You want to celebrate a Mardi Gras but … it’s a work day. If you’re not in New Orleans, where work and schools are often closed for at least a week, you likely still have to get up bright and early on Wednesday morning. How can you festively feast on Fat Tuesday when your prep time is limited and you know you can’t get too buckwild?
Fortunately, I’ve celebrated Mardi Gras many times and many ways (and only in NOLA once), and I have some easy tips to help get you into the Big Easy spirit.
The fewer the merrier
Yes, you should have a few people over, but limit it to no more than six. You don’t want to deal with a big clean up in the morning, and six is a very manageable number to prepare food for.
Pick a (food) theme
Sure, we’d all like to have po’boys, jambalaya, king cake, hurricanes, gumbo, beignets, red beans and rice, muffalettas and all the rest of the classic New Orleans fare. But I urge you to be more reasonable. Select one entree and one dessert and keep it simple. Here are two menu suggestions:
Gumbo and Quick Beignets
Whether you prefer seafood or chicken and andouille sausage, you’re right. Gumbo is a mainstay of New Orleans cuisine, and although it doesn’t typically fall into the category of “easy,” with this roux hack, your gumbo game isn’t as time-consuming and tedious as it once was. The quick beignets are just that — quick. A little effort in the gumbo and an easy dessert balance out this menu and make it a manageable undertaking for a weekday.
You’ll need a Dutch oven for the gumbo, and we recommend the Nest Homeware Dutch Oven for a small batch (2 to 4 people), or the Staub Coq au Vin for a larger crowd (4 or more).
Po’Boys and King Cake
Po’boy buffet anyone? Get yourself some crusty bread, tomato and lettuce, whip up a quick remoulade, and you’re almost done! Frying seafood is fast and easy, so you can assemble all your po’boy accoutrement in advance and make a build your own po’boy buffet. Your guests will enjoy assembling their sandwiches to their liking and you’ll enjoy the easy preparation of this NOLA classic. Impress your guests by making a king cake, too. As long as you’re not scared of rolling up dough, this king cake recipe is about as easy as they come — and delicious!
Drinks are important
For drinks, you should make sure to have Louisiana-based Abita beer flowing, in addition to cocktails, of course. No need for a batched signature cocktail here; with a small group, you can make sazeracs to order, as well as anything else in your repertoire. If you’re looking to make something new, here’s a great one to try:
Romancing the Bayou
3/4 ounce mezcal
1/2 ounce Amaro
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse
7 full dashes of El Guapo Gumbo Bitters
Combine the mezcal, Amaro, Chartreuse and bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until chilled, about 60 rotations or 1 minute. Strain into a Georgia punch or Nick and Nora glass. Twist the lemon peel over the drink to express its oils and then place the peel in the drink. Serve immediately.
If you want to really drink festively, though, we recommend these glasses from New Orleans designer Mignon Faget. Choose from the classic New Orleans fleur-de-lis or the crawfish glasses. Personally, I love the New Orleans Cocktail Gift Combo, which comes with four of the crawfish double old fashioned glasses from Mignon Faget, plus El Guapo chicory-pecan bitters and ginger syrup, to get you mixing up more of your own creations.
Decorate and dispose
Pop on over to Party City in advance and pick up all green, gold and purple serving pieces and flatware you can find. Throw in any flare you feel necessary, such as masks or beads. Pro-tip: Using paper and plastic allows for a very easy clean up.
That’s it! Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Photos (Po'Boy and Drinks): Maura Friedman