I’ve never experienced the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, but I’ve come dangerously close.
One Sunday evening, my sophomore year of college, I was sitting in the snack bar below the dining hall eating a falafel with my friend Salima. It was around 8pm, and we were gearing up to go to the library to finish our weekend’s workload for Monday morning class that we had yet to touch. All of a sudden, Salima started to spaz out.
“Oh my god, oh my god…do you KNOW what day it is?”
I did. It was Sunday, I told her. “Exactly,” Salima continued. “Sunday the 6th. Exactly two days until Mardi Gras!”
“Should we throw a party?” I didn’t know of anything going on on-campus to celebrate.
“No no no. We need to GO!” I watched the wheels turn in Salma’s head, calculating exactly how long the drive would take to New Orleans, and what time we would touch down if we left Providence right then and there. Always good at elaborate problem solving, a skill that would prove highly valuable during investment banking and consulting interviews senior year, Salima concluded that we had exactly one hour to track down a car, get into it, and head south on 95.
And then Salima asked the question that would haunt me for the rest of my college career: “are you in, or are you out?”
I always wanted to be thought of as impulsive—it was part of my cover for being a closet work-a-holic. But I had a paper due Tuesday that I hadn’t started, and while Salima would have been able to finish it from the backseat of the car, I required a different type of all-nighter, in the library stacks.
So I said no. Upon which Salima realized she didn’t have time to waste on falafel or someone as un-fun as me and went on in search of able-bodied partiers, with the litheness of spirit to put down their textbooks and get in the Pathfinder.
I always regretted my decision, and when the group returned five days later, a little worse for wear, I wished I could have shared in their joint stories of hurricanes, beads, and breasts.
So this year, I’m making up for lost tim by hosting a Mardi Gras Gala that’s a little bit more my speed. It’s for charity, for one, in support of The Valerie Fund. But I do hope that the party itself is a little less angelic, if also a little less debaucherous than Salima’s New Orleans adventure.
If you are in the New York area, I would love you to join me for a few authentic Hurricanes (donated by Pat O’Briens) and food from Dell’Anima and L’Artusi. If you can’t make it, or would rather have BGSK fare (who can blame you!), I’m sharing my recipe for jambalaya in hopes that you will host a Mardi Gras theme party of your own.
We cooked up this dish for a Pan-Southern dinner featured in next month’s Southern Flourish Magazine. Be sure to subscribe to Southern Flourish here to check out the full menu, complete with Cara’s Fried Chicken and Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Buttermilk Dressing and Pecan Sundaes.
From my kitchen, traveling to New Orleans in my Dutch oven, if not in Salima’s car, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Brown Rice Jambalaya
Makes 4-6 servings
This classic New Orleans fare is a perfect one-pot dinner party dish for a busy city girl. I’ve taken a less traditional route and cut down the ingredient list, and the calories. Rather than using ham hock, I stick with andouille—while the sausage ups the fat count, all the flavorings in the meat mixture allows me to skip the many jars of spices needed for classic Cajun kick. Brown rice provides great texture and bite, while also upping the fiber factor. Best of all, this dish can be made the night before up until step 3.
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces andouille sausage, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
5 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoons paprika
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 large bay leaf
2 cups chicken or seafood stock
1 1/2 cup brown rice
¾ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 scallions, thinly sliced
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed lidded saucepan over high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned on both sides. Remove to a plate. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, bell pepper, and celery. Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes, scrapping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute. Push the vegetable mixture to the sides of the pan and add the chicken. Cook the chicken, stirring occasionally, until partially browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cayenne, paprika, and 1 teaspoon of salt and toss to combine.
Pour the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and the bay leaf over the meat mixture. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, until the rice is tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (You can make it up until this point 1-2 days in advance. Simply reheat with some extra stock, and proceed with the recipe).
Add the shrimp and half of the scallions to the pot and toss to combine. Cover and cook until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the remaining scallions.