The fun way to find Mardi Gras Gumbo
Forget the beads. During Mardi Gras I come for the food. Don’t get me wrong, catching beads along the parade route is fun but it doesn’t hold a candle to a crawfish boil or a community Mardi Gras gumbo pot. Both traditional Cajun throwdowns dished throughout South Louisiana’s Cajun country with hearty helpings of hospitality. One of my favorite destinations where hospitality rules is St. Landry Parish, birthplace of Zydeco music and the late king of Cajun cooking, Paul Prudhomme. Here the good times roll as briskly as the waters in a crawfish pot.
While crayfish is the quintessential emblem of Louisiana cooking it’s doesn’t completely rule the gumbo pot during Mardi Gras. At least not in Cajun County where chicken is the main attraction during the Courir de Mardi Gras Run where roisters “beg for gumbo.”
Beggin’ for gumbo takes place every year on Fat Tuesday, the day before the Christian season of Lent begins. Townsfolk travel house-to-house begging for ingredients for a communal gumbo pot. Chicken, smoked sausage, shellfish, beans and rice are collected and cooked into a bodacious gumbo served to the community.
The best place to go beggin for gumbo is Eunice, Louisiana during their Courir de Mardi Gras or Cajun Mardi Gras Run, which embraces the rural tradition of riders going from house to house begging for food a communal gumbo. Over two thousand colorfully dressed revelers donning tall cone hats and costumes walk, ride horses or crowd onto the back of flatbed trucks to travel the parade route. Stopping at designated points to beg for gumbo ingredients. The prize ingredient of the day is chicken. After all, this considered a Mardi Gras chicken run.
Once chickens appear along the route the parade stops. Krewe members dismount and the chase begins. Most stops have chickens to chase, proving time to stop, imbibe and party. Catching the yard bird makes for a family friendly spectacle.
“Everyone turns out for the Courir de Mardi Gras run,” said St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission Director Celeste Gomez, confirming the chickens gathered are just for show and never find their way into the gumbo pot. “Unlike the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Cajun Mardi Gras has always been family friendly and a community celebration where the music is non-stop and the gumbo flows.”
Cajun fire and Creole spice mixed with toe-tapping Zydeco makes Mardi Gras the number one festival for music loving foodies. Nothing else seems to capture a gourmand’s soul faster than eating one’s way through the Mardi Gras, especially when in Cajun country.
While Mardi Gras officially ends on Ash Wednesday, my cravings for Cajun cuisine continues throughout the year. Thankfully hungry travelers are never disappointed in South Louisiana where its culinary traditions and many Mardi Gras favorites are served daily such as the Chicken & Sausage Gumbo dished at Ruby’s Courtyard in Eunice and boudin and cracklings that’s always offered at Bill Ray’s Boudin in Opelousas.
Beggin’ for gumbo is a tradition I compare to a potluck supper – just a lot more fun.
It’s pretty easy to throw your own Cajun Mardi in your own backyard. Just send out invites explaining the tradition, include a recipe, then “beg” guests to bring something for the gumbo pot. As for live chickens, check. Depending on where you live providing chickens to chase could be frowned upon. Nonetheless, with or without a chicken a beggin’ for gumbo party is guaranteed to get the good times rolling.
But wait – what if you don’t have a gumbo receipt? No worries. The St Landry Parish Tourist Commission happily sends their recipe for authentic Cajun Chicken & Sausage Gumbo for RFT readers to enjoy.
Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
1 (4-5lb.) chicken, cut into pieces
Tony Chachere s Original Creole Seasoning
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons flour
2 large onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Smoked Sausage, sliced
3 quarts water
3 tablespoons chopped green onions
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Season chicken to taste with Tony Chachere s Original Creole Seasoning. In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat oil until hot and gradually add flour, stirring continuously until well blended. Lower heat and continue stirring until roux is chocolate brown.
Add chopped onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic. Stir well and let vegetables begin to wilt. Slowly add water stirring to dissolve roux. Add chicken, sliced smoked sausage. Bring to a boil and simmer 1½ to 2 hours or until meat is tender. Add chopped green onions and parsley at the very end. Serve in soup bowls with rice.
Makes 10 servings.
Recipe courtesy of St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission