Today, February 21, 2012, is Mardi Gras, certainly an excuse for a party. In the medieval world, Mardi Gras was the last day of Carnivale. Carnivale literally means "Farewell to Meat" and was a period of silliness that began back on January 6 and extended up to the first day of Lent. It was a time when everyone ignored the ordinary rules of society and the prohibitions of religion for a short while. But Mardi Gras, which means "Fat Tuesday," also carried a stern warning that the season for repentance was at hand. All meat, oil, and eggs had to be consumed before midnight on the last day of Carnivale, since Lent brought with it 40 days of fasting. In that spirit, I'm using the day as an excuse to be frivolous here on the blog. Writing pressure returns tomorrow.
No matter what your location or Lenten practices, tonight the focus will be on food, although there is little agreement about what it is appropriate to eat. If you take the “no meat, oil, and egg” prohibition seriously, you might want to travel to Louisville, KY, where the emphasis is on eating as much meat as possible.
The meatiest menu I've seen recently comes from Volare, an Italian restaurant in Louisville. For Mardi Gras, Chef Josh Moore has created a luscious four course tasting menu showcasing traditional Italian favorites like house made cannelloni; pasta filled with ground veal, parmesan, ricotta and spinach. The antipasti is fricandi, spare ribs and sausage braised with wine vinegar (any place that starts the meal off with spare ribs has my vote of confidence). The meaty goodness continues with porcini mushroom and rosemary prime rib. Finishing off this feast is a the dolce duet: cenci, shredded rags of fried dough with sugar, and zeppole, Italian doughnuts in apple cinnamon, orange chocolate, and traditional.
In Memphis, the emphasis is usually on Cajun food, in a salute to New Orleans. At Bosco's, Memphis's signature beer pub, their Fat Tuesday Beer Dinner includes five courses, each served with a matched beer:
· Appetizer: Oysters on the Half Shells Baked with Cheddar Cheese, Bacon, Tabasco and White Wine
· Soup: Rich Turtle and Beef Broth with Onions, Celery, Peppers, Tomatoes and Eggs
· Fish Entree: Pan Seared Red Snapper over Creole Corn Bread topped with a Crawfish Etouffee
· Meat Entree: Roasted Quail Stuffed With Boudin Sausage, served with Fried Okra
· Dessert: Banana Foster Bread Pudding.
But if you’d like something a little less “touristy,” you might check out Restaurant Iris, who posted this notice on their website:
“We thought a lot about what to offer for dinner on Mardi Gras, and we decided to serve what people actually eat today in New Orleans on our Vieux Carre (French Quarter) menu. You won’t find anything blackened (locals don’t eat blackened food;to be completely honest it is nothing more than tourist food). You won’t find any seafood unless it has some other protein with it (locals are about to eat seafood until Easter. It is the last thing they want). There is nothing pretentious or expensive about the food of Mardi Gras. The day is about one big pot of andouille gumbo or red beans that you share with anyone who passes by. It is about splitting an oyster poboy with a friend. It is about walking way too far down St. Charles and eating Popeye’s chicken and biscuits. It is about eating that last king cake of the season and hoping you get the baby so you can buy the first one next year."
In that spirit they will serve a first course of lafayette duck and andouille gumbo or roasted boudin with dijon and cane syrup. The meal continues with a fried chicken thigh with grandpa’s red beans and a biscuit or a cochon de lait “hot ham and cheese” poboy with fried pickles. It concludes with warm apple fritters with vanilla iced cream.