Gulf Coast seafood and Mardi Gras celebrations fit together like shells on shrimp.
"Seafood has been tied to Mardi Gras because Mardi Gras started along the Gulf Coast - not only in New Orleans, but in the Biloxi area as well," Mississippi Seafood Marketing director Irvin Jackson said.
Brought by the French explorer d'Iberville in 1699, the traditional celebration dovetailed with the gulf's abundant seafood for delicious results.
"Boiled shrimp is always a main staple, but then you have jambalaya and etouffee, and I could go on like Forrest Gump, I guess," Jackson said, chuckling. "The po-boys, everything and anything you can think of, gumbo of course, and oysters are normally big during the cooler winter months."
"It all goes back to the traditional Louisiana food - the Cajun-based or Creole-based, and some of it's just a good hybrid," said Broad Street Baking Company chef Matthew Kajdan, who has family in New Orleans. Beignets - even a savory beignet - are popular during the season, and so are shrimp and grits dishes.
"All that New Orleans-based food is what everybody's going to eat for their Mardi Gras parties. It doesn't matter where you are, it all goes back to that New Orleans heritage," Kajdan said.
Mardi Gras is Tuesday, followed by Ash Wednesday Feb. 22.
Keep an eye out for calendar-savvy seafood specials at restaurants that mark the Mardi Gras season and on through the Lenten season. Seafood sales increase during both seasons all along the Gulf Coast, but especially in Mississippi and Louisiana, Jackson said. Mississippi is part of the fairly new Gulf States Seafood Marketing Coalition that combines the five Gulf Coast states to promote seafood. For more recipes and a Mississippi seafood industry directory, visit www.dmr.ms.gov.
Vicksburg's Mardi Gras revelers can follow up the 4 p.m. Saturday Mardi Gras Parade along downtown's Washington Street with the first Carnaval de Mardi Gras & Gumbo Cook-off at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. Presented by the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, the celebration morphed its Mardi Gras festivities (previously, a ball) into a post-parade celebration with family appeal, foundation executive director Nancy Bell said.
A dozen teams will fire up for the event's Cajun Gumbo Cookoff, Bell said, "whatever kind of gumbo they want to make." Still, a good bit of seafood is expected. The 5 p.m. Saturday event is $5 entry for adults ($3 children), and $5 for the tasting; the band Slaphappy supplies the music.
Mississippi Gulf Shrimp Etouffee
5 lbs. Mississippi Gulf Shrimp, peeled, de-veined and chopped
1 c. butter or margarine
2 onions, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
3 tbsp. garlic, chopped
4 tbsp. flour
1 c. mushrooms, chopped
3 tbsp. paprika
Salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
In a large skillet melt butter; saute onions, celery and garlic. Stir in flour and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Add shrimp and cook for 20 minutes. Add 2-3 cups of water and mushrooms. Stir in paprika and seasoning. Cook for 30 minutes. Serve over rice with hot French bread.
1 lb. Mississippi Gulf shrimp (boiled, peeled and chopped)
2 tbsp. chopped green onions
8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese
1 c. mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Tabasco
Mix all of the above and serve with crackers or bread.
Source: Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition