Quick – name three historical figures connected to New Orleans and Mardi Gras. Can’t guess? I’ll bet none of these would be the writer and humorist Mark Twain, but indeed Twain often wrote about the foods of New Orleans, recalling the lands and waters that he knew as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi.
New Orleans was the polar star of his Mississippi journeys and he declared that the city was home to more beloved dishes than any other American place. He and the other pilots enjoyed many a languorous lunch drawn from the bounty of the swamps and wetlands surrounding the city.
And he was fascinated by Mardi Gras. In a letter he wrote, “ I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans”.
All this was captured in the book by Andrew Beahrs called “Twain’s Feast”, which recounts Twain’s fantasy banquet of over 80 regional American specialties from the late 1800’s from the book “A Tramp Abroad”. Beahrs revisits a number of the foods highlighted in this love letter to American food and shows how Twain connected foods of certain places to great moments in his own life.
In the chapter regarding New Orleans and Mardi Gras, Beahrs quotes Twain as noting that “certainly New Orleans seldom does things by halves.”
In celebration of Fat Tuesday, I decided to pay homage to New Orleans tradition with an untraditional savory take on the pillowy beignets offered by the Café Du Monde in the French Quarter.
Cajun Crab Beignets (Inspired by Kirsten Dixon)
6 Tbs Butter
1 Cup chicken stock
1/ 4 Tsp salt
1 Cup flour
¾ Cup Gruyere cheese, grated
¼ Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ Lb Crab meat
1 Cup fresh corn, blanched
1 Tbs Louisiana hot sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste
Heat 2-3 inches vegetable oil in a deep-sided heavy pan to 350 degrees.
In a saucepan, combine butter, chicken stock and salt and bring this mixture to a boil. Remove pan from heat and add flour and pepper. Using a wooden spoon stir until the dough is smooth and shiny and it comes away from the pan, about one minute.
Remove from heat and add eggs, mixing after each addition. Add the cheese and chives. Fold in the crabmeat and the corn.
Dip the dough by tablespoons into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Serve hot or at room temperature.
This is my contribution to Cook the Books, commenting this month on the book "Twain's Feast" by Andrew Beahrs. This month, Cook the Books is being organized by the ever-creative Simona of Briciole.