Experiencing Mardi Gras in New Orleans not in your plans this year? No problem, St. Louis has plenty of good times and great Cajun food to keep the good times rolling through the entire carnival season.
St Louis Soulard Mardi Gras' estimated half-million plus attendance makes it the largest Mardi Gras celebration in the Midwest, which officially kicked off on Twelfth Night/January 6 and concludes this year on Fat Tuesday (Feb. 12) with its signature evening parade through downtown. Yet, beyond the planned parades and tons of beads visitors come to Mardi Gras to eat the platefuls of Cajun and Creole food created by local chefs and indulge in specialty drinks - dubbed the finest cuisine found North of the French Quarter.
“This year’s Mardi Gras food events will be even more exciting than last year’s, which began with the Mardi Gras Wine, Beer and Whiskey Taste on Jan. 25 at the St Louis City Hall Rotunda” said spokesperson for Soulard’s Mardi Gras, Inc. Mack Bradley.
Soulard’s beer, wine and whiskey tasting has evolved into a multi-themed libation and food tasting event featuring wines, beers, an assortment of traditional and flavored whiskeys from vendor sponsors and signature Mardi Gras inspired dishes.
The Southern Comfort Taste of Soulard, to be Feb. 2 -3, continues to draw the Cajun foodie faithful to sample delicacies from a list of more than 30 Soulard restaurants. This chow-down opportunity allows partiers to purchase taste booklets with seven tickets good for samples of signature drinks and dishes at such participating Soulard restaurants as Big Daddy’s (Cajun Crab Stuffed Mushrooms), The Big Grizzly Bear (Cajun Shrimp and Crab Rice Bowl) and Joanie’s Pizzeria’s (Blackened Chicken Creole Pizza).
As an extra perk during the two-day Taste of Soulard event is a free trolley that is provided between establishments for tasters on from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 2) only. Each Taste of Soulard ticket booklet holds seven tickets and is priced at $25.
For those preferring to sample, watch and learn from Cajun cooks and chefs, The Crystal Cajun Cook-off last weekend was a must. Held inside St Louis City Hall rotunda were two divisions of amateur and professional chefs who were vying for top honors. Last year’s winners, amateur Cajun cook Julie Roy and River City Casino Chefs John Johnson and Stephan Schubert were returning to defend their 2012 culinary crowns.
Chef Johnson gladly explained his winning strategy last year. He kicked around recipe ideas with his team and once a few ideas are formed he sleeps on it for a few nights.
“After kicking ideas around and playing with products and techniques, the creative process isn’t complete until I dream about it over a couple of nights,” said Chef Johnson explaining that part of this year's entry is Smoked Gator Cheddar Pups, an over-the-top hush puppy served on a bed of gator etoufee.
After reviewing the recipe I had to ask if gator really tastes like chicken?
“Gator doesn’t taste like chicken," said Johnson. "Gator is a natural meat that accepts flavors well – similar to the way chicken does.”
While watching the cook-off chefs work their magic attendees, sampled Cajun delicacies. To purchase tickets or any of Soulard’s Mardi Gras ticketed events click on www.mardigrasinc.com.
For those wanting to “Pardi Gras” at home Southern Comfort Chef Johnson and Bill Kunz, who made his Pardi Gras/Mardi Gras events famous at his Webster Groves New Orleans themed eatery - Hwy 61 Roadhouse - have shared a few recipes to keep the Mardi Gras spirit rolling long after the last beads are thrown.
Smoked Gator Cheddar Pups
(Courtesy Chef John Johnson, River City Casino)
- 2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 3 jalapeno minced with seeds
- 2 cup shredded cheddar
- 1 yellow onion, diced small
- 1 1/2 cup shredded Pepperjack
- 3 cup shredded gator meat (chef uses smoked gator)*
Mix all the above together, let rest for 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to satisfy your own taste. To cook, fry in hot oil by dropping gator mixture by tablespoonfuls, frying until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with a side of Remoulade Sauce, if desired.
* Editor's Note: What to use if you can’t find gator, let alone smoked gator? Give crawfish or shrimp a try. Of course you can try shredded roasted chicken but remember what Chef said, " Gator doesn’t taste like chicken."
(Courtesy Southern Comfort)
- 1 1/2 ounces Southern Comfort
- 1 1/2 ounces Sweet and Sour Mix
- 1 1/2 ounces Orange juice
- 1 1/2 ounces Pineapple juice
- splash of Grenadine
- Orange wedge and cherry for Garnish
Mix the above ingredients together in a pitcher and pour over ice-filled tall glasses, garnished with orange wedge and cheery.
Louisiana BBQ Shrimp
(Courtesy Bill Kunz, Hwy 61 Roadhouse)
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- 1 1/2 sticks butter, unsalted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup shrimp stock*
- 1/4 cup beer, light lager, room temperature
- 1 pound shrimp ( 21/25 count tail on)
- 1 cup steamed white rice
- 1/2 loaf French bread, sliced
In a small bowl mix all spices together to make seasoning mix. Place butter in a sauté skillet over medium heat. Once butter has melted add garlic and sauté until garlic has softened. Add Worcestershire sauce, shrimp stock, beer and seasoning mix. Simmer until sauce thickens enough to stick to spoon. Add shrimp stirring to make sure all shrimp are completely coated with butter. Cook for approximately 5 minutes or until shrimp become transparent. Mound rice in the center of a serving bowl and pour shrimp mixture over the top of rice. Serve with French bread to sop up the sauce. Makes 2 large servings.
Editor's note: If you can't find shrimp stock try clam or vegetable juice instead.