Whether you are in New Orleans or in Destin, the menu for Mardi Gras is going to be the same. It all depends on what your tastes are.
There are three ways to approach the food situation for the big day in New Orleans.
First is family style. When I was a kid, we had families who would stake out places somewhere on the parade route. Usually on St. Charles Avenue on the neutral ground (Here, that is known as a median).
Some would even sleep out there the night before to secure a spot. On parade day, they would have a BBQ pit cranked up with hot dogs, burgers and sausages. Many would be warming up some pre-made jambalaya. There would be sandwiches and snacks.
The second type was for single folks and those without children. They would walk to various parade points to meet friends, say hello and share a drink or two. The day usually started with my favorite breakfast during Mardi Gras — a Bloody Mary, with celery, of course, and maybe a shrimp or two. Have to have the veggies and protein. After all, it is a meal.
Somewhere on the route, there would be a meeting place, the hub of the party. It might be someone’s home or a rented hotel room. Everyone would bring something to eat and share. Many would bring boxes of Popeye’s Chicken. I usually brought a major league portion of my Mini Muffulettas. And there was always king cake. The hub was always a place to come back and eat, refuel (as in making your favorite beverage) and the all-important clean bathroom.
The third and final way would include the revelers who relied on the food available from restaurants and street vendors. They just wander from place to place hoping to stumble upon a Lucky Dog cart or purchase a mini-meal from a restaurant side window. Many eateries will open on Mardi Gras but only have a small place set up where they can sell one or two items off their menu — the oasis in a crowded desert.
The same can be said for here in the Destin area. It’s not as hectic here. The pace is slower. More relaxed. Nice parades, people just having fun. Not as gigantic an operation as New Orleans but still there is a lot to do… and eat.
Which is why if we don’t make the trek back to New Orleans, we do it Destin-style.
There is an assortment of pre-Mardi Gras merriment at HarborWalk Village. There is a parade enjoyed by families. Many couples (without children, of course) and singles participate in an evening pub-crawl. We also make sure to head over to The Village of Baytowne Wharf for the golf cart parade. There is even a dog parade based off the French Quarter Krewe of Barkus. A New Orleans food institution is located there: ACME Oyster House. Nothing like shucked oysters to go along with that Bloody Mary.
After the merriment subsides along the 98 corridor, we usually get back home and serve up the Mini Mufullettas, some jambalaya and king cake.
If you are a family, a couple or a single, it doesn’t matter which town you are in. The scale of the party may be different but the fun and food are the same.
Robert Medina’s New Orleans Red Beans and Rice
2 pounds of dried Camellia red beans
4 large onions (diced)
1/2 cup of celery (diced)
6 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
3 32-ounce containers of chicken stock
6 cups of water
1 pound of pickle meat (diced)
1 pound of hot smoked andouille sausage (cut
into small pieces)
4 small smoked ham hocks
1/4 cup of fresh parsley (chopped)
1 cup of green onions (chopped small)
2 whole bay leaves
Dash or two of Tabasco
Cooked white rice
Before you start, there are a few ground rules. First, you will notice that there is no salt in this dish. That’s because there is so much salt in all of the meats and the stock that any more would be too much.
Second, check and stir them often … maybe even more than often. They like to be cooked over a low fire and really slow. And last but not least, people like their beans different ways. Some like them runny, and some like them thick. If you’re a thick bean person, here’s what you do: In the last half hour or so during the cooking process, mash a few beans along the inside of the pot with the back of a spoon. Scrape them off of the sides and mix them in. The more you mash, the thicker the beans will get.
The first thing to do is to put all of the chicken stock in a large pot along with the ham hocks. Let that simmer uncovered until the meat is ready to fall off the bone. It may take from an hour to 90 minutes, depending upon the ham hocks, so begin it as early as you can. When done, remove the ham hocks to a plate to cool and save the stock. Add the beans to the hot stock and bring to a boil; then turn it down to a simmer.
The next step is to put your sausage and pickle meat in a non-stick frying pan and turn up the heat. You want to render some of the meat flavors and juices into the skillet. When the pickle meat is cooked through, remove both meats from the pan and add them to the bean pot.
Put your onions, parsley, green onions, and celery into the frying pan with the meat juices and cook them until the onions become translucent. Add the garlic and fresh-ground pepper. Two minutes after you add the garlic and fresh-ground pepper, pour the mixture into the pot with the beans.
Break the meat from the ham hocks into bite-size pieces and put it all in the pot along with the six cups of water. Add bay leaves and a good shot of Tabasco. Turn the fire down low and cover. Stir the beans often and make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Once all of the ingredients are in the pot, cooking time is usually about two and a half to three hours. I hate to be redundant, but stir a lot.
After the allotted time has passed, the beans should be very soft. If not, cook them awhile longer until they are. If they get too thick, add more water. Some dried beans are just harder than others and take longer to break down. When they are done, serve over cooked white rice.
Robert Medina’s Mini Muffulettas
Chicago hard rolls
I guess the first thing that you notice is that there are no amounts behind the ingredients. Yes, that is on purpose.
A muffuletta is a Sicilian sandwich served in New Orleans. It is usually served on a piece of bread that is approximately 10 inches across and about two to three inches thick. After you add all of the meats, cheeses and the olive salad, it’s baked in the oven just long enough for the cheese to melt and the bread to get crispy. That makes for a mighty large sandwich. That is why it is normally served in either halves or quarters.
In this particular case, we are using a Chicago hard roll. Since muffuletta bread is hard to find outside on New Orleans, I tried to do individual servings on similar bread. You want something soft on the inside, capable of absorbing the olive oil in the salad, and something that will be a little crunchy on the outside after it is toasted.
The reason for excluding individual amounts for the fixings is simple. If I go to the bakery and order eight rolls, I go to the deli and order eight slices of each of the meats and cheeses. Order exactly what you need, and use it all. If you want more of one thing than the other, do it. Improvise!
Now slice a roll in half, and then put the mozzarella on the bottom, meats in the middle, and provolone on the top of that. Smother the inside top piece of bread with the olive salad and cap off your sandwich. Once you have completed the assembly, brush a little of the olive oil on top of each sandwich. Bake them in the oven at 325 degrees for just about 10 minutes.
Depending on your individual oven, it may not take that long, so keep an eye on them. You want the cheese to melt slightly and the bread to crisp up.