There are many folks, thousands even, who are not fortunate to live within walking distance or on the parade route. People drive from miles away, park as close as they can (blocking our driveways, in our yards – you know who you are) and walk down to the route passing our house everyday, all day and into the night. They carry everything imaginable to make their stay or viewing as comforting as possible, camping out with lawn chairs, portable tables, coolers on wheels and yes, even BBQ grills. We have actually witnessed sofas making it to the parade.
Some times, like last week and early in the carnival season, there is only one parade at night and maybe an afternoon one on the weekend. As this weekend gets closer, parades will be back to back, day and night. So what do the thousands of folks eat during their stay, the ones who did not bring their kitchen and household possessions along for the fun? Street food, carnival eats – that’s what they eat and us too if we venture too far from our house. We some times do go further downtown during the day, especially Mardi Gras day and yes, we could duck into a restaurant but that would spoil the carnival atmosphere.
There are the mainstays in carny foods, like corndogs, hotdogs, French fries, nachos, soft pretzels and an array of drinks like hot chocolate, sodas, ice shavings, snow cones, smoothies and freshly squeezed lemonade. Of these foods, my favorite is the foot-long corndog. I cannot go through the season without a few of these. No mustard, no ketchup … nothing but a greasy fried, dark brown cornmeal battered dog - the unhealthiest and longest wiener I can find – that’s my perfect corndog. And not just any one, the fun is finding the ideal dog, passing by many food venders and eyeballing rows and pans until I spot the perfect one – the one calling out to me.
Another great treat and also comes on a handy, easy to hold stick is the, again, not so good for you chicken-on-a-stick. Thin strips of chicken breasts, doubled battered in a flour or a cornmeal coating that’s so crunchy and delicious. There is a third stick related food that’s equally as good but much harder to find even here in this seafood area – shrimp-on-a-stick and when we do find one, it’s normally from a local vender.
Then there are the polish dogs, sausage dogs and every smoked variety imaginable. I always go for the sausage grilled with onions and bell peppers, maybe jalapenos to liven things up wrapped in a steamed hoagie. To this, I add the mustard, spicy if available. In just the past few years there are more stands selling wraps for the healthy minded but I still go for the Greek style gyros, still a wrap but with grilled meats and lots of cheese.
What about the sweets? There is never a problem finding these and every vender has something to offer. Like cotton candy on a stick, fudge on a stick, caramel apples, chocolate bananas on a stick – notice how all of these are made for one hand eating? Now, if I’m gonna eat anything sweet at a parade, it would be the funnel cakes. Swirls of fried dough sprinkled heavily with powdered sugar, sometimes flavored with likes of cinnamon.
So, what do all these carny foods have in common with today’s recipe? Nothing what so ever except for the homemade gumbo. It is a staple for Mardi Gras and many households utilized the abundance of fresh seafood during this time. Cajun Chef Ryan is also preparing a recipe for us today, Chicken, Sausage & Shrimp Gumbo, so stop by his place for a interesting read and recipe. Gumbo is an indispensable one-pot meal I make a day or two in advance and simply dump it into a large slow cooker to reheat while spending the afternoon watching the parades, and watching the folks who drive into our neighborhood.
I'm not sure I make a pot the same way every time, it really depends on what's the freshest in our local ingredients. That is what makes a fine pot of gumbo. Gulf Coast seafood that is sustainable will vary from the changing season thus will the choice of readily ingredients. We along the Gulf Coast learned a long time ago to adjust to conditions and availability.
Gulf Coast Seafood Gumbo
This is how we do it in Mobile
Roux - see yesterday's post
2 large onions -chopped
3 garlic cloves -chopped
1 large bell pepper -chopped
4 celery stalks with leaves -chopped
3 quarts boiling water or seafood stock
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning, like Old Bay or Zatarain’s
2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
1 pound okra pods, sliced
1 -20 oz can diced tomatoes -optional
1 cup crabmeat
4 to 6 whole small to medium blue crabs -cleaned
1 pint oysters with liquid
2 pounds peeled medium shrimp
Chopped parsley and green onions
Make a dark roux and add the chopped vegetables. Return to medium low heat, cook a few minutes to meld the ingredients and slowly add the boiling water along with the next eight ingredients (if tomatoes are desired.) Bring to a simmer and then reduce heat to low. Adjust seasonings. Make sure crabs have been scalded and cleaned, then cut in half. Add the crabmeat and the crabs and cook on low for half an hour. Add the oyster liquid, stir and turn off heat. About 30 minutes before serving, bring back to a low simmer, stir in the shrimp and cook until shrimp begins to turn pink. Stir in the oysters and wait fifteen minutes before serving. Serve with hot rice, garnish with green onion tops and chopped parsley.
Don’t forget to put out the Gumbo Filé.
More about this series:
~ Joining me in this endeavor is Cajun Chef Ryan ~ see more from this series: his Welcome to Mardi Gras 2010 / an awesome King Cake recipe / a parade tradition and fun post on Sloppy Joe’s with Sweet Potato Fries / see a little Paris in New Orleans & his Eggs Florentine Omelet / his New Orleans Roast Beef Poboy
~ My previous recipes & posts in this series: Roast Beef Sandwiches dripping with mouth-watering gravy / Eggs Creole, a brunch casserole perfect for guest / Shrimp & Grits - 2 recipes / My take on bouillabaisse and always a crowd pleaser / Duck & Sausage Gumbo / Mardi Gras Pick-Me-Ups / Cajun Pastalaya / Mardi Gras Shrimp Mold / Marinated Shrimp & Mushrooms
~ Learn more about Mardi Gras in Mobile at Mobile Bay
~ Historical timetable from Mardi Gras Digest
~ Mobile Parade Schedule