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Sweat not optional for authentic Mardi Gras

Whether or not you intend to exorcize any culinary demons for the Lenten season, Fat Tuesday looms less than a week away, which means it's a great time to let the good times roll with a feast inspired by Louisiana.

Mardi Gras is a celebration of culture, color and culinary fusion so old it's become a cuisine of its own. And what grand inspiration Cajun and Creole flavors offer to those of us still connecting the cultural flavors in our own community to see what sticks.

French, Spanish, Portuguese, African, Indian and Italian cultures influence the Creole while ancient French expatriots from Acadia in Canada founded Cajun cuisine. Forced to cohabitate the rich Louisiana lands, a pair of cuisines fit together like Yin and Yang and eventually gain recognition nationwide.

To prepare a traditional feast for Fat Tuesday, you will need to do some advance work and devote a good portion of your time in the kitchen.

Never fear, the inspiration is worth the perspiration. And that perspiration will continue one drop of Louisiana hot sauce at a time before the meal ends in sweet surrender with bread pudding.

But before you get to dessert, you'll need some gumbo and some red beans and rice. Don't forget a skillet of fresh cornbread (maybe dappled with fresh jalapenos) and plenty of cold beer. If you want to go bigger than beer, do it with a flight of Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, here are recipes for two kinds of gumbo, Red Beans and Rice and bread pudding.

CAJUN FOOD SHOT ON on Friday, Feb. 25, 2011, in Oklahoma City, Okla.  Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
CAJUN FOOD SHOT ON on Friday, Feb. 25, 2011, in Oklahoma City, Okla. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

Fried Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Makes 10 to 12 servings, 3 quarts

1 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces

11/2 pound Andouille sausage

11/4 cup vegetable oil, plus two tablespoons for okra

2 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 yellow onion, 1-inch dice

1 bell pepper, 1-inch dice

4 stalks celery, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

3 quarts chicken stock, not broth

3 cups sliced okra, chopped in 1-inch slices.

1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons for okra

2 teaspoons chile powder

11/2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper

11/2 teaspoon gumbo file (ground sassafras leaves)

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Sliced green onions and chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Heat a large, heavy-bottom Dutch oven or 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, and add the oil. Heat the oil until it begins to stir on its own, 3 to 5 minutes.

While the oil is heating, dry the chicken pieces and add salt and pepper. Debone the breasts, and chop into 2-inch pieces. Dredge the chicken in a 1/2 cup of flour.

Fry chicken in the oil 4 or 5 pieces at a time, careful not to overcrowd in the pan. Fry the chicken on each side about 5 minutes, until chicken is golden brown. It doesn't need to be cooked through, just crisped.

Remove chicken and drain. Set aside.

Increase heat to medium high and add remaining flour to the oil about 1/2 cup at a time, whisking in as you go. After the flour and oil are incorporated, continue to whisk at medium heat. Should be about 10 minutes altogether.

Once the roux begins to darken, lower heat to low and continue to stir 50 to 60 minutes, or until the roux is the color of milk chocolate.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the onions, peppers and celery to the roux and stir to blend. Stir the vegetables in the roux for 5 minutes, then add the spices and garlic to the pot. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds, then carefully add the stock.

Bring the pot to a boil and skim foam. Lower the heat and simmer 30 minutes, skimming foam and oil.

Add the chicken and continue simmering 45 minutes, skimming as necessary. Add the sausage slices and simmer another hour, still skimming as necessary.

The gumbo is ready to eat by now but can continue to simmer at low heat for another couple hours.

Before serving, heat a medium skillet at medium-high heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Fry okra 6 to 8 minutes in a cast-iron skillet or 8 to 10 minutes in a nonstick pan. Move to a small bowl and toss with vinegar and salt.

Add okra to the pot, or serve it to individual bowls to maintain crunchiness. Garnish with chopped parsley and green onions and serve with basic white rice and crusty French bread for sopping.

Source: Dave Cathey

Seafood and Sausage Gumbo.
Seafood and Sausage Gumbo.

Seafood and Sausage Gumbo

Serves 10 to 12

2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, deveined (don’t discard shells)

1 pound lump crab meat

1 pound smoked andouille sausage, cut in 1/2 -inch slices

1 pound whole, fresh okra, stemmed and halved lengthwise (optional)

12 fresh oysters, shucked and cleaned, liquor reserved

6 cups seafood stock

1 onion, finely diced

1 bell pepper, finely diced

3 stalks celery, finely diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh-ground white pepper

1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dry Greek or Italian oregano

1 bay leaf, crumbled

2 tablespoons file powder


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup vegetable oil



4 quarts water

Shrimp shells

Crab shells

Fish heads

Fish bones

One onion, skinned and sliced into quarters

2 celery stalks, chopped in half

1 clove garlic, pulverized

4 bay leaves

1 sprig of Rosemary and thyme

1 teaspoon butter

4 tablespoons salt

To make the stock: In a large stock pot or kettle, bring water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute the shrimp shells in butter over medium heat until the crisp up and turn orange.

Add all the ingredients to the boiling water, lower heat to medium low and simmer at least four hours.

To make the roux, heat a cast-iron or heavy skillet over high heat and add the oil. When the oil is on the verge of smoking, whisk in the flour 1/3 cup at a time. Blend the flour into the oil thoroughly before adding more. Continue whisking until the flour has darkened to a chocolate color. Stir constantly to avoid anything sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you maintain high heat and constant motion in a pan that conducts heat properly, you should reach the desired color in no more than 5 minutes. If you double the recipe, it will take roughly double the time.

Switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon and add half the onions, peppers and celery. Mix thoroughly for about a minute and add remaining vegetables and repeat. Add the spices, except for the file. Stir about a minute, then mix in the garlic. After another minute or two of stirring, remove the roux from heat. When the roux is complete, set it aside and let it cool. It can be refrigerated or frozen, so you can do this step in advance.

To finish the gumbo, bring six cups of the stock to a boil in a large pot then stir in the dark roux a little at a time. Don’t add more roux until the liquid has returned to a boil.

Once the roux is exhausted, stir in the sausage -- and okra if you have it -- and bring to a rolling boil for at least five minutes. Lower heat to medium low and simmer another 10 minutes.

Add shrimp, crab and undrained oysters. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.

Serve with steamed white rice.

Source: Dave Cathey

Classic Red Beans and Rice.
Classic Red Beans and Rice.

Red Beans and Rice

Serves 6 to 8

1 pound small red beans, sorted and pebbles discarded

4 slices bacon

10 cups water, divided

2 cups chicken stock or broth

1 onion, finely diced

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1 bell pepper, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, minced or mashed

11/2 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon fresh-ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin seeds

2 bay leaves

Chopped parsley

Chopped green onions

In a large kettle, bring eight cups of the water to a boil and add the beans. Cook cover on medium to medium low heat until the beans have softened, 90 minutes to two hours.

Once beans have softened, strain off all the water through a colander and set aside.

Wipe the kettle clean and heat to medium heat. Cook the bacon in the kettle until enough fat has rendered off to coat the bottom of the kettle in oil. Remove the bacon and set aside.

Sweat the onion, peppers and celery in the bacon fat until thoroughly softened, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat as needed to avoid overcooking.

Add the garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes.

Add beans, stock, remaining water, salt, peppers, cumin and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover and cook at medium to medium-low for at least one hour.

Using an immersion blender, pulse the beans three or four times. Continue simmering partially covered at least another hour. Stir occasionally to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the kettle.

Serve with cornbread, steamed white rice and top with chopped parsley and green onions.

Sherrel’s Fat Tuesday Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce

Many recipes call for more sugar and butter in the pudding itself, but cream and turbinado (raw sugar) make up the difference and create a lovely caramelized crust around the edges. The sugared top lends a glistening invitation to dig in. The sauce can be made with rum or whiskey depending on your inclination.

Fat Tuesday means Cajun food. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman CHRIS LANDSBERGER Makes 6 to 10 servings

Mmmm, Sherrel's Bread Pudding.
Mmmm, Sherrel's Bread Pudding.

Sherrel’s Bread Pudding

6 slices commercial cinnamon raisin bread, coarsely torn

2 cups loosely torn bread, either French bread, croissants, hot rolls, brioche or egg bread

6 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

11/4 cup whipping cream

11/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

3/4 teaspoon orange extract

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 tablespoons butter, melted in 1 1/2 - or 2-quart glass or pottery baking dish (deep souffle dish works well)

3 tablespoons turbinado, divided


1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup cream

2 tablespoons molasses

11/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup dark rum or whiskey

Make pudding: Adjust oven racks so that pudding can bake in center of the oven. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with sugar with a whisk until light and fluffy. Whisk in cream, milk, vanilla and orange extract, beating well. Stir in zest. Prepare breads by tearing into 1- to 2-inch chunks and submerge them in egg and milk mixture so that the bread pieces absorb the liquid. A potato masher works well for this, or you can use the bottom of the whisk.

Set mixture aside while preparing baking dish. Generously coat bottom and sides of baking dish with softened butter. Sprinkle the coated dish with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, turning dish so sugar adheres to sides and bottom.

Pour pudding mixture into the dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Place in the oven and bake for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes depending on the depth of the baking dish. A souffle dish will take longer than a wider more shallow rectangular or square dish.

Cook’s notes: Make this dish using part or all evaporated milk to replace half-and-half or cream and lightly butter the baking dish if your cardiologist insists. A teaspoon of rum flavoring can be used in the sauce for those who wish to eliminate the rum or whiskey. Try adding a handful of toasted pecans to spike up the sauce even more.

Source: Sherrel Jones.

Related Photos
 Seafood and Sausage Gumbo.

Seafood and Sausage Gumbo.

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Dave Cathey

The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene. Read more ›