Thinking about throwing a little Mardi Gras party this weekend or on Fat Tuesday (February 24th)? Our friend and New Orleans native, Allison, tells us that most Mardi Gras parties are pretty casual—with food served buffet-style to be nibbled before, after or during one of the crazy and colorful parades. And with plenty of potent potables served and consumed.
Mardi Gras food choices are steeped in tradition, with one indispensable dish: the King Cake. The ‘King’ reference is to the three kings who presented gifts to the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Mardi Gras season runs from the feast of the Epiphany (January 6), which commemorates the arrival of those three wise men, and culminates with the big final bash on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. The most basic King Cake, and most traditional, is a ring of twisted bread topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green and gold (the traditional Mardi Gras colors) with food coloring. Some varieties have filling inside, the most common being cream cheese or praline.
Who’s Got the Baby?
Much of the fun of the King Cake comes with the tiny plastic baby hidden inside the cake. Tradition has it that whoever gets the slice of cake with the baby is crowned as a Mardi Gras King…and must host the next Mardi Gras party.
Don’t Forget the…Muffuletta
Among other Mardi Gras food favorites is the muffuletta sandwich made with smoked ham, salami and the classic olive relish—which is key to its flavor. !(border left)/files/0000/1371/DSC_7610_medium.jpg!(Try our delicious muffuletta recipe) For a big party, the sandwiches are often served on a long roll, and carved into manageable portions.
Another popular Mardi Gras staple is gumbo, the thick and spicy Creole stew or soup concoction that typically consists of rich stock (seafood or chicken) plus okra, shrimp or crawfish, sausage, rice, celery, bell peppers and onions. (Try our gumbo recipe from the Kitchens of _The Food Channel_®.) Jambalaya and Red Beans and Rice are other tasty bayou choices that grace many a Mardi Gras buffet table.
Traditional beverages poured at Mardi Gras gatherings, depending on the time of day, include coffee and chicory/café au lait, along with stronger stuff such as Bloody Mary’s, mint juleps and milk punch (made with bourbon or brandy, half-and-half, superfine sugar, vanilla extract and nutmeg).
Make It Festive with Feathers and Beads
You’re going to want to accessorize your table, of course, using the purple/green/gold Mardi Gras colors and lots of trinkets. Your local party store can probably provide things such as the aforementioned little plastic babies, plus the colorful shiny beads, doubloons and plumed feathers and masks associated with this festive season.
If you can’t make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year, turn your street into Bourbon Street and celebrate it at home with family and friends. Put on some Dixieland jazz or Cajun/Zydeco music, turn it up loud and have yourself a good ol’ time!