by Kate Heyhoe
Country Mardi Gras Based on Medieval Traditions
If you think Mardi Gras in Louisiana is all parades and floats and crowds of people pleading "Throw me somethin' mister," you haven't been to a country Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana's "prairie Cajun" region. North and west of Lafayette, small towns with names like Mamou, Church Point, Ville Platte, Iota and Eunice, hold colorful processions through the countryside called les courirs de Mardi Gras or Mardi Gras runs. Most of the runs take place on Mardi Gras Day.
Following traditions that date from medieval times, participants wear harlequin costumes and fringed masks that make fun of those in authority. Capuchons (cone-shaped hats) parody the hats of noble ladies and dunces, and mitres (tall, pointed headresses worn by bishops) poke fun at the clergy. Many of the masks are hand-made from screen wire and often display animal features.
Photo: Costumed Riders Go Door-to-Door "Begging" for Gumbo Ingredients
Led by a caped capitaine whose job is to maintain order, the rowdy revelers ride horses and flatbeds down rural roads with a bandwagon close behind. They stop at homes along the way to sing and dance in hopes of getting a contribution for a communal gumbo. Donations may include a bag of rice, a sack of onions, or some smoked sausage, but the most anticipated is a live chicken. When the latter is given, the bird is thrown high into the air, sending the merrymakers scrambling to catch it.
By mid- to late-afternoon the exhausted riders return to town where onlookers line the streets to cheer them on. The gumbo loot is collected and volunteers prepare a huge chicken and sausage gumbo to feed both riders and spectators. The music, partying and dancing continue until midnight when everything stops and Lent begins.
If you can't make it to a country Mardi Gras this year, you can create your own celebration. This recipe for Mardi Gras Gumbo will help you get the party started—it's a hearty chicken and sausage gumbo that's served with Wild Pecan rice. Wild Pecan rice is grown in Louisiana's rice country and adds a delicious nutty flavor to this robust classic. Just put on some lively music like "Mardi Gras Mambo" or "Second Line" and let the good times start rolling.
(Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo)
1 (4- to 5-pound) chicken, cut up and trimmed of excess fat
4 teaspoons Creole seasoning, divided
1/2 cup oil
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
2/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
2/3 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
2/3 cup chopped green bell pepper
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 quarts hot water
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (7-ounce) box Wild Pecan aromatic rice (Konriko brand is authentic)
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Wash chicken and pat dry; sprinkle evenly with 2 teaspoons of Creole seasoning. Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until browned on all sides; remove chicken and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add sausage to skillet; cook I to 2 minutes or until browned, tuming once. Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Pour drippings in skillet into a large, heavy Dutch oven (preferably iron) over medium heat. Stir in flour and mix well. Cook 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly, or until mixture turns dark brown, about the color of a dirty copper penny. Immediately stir in onions and cook 5 minutes, stirring often (mixture will be thick). Add bell peppers and continue cooking and stirring 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in hot water, red pepper and remaining 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning; mix well and bring to a boil. Add chicken and sausage and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes longer.
Meanwhile, cook Wild Pecan rice according to package directions. When gumbo is done, skim fat off surface and add additional seasoning, if needed; stir in green onion and parsley and cook 5 minutes longer. Serve in bowls over rice.
Makes 8 servings.
Recipe provided by:
Conrad Rice Mill
makers of Konriko brand rice
(and America's oldest rice mill)
New Iberia, LA
More about Mardi Gras and Carnaval.
This page originally published as a Global Gourmet Today column in 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified January 2007
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