Laissez les bons temps rouler – let the good times roll! But where do you start with a tradition over 165 years old? We are talking, of course, about Mardi Gras.
Enter Lent season in the right frame of mind by throwing your family and friends a house party, Mardi-Gras style, with some great wines and authentic Louisiana dishes. Set the mood with classic jazz, Clifton Chenier the King of Zydeco, or watch the live coverage of the Mardi Gras parade on YouTube. If your house party is a bit more laid-back, immerse in the culture with David Simon’s HBO series Treme.
Before jumping into all the action, brush up on how Mardi Gras got started in New Orleans. Mardi Gras first made its way to North America via the French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville in 1699, when he named his campsite Point du Mardi Gras. In 1703, French soldiers and settlers enjoyed the first Mardi Gras festivities in the newly founded city of Mobile, AL, which served as the capital of French Louisiana territory until it moved to New Orleans. More than 100 years later, the first recorded Mardi Gras street parade in New Orleans took place in 1837. For more details, check out History of Mardi Gras in the USA.
(Not-so-fun) fact: 2021 was the only time in 165 years when the Mardi Gras parades were cancelled.
Classic Louisiana Food & Wine Pairings to Celebrate Mardi Gras
Now on to the best part of celebrating: the food and wine! My new cooking Cajun staple is “Slap Your Mama” Cajun seasoning and hot sauce which you can order at the link (Amazon also carries it), and get ready to whip up some fiery dishes for Fat Tuesday. Recommended for many dishes, but goes especially well with the below crawfish and gumbo recipes.
Crawfish and Riesling:
Grab a bag of frozen crawfish at your local fish store or Trader Joe’s. Check out the “Poor Man’s Gourmet Kitchen” recipe of how to turn your frozen crawfish into a worthy NOLA-style boil. Pair this finger-licking dish with a refreshing Riesling such as The Seeker, which can stand up to the spicy Cajun seasoning and will sooth and cleanse your palate between bites.
Gumbo and Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir
Gumbo is a signature Louisiana dish: it is a stew of andouille sausage (Polish smoked kielbasa works too), chicken, seafood, onion, celery, green bell pepper, okra, and signature spices. If you have the time and are feeling adventurous, try this authentic New Orleans-style gumbo recipe by Tastes Better From Scratch. However, most of us don’t have what is needed for this southern classic in our kitchen, so my advice here is look up the best Cajun restaurant in your area and support your local restaurant industry. Which leaves you with the task of opening a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and unpacking your takeout. Pighin Sauvignon Blanc from Italy is a fresh and versatile wine that will do your gumbo justice and balance and complement the heat, spices, and vegetables in this stew. If you are a red wine lover, pair with a low tannin wine like Maison Louis Jadot Pinot Noir instead.
For your sweet tooth: King Cake and Moscato d’Asti
King Cake is the King of this celebration! This sugary brioche-style bread with its colorful purple, gold, and green frosting (the official Mardi Gras colors since the mid-1800s) were selected by the Krewe of Rex, one of the oldest krewes in New Orleans since 1872. The krewes (crews) are the various groups responsible for putting on the parade and preparing all year to impress with their elaborate floats; other famous krewes include Bacchus, Zulu, Mardi Gras, and Indians. The King cake comes with variety of fillings and is typically topped with a baby figurine to represent the baby Jesus. It is akin to the Italian Panettone or Jewish Challah bread. The best pairing for the King Cake is an effervescent, semi-sweet Nivole Moscato d’Asti from Michaele Chiarlo.
For your not so sweet tooth: Beignet and Brut Rosé from California
If you are like me and not too keen on the frosting, polish off a beignet, a fried square piece of dough covered with powdered sugar. You can make your own or buy the mix from the famous Café du Monde. Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour from Domaine Carneros pairs extremely well with fried foods, and because the beignets are not super sweet it is a great combination to try. Domaine Carneros has deep Franco-American roots and was founded in Carneros, CA in partnership with Taittinger, a premier family-owned Champagne house in France. This wonderful bubbly is sure to bring your Mardi Gras celebration to a sparkling finale.
So, whether or not you plan to repent and give up wine for lent, celebrate in style like the namesake of this Cuvee Madame de la Pompadour, who introduced Champagne to Louis XV’s court at Versailles and declared it “the only wine that a woman can drink and remain beautiful.”