do color the sugar crystals.


2 cups confectioners’ sugar,

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

1 cup granulated sugar, large crystals

3 or 4 drops purple food coloring

3 or 4 drops green food coloring

3 or 4 drops yellow food coloring

To prepare the glaze, combine sugar, lemon juice, and water mixing until smooth. Slowly add more water by the teaspoon until it spreads as easily as a thin icing.

Place 1/3 cup sugar in each of three small jars with lids. Add three drops of food coloring in each one. Cover with lid, and shake until color is evenly distributed throughout the large sugar crystals. Add food coloring, drop by drop until the desired shade is achieved.

Coat the top of the oval king cake with glaze. Immediately sprinkle the colored sugars in 2- to- 3 inch alternating rows of purple, green and gold. Cut and serve.

Tags: mardi gras , new orleans , kit wohl , gumbo , king cake , food

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