March is always a tough month for us to figure out a theme for Family Dinner.
Do we go with the St. Patrick’s Day route like that one year?
Maybe an early Easter theme like last year?
Or that one year where we were so stumped, we just decided to make green food. (Maybe not our most inspired dinner but it was still tasty.)
So when we were kicking ideas around for this March, we were hemming and hawing FOH-EVAH!
And then it hit us…. MARDI GRAS is in March this year!
Sure, we’ve done a crazy N’awlins Seafood Boil and Southern Comfort food but we haven’t tried channeling Fat Tuesday before.
Now it’s said that the first Mardi Gras celebration in the states occurred in Mobile, Alabama – and my ‘Bama coworker won’t let anyone say otherwise (those Roll Tide folks are serious!). But since celebrations can be found all around the old French territories in the Southern Gulf, we decided to take inspiration from Creole, Cajun and Southern cuisine for our menu that night.
Seestrah T was up to bat first.
Shrimp and Grits seemed like a great option but she had already made a knock out version to pair with the brisket V smoked awhile back.
Thankfully by the powers of Google searches, she stumbled upon a recipe for Crab Beignets.
Crabs? YES PLEASE!
Beignets? HECK YES!
Can’t have a nod to this region without including lots of seafood and beginets!
These savory beignets were filled with goodies like LOTS of lump crab meat, onions, peppers, hot sauce, eggs, milk and baking soda for that lift. They were then rolled in cake flour and deep fried until golden brown.
We dunked them in a rémoulade and DING-DING-DING-DING-DING!
Nuggets of joy I tell you.
We all agreed that they were more like fritters than what you initially think of when you say “beignet”.
But none of us cared because we were too busy stuffing them into our mouths.
Since moving back to California, Luna has taken a great interest in helping out in the kitchen – particularly during Fam Din. She’s become more and more comfortable with her knife skills (under supervision of course) and is cooking complete dishes with her folks’ guidance.
All skills that we put to work as she helped her parents prep their dish for that night – Crawfish Étouffée.
Étouffée is French for “smothered or suffocated” and is a thick sauce (practically a stew) made most often with shellfish. It’s traditionally served over rice and it all begins with a “roux“.
A roux is a mixture of a type of fat and flour that has been cooked down to thicken a sauce. I’ve read in a few places that if your roux is made with butter and flour, it’s Creole. If it’s made with oil and flour, it’s Cajun. But please don’t quote me on that– it has the makings of an ongoing debate I sure as heck have no authority to settle.
V and L searched and searched for fresh crawfish to use in their étouffée but were out of luck. Crawfish season (crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs – whatever nomenclature you prefer) in California usually doesn’t start until July but sometimes you can find them in Asian grocery stores a bit earlier.
At the end of the day we opted to use the seawater cousin of crawfish – langostinos. These wild caught langostino tails can be found in 2 pound packs in the freezer section at Costco and they’re an awesome substitute. So yes, technically, we had Langostino Étouffée and not Crawfish Étouffée. The langostinos are quite sweet, tender – and these are SHELLED by hand so you don’t have to do the work!
After they spent some TLC getting a rich and dark roux (for that deep nutty flavor), they added aromatics and A TON OF EXTRA BUTTER! Kerrygold Irish Salted Butter – it’s their fav.
And then all the glorious langostinos joined the party!
They served their étouffée over a big scoop of white rice. Can you guess which kind?
Uncle Ben’s!! SERIOUSLY!
They were told that it’s what’s commonly used – so we did it! To be honest, we weren’t even sure how to cook Uncle Ben’s white rice. But when all was said and done, it was perfect.
In fact, it’s one of those things that tasted even better the next day!
By then the flavors had extra time to meld and party together which made me VERY happy to have leftovers.
V & L were overwhelmed with joy at how well their dish turned out.
And like all of the munchkins at some point have done, Nini is wondering —“Is this my family???”
Seester N directed the last two savory items of the night…with the assistance of the kiddos, of course.
Luna helped her big cousie Nina get the corn meal dredge prepared for the catfish that had been soaked in buttermilk, hot sauce and spices.
After the fillets were coated in the cornmeal, they hung out for a little bit on a rack so that the coating would set.
They were then deep fried for a few minutes until golden brown. Southern Fried Catfish –mmmmm!
(Psssst…..I spy a box of Uncle Ben’s in the corner.)
N also felt that if we were going to be in this region, we should have some okra. Hey- we did need some veggies.
So she dredged them and threw them in the hot oil, too. Because nothing says healthy veggies more than Cornmeal Fried Okra.
Work with us people…..
Doesn’t this plate just look heavenly???
We added generous douses of fresh lemon juice over it all to brighten the flavors and it was scrumptious!
The leftover fried catfish were remade the next day into little sliders on rolls with a schmear of the rémoulade from the Crab Beignets. I’m telling you, leftovers are a clutch component of Fam Din and we are always SUPER bummed during the months when our “doggie bags” are lighter than others.
Doesn’t this make you want to chug some Hurricanes and run around in elaborate costumes on floats?!?
Side note: I did consider whipping up a batch of Hurricanes for the occasion but really…. Although it would have been on trend for the theme, who in their right minds actually like the tastes of hurricanes?!? Tooth-achingly sweet and so boozy it could combust into flames.
So we stuck to lots of vino instead.
And a few photobombers in the background.
OMIGOSH – how the heck did that Uncle Ben’s box manage to squeeze itself into another picture????
Okay, let’s talk about dessert now, shall we?
I really struggled on this one, peeps. The sweet bite often seen during Mardi Gras is King Cake. In the states, King Cake is a sweet bread dough that is braided and formed into a ring. After it’s baked, it’s drizzled with an icing and decorated in the colors of the celebration – purple, green, yellow. According to an article from Eater,
“King cake is eaten on January 6 in honor of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, which historically marks the arrival of the three wise men/kings in Bethlehem who delivered gifts to the baby Jesus. The plastic baby hidden inside king cakes today is a nod to this story.”
But here’s the thing–if I want a dessert, I don’t want to have something that evokes a breakfast pastry. And to me, that’s what King Cake tastes like.
I could’ve tried traditional desserts for the season from outside of the US like galette des rois, gâteau des rois or roscón de reyes. But I just didn’t think that any of them would’ve been a hit with the fam – particularly the kiddos.
Of course, there was the sweet beignet route, too. However Seestrah P has made beignets in the past before and nothing I could’ve made in that thread would’ve topped her Cafe du Monde inspired Beignets with Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream.
So I took some MAJOR liberties and finally settled on a French dessert – Profiteroles!
I figured a French influenced dessert still had a home in a Mardi Gras menu, right? Another stretch? But I went with it and nabbed Maya and Nina to help make the choux pastry.
Bella volunteered to guard them as they puffed and baked in the oven.
The choux pastry came together quick and easy (especially when you finagle 2 nieces to help you) and can be filled with just about anything. Common fillings are whipped cream, pastry cream, custard, fruit but I wanted use ice cream so that we could have a variety to choose from.
PLUS it gave me the perfect segue to bring in the colors of Mardi Gras based on the ice cream flavor:
- Purple = Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip (this one was actually a gelato)
- Yellow = Vanilla Bean
- Green = Mint Chip
Since I didn’t make the ice creams (or gelato) myself, I felt compelled to make a chocolate sauce from Bouchon to drizzle over the tops. This WAS in honor of Fat Tuesday!
We created an assembly line where Nini filled the choux with ice cream, I drizzled the chocolate sauce and Luna topped them with matching sprinkles. Teamwork makes the dream work….especially when it’s this yummy.
And no surprises here but the the King Cake was not missed.
And guess what we did after we ate all of that?
We spent over an hour watching YouTube videos of people traveling all over Asia eating delicious (and sometimes crazy looking) foods. We’ve got some issues, I know.
I’m just going to call it research.
Until next time Friends….Cheers! ❤
This Month’s Family Dinner Menu
Cocktails: Various Wines
Appetizers: Crab Beignets with Rémoulade
Entree: Crawfish Étouffée, Southern Fried Catfish
Sides: Cornmeal Fried Okra, Rice
Dessert: Profiteroles filled with Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce