Beignets and Mardis Gras

Beignets and Mardis Gras. As a family, we love pancakes for breakfast and we certainly don’t wait for Pancake Day. This year as Honey is older I think I will have to invest in a second pancake pan to keep up. Number one daughter Lilly is a dab hand at pancake batter and can now measure out the ingredients pretty much by eye. So at least some of the work in the kitchen is shared. But this weekend as a back to school treat I made us all Beignets. They are like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is traditionally square-shaped and without a hole. Beignets are considered the forerunners of the raised doughnut and are a favourite during Mardis Gras.

Mardi Gras

Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras

Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras and the world famous Carnivals in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans developed from the Christian tradition of eating special rich foods before the fasting season of Lent. The word carnival itself comes from “carne levar” (to take away meat) which is often omitted from the diet during Lent. Alongside the partying, street parades, partying and partying ( can you tell I’m a fan ) is the food. In New Orleans take your pick of Gumbo, Etouffee, Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, Fried Calamari, Andouille Sausage, Beignets and King Cake.

It is said no Mardi Gras celebration is complete without a King Cake, also known as Twelfth Night Cake. This cake is actually a sweetened yeast bread, similar to brioche, baked in a ring shape. A king cake is frosted with gold, green, and purple icing. As you mix the batter is mixed the maker of the King Cake hides a token in the cake. These tokens can be a dried red bean or a figurine of a baby, representing Christ as a child. When the cake is cut and shared, the finder of the hidden treasure is said to enjoy good luck for the coming year. This is a tradition almost identical to a silver sixpence dropped into a Christmas plum pudding.

What are beignets?

In New Orleans beignets are often enjoyed with café au lait, café au lait is strong dark roast coffee and chicory, served with equal part hot milk. The place to try a beignet is the landmark Cafe du Monde coffee stand, established in the New Orleans French Market in 1862 and still operating today, twenty-four seven. Beignets are THE menu, nothing else is served and you can expect a wait in line if you arrive during peak hours and even longer if you want a table. So
here is my recipe for the second staple of a New Orleans Mardi Gras, traditional Cajun Crocialles or Beignets, crisp deep fried dough dipped in sugar. The recipe requires a two to three hour resting period so while you wait, go grab yourself a drink and as they say in New Orleans ‘ Laissez les bon temps rouler ‘ or Let the good times roll!

Coffee and Beignets
These really are delicious you will need to make more than you think. You serve dusted with vanilla sugar or icing sugar. A little unorthodox I like a mix of cinnamon and caster sugar for dipping and some chocolate sauce if you are feeling really indulgent.

My Mardis Gras Cajun Gumbo

And so it is Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, and today I am cooking a Cajun classic, Gumbo. Gumbo is a type of stew from southern Louisiana combining the ingredients and techniques of a melting pot of cultures, including French, Spanish, German, West African, and Choctaw. In general, a Creole gumbo generally contains shellfish, tomatoes, okra and filé * powder. Native words for either of the last two ingredients are the likely root of the word gumbo. A Cajun gumbo is generally based on a dark roux made from fat and flour and is spicier. Both use a ‘ Holy Trinity ’ of ingredients,  chopped onion, celery and green pepper as a base,  developed from the classic mirepoix. Andouille sausage * or ham is often added to gumbos of either variety. After the base is prepared, vegetables are cooked down, and then the meat is added. The dish simmers for a minimum of three hours, with shellfish, filé and extra spices added near the end.


*Gumbo filé powder is a necessity for cooking authentic Creole or Cajun cuisine. Filé powder is the powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. When ground, they have a rich, spicy flavour with a hint of eucalyptus. Andouille sausage is a staple of Cajun and Creole cooking brought to the United States by French immigrants to Louisiana. It is a course pork sausage flavoured with garlic, pepper, onions and wine.

If you are going to cook Cajan then you can get in the mood with this version of the Hank Williams classic. My Gumbo recipe is no exception, the only time I waiver from the truly authentic is adding a little extra butter to my chicken, sausage, and prawns to produce a rich sauce to top the finished dish. As they say in New Orleans,

” Laissez les bons Temps Rouler -let the Good Times Roll “

My Cajun Gumbo                               serves 4

12 large prawns, peeled and de-veined

4 chicken breasts, butterflied

200 gr Andouille sausage, sliced

200 gr Long Grain Rice

150 gr Butter

50 gr Flour

1 litre quality Chicken Stock

50 ml Olive Oil

1 Large Onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 sticks of Celery, washed and chopped

1 Green Bell Pepper

6 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and finely chopped

4 tablespoons of Cajun-style seasoning

2 tablespoons Filé powder ( available from a good Deli )

2 Bay Leaves

1 teaspoon Tabasco hot sauce ( you can use more if you prefer )

Juice of 1 Lemon

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

Freshly chopped Parsley

In a medium bowl mix the prawns, chicken half the sausage and 2 tablespoons of the Cajun style seasoning. In a large heavy-bottomed, saucepan heat the oil over a medium heat and cook the onion, pepper, and celery for ten minutes without burning. Remove from the pan and reserve. Melt half of the butter and stir in the flour. Cook out the roux over a gentle heat, stirring continuously until a dark nut brown. Add the cooked trinity, the seasoned chicken, garlic, bay leaves, the sausage, the remaining Creole seasoning, and Tabasco sauce. Pour in half of the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook over the lowest possible heat for two and a half hours. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

In a second pan, cook the rice by bringing the remaining stock to the boil, add the rice and place on a tight cover. Simmer for five minutes then remove from heat and leave to steam for ten more minutes. Add the prawns to the gumbo and reduce the cooking liquor down by a third until the prawns are cooked. Add the filé powder, the lemon juice, butter, and check the seasoning. Finish the gumbo with chopped parsley then divide the cooked rice into bowls using a slotted spoon and top with a piece of chicken, prawns, sausage and some cooking liquor.

My Cajun Seasoning

3 tablespoons Smoked Paprika

2 tablespoons Onion Powder

2 tablespoons Garlic Powder

1 tablespoon Hot Mustard Powder

1 tablespoon Cayenne Pepper

1 tablespoon Dried Oregano

1 tablespoon Dried Thyme

1 tablespoon Salt

½ tablespoon ground Bay Leaves

½ tablespoon ground Black Pepper

Mix in a food processor and store in an airtight container.