• September 09, 2020
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Yep, it’s Carnival time and if you haven’t stocked up on King Cakes, then you better get on it ASAP.

I thought this month I would tell all of you about a tradition in south Louisiana known as “courir du Mardi Gras” which means “the running of Mardi Gras.” It’s a little different kind of celebration than those in New Orleans. Here’s my story.

To most, New Orleans and Mardi Gras is synonymous. After all, where else do you find balls, held just about every night during the Carnival season, and parades, sometimes several a day, snaking through the streets during the last week or so prior to Fat Tuesday? And what about the Wild Tchoupitoulas Tribe of Mardi Gras Indians festooned in a mass of feathers and a constant parade of maskers working themselves into a frenzy as the season comes to an end?

But, if you venture out of The City That Care Forgot, you will find revelers celebrating in a variety of ways. North of the lake, in Madisonville, they parade in boats. In St. Martinville, the occasion warrants une grande boucherie and a zydeco parade. And in and around the prairie towns of Mamou, Eunice and Church Point, northwest of Lafayette, the local folks participate in the courir du Mardi Gras, the running of Mardi Gras.

And cher, this is unlike any other Mardi Gras celebration in the state, well, probably in the world. Although it does share the processional nature of a parade, as a moving celebration, it’s roots are firmly in the medieval ceremonial begging celebration, which featured a performance in anticipation of a donation, kind of like “singing for your supper.”

Mardi Gras begins early in the day when the riders gather at a pre-designated area on horseback, with a contingency of wagons to carry the musicians and their donations along the way. The route the riders take varies from year to year, and is kept secret until the morning of the courir. At that time, the capitaine (easily recognized by his volunimous cape) who carries a flag, announces the route. His followers, attired in rag-tag costumes, often wearing conical hats, and always a mask, are ready for the ride through the countryside, going from house to house begging for chickens, rice, sausage, flour and oil, the ingredients with which to make a communal gumbo at the end of the day. The captain adheres to the tradition of raising a white flag to ask permission for his riders to enter the yard. If permission is granted, the captain lowers his flag and the riders are free to charge the house. There, they dismount to sing and dance for the household. After an appropriate time, the head of the household may bring out a live chicken which he throws into the air for the celebrants to catch on the run. Then the group continues on to the next stop. With any luck, by the end of the day the wagons are filled with everything that is needed for the gumbo.

In Mamou, home of Fred’s Lounge where on any given Saturday one can enjoy a cold beer accompanied by spicy boudin for breakfast while listening to the best in Cajun music, the Mamou Mardi Gras riders have been practicing the annual ritual since the 1950s.

The celebration iss steeped in tradition and they wouldn’t miss it for the world.

When the riders return to town in the afternoon, the streets are packed with people. Over 500 plates of gumbo are served along with potato salad, and of course, there’s a big fais-do-do that goes into the evening.

Then, here, as in New Orleans, the high-spirited good times will roll full speed until midnight, then, at the magic stroke of twelve, by law and by custom, celebrating must end, for Lent has begun.

The traditional fare on Mardi Gras in the rural towns of south Louisiana is chicken and sausage gumbo served with rice and accompanied by potato salad. What more could you ask for, especially if it’s one of those cold, bone-chilling Louisiana winter days.

CHICKEN AND SAUSAGE GUMBO Yield: about 8 servings

  • 1 hen, about 4 to 5 pounds, cut into serving pieces
  • Salt and cayenne to taste
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 10 cups chicken broth (about)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 pound andouille, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 tablespoon chopped parsley

Season the hen generously with salt and cayenne. Set aside. In a large Dutch oven, make a roux by combining the oil and flour over medium heat. Stirring constantly, cook for about 30 minutes or until the roux is dark brown. Add the onions, bell peppers and celery and cook for five to 10 minutes, or until they are very soft. Add the broth and stir to blend well. Add the chicken, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about two to three hours, or until the chicken is fork-tender. Add the andouille and cook for 30 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Add the green onions and parsley and serve immediately over rice.


The favorite accompaniment to this gumbo, especially in south Louisiana, is potato salad. The secret to a good potato salad is that the potatoes should not be mashed, but rather cut into chunks and no other mayonnaise will do but homemade. I personally don’t like anything else but some finely chopped celery and coarsely chopped hard-boiled eggs added to the salad, but if you wish, you can toss in sweet pickle relish, chopped bell peppers and onions, and finely chopped black olives. This mayonnaise can be made in a blender or a food processor.

HOMEMADE MAYONNAISE Yield: about 2 cups

  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (about)
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco *optional

Blend the egg, egg yolk and lemon juice in a blender or food processor for about 30 seconds. With the motor running, slowly add the oil in a steady stream through the feed tube until the mixture becomes thick and creamy. Add the sugar, salt, pepper and Tabasco and pulse several times until well mixed. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using. Best when used within 24 hours.


For those who choose to spend the day on the parade routes in and around Lafayette, the fare is just about anything that can be packed into ice chests or picnic baskets, or prepared in the backyard. It’s nothing for revelers to stop at friends’ homes or place of business to snack in between parades. My appointed round always includes a stop at a friend who offers some of the best crunchy-fried chicken and creamy cole slaw, as well as a place that has cauldrons of homemade chili with which to smother my wiener on a bun.

The secret, according to my friend, to great fried chicken is to deep fry it in lard. But, if you wish, solid vegetable shortening can be substituted.


  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 fryer, about 2 1/2 pounds, cut into serving pieces
  • Seasoned flour:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Lard or solid vegetable shortening for deep frying

Mix together the eggs, milk, water, salt, cayenne, black pepper and garlic powder in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat evenly. Soak the chicken in the mixture for about one hour in the refrigerator. Mix together the flour, baking powder, cayenne, salt and black pepper in another bowl. Remove the chicken, a couple of pieces at a time, from the egg mixture and shake off any excess. Roll in the seasoned flour and deep fry until golden brown and the chicken pops to the surface. Repeat the process until all of the chicken is cooked. Drain on paper towels.


I’m not a big cole slaw fan, but this one is especially good.

CREAMY COLE SLAW Yield: about 8 servings

  • 1 large head of cabbage, cleaned and shredded
  • 1/2 cup grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Creole mustard
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat evenly. Cover and chill for at least one hour before serving.


Just about everyone has a favorite chili recipe. I, for one, have several, but I like this one to serve on hot dogs. It makes a lot and can be prepared and frozen ahead of time.


  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder ( or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 quart water
  • 3 tablespoons flour dissolved in 1/2 cup water

Brown the ground beef and pork in a large Dutch oven. Add the onions, bell peppers and garlic and cook until wilted, for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, seasonings and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about one hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Remove any fat that has risen to the surface. Thicken with the flour dissolved in the water.


This next recipe is one of my all-time favorites that Mama fixed for us late on many Mardi Gras days years ago when we came home bone-tired from Mardi Gras festivities.

SHRIMP BURGERS Yield: 4 to 6 patties

  • 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • Flour
  • 1 cup solid vegetable oil for frying

Mix the shrimp, onions, bell pepper and celery with the beaten egg in a mixing bowl. Add the salt, pepper, green onions, parsley and baking powder and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for two hours. Form the mixture into patties the size of a hamburger. Dredge in flour. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and fry on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. To serve, spread a toasted hamburger bun with tartar sauce and tuck in the shrimp burger. Best served warm.


And now for the final country Mardi Gras treat. This garlic bread with olives can be eaten as a snack or to accompany anything you like.


  • 1 poor-boy bread loaf, sliced lengthwise in half
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped Spanish olives
  • Paprika
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Brush both halves of the loaf with the melted butter to which the garlic has been added. Sprinkle with the black pepper and lemon juice. Spread the olives evenly on one half. Then sprinkle the olives with paprika and cheese. Top that half with the remaining half. Heat in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice and serve.

tradition south louisiana dishes

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