Tuesday marks the end of Mardi Gras and a time when folks flood the streets of New Orleans in droves for the grand finale of carnival celebrations. Fat Tuesday, which falls on March 1 this year, honors the Christian holiday beginning on Jan. 6 (Three Kings Day and the twelfth day of Christmas) and continues until the day before Ash Wednesday (and the start of Lent).
Many flock to the cherished Louisiana city to see the vibrant costumes, hear the live music and taste the incredible food inspired by New Orleans' melting pot of Black, Cajun, Creole, French and Spanish cultures. Among some of the city's most decorated chefs is Isaac Toups, owner of Toups' Meatery. Toups turns to his upbringing in the heart of Cajun country for his elevated, inventive takes on the cuisine's rustic characteristics. Who better to make a few Mardi Gras meals with on Fat Tuesday than Toups himself?
The "Top Chef" alum and repeat finalist for the James Beard Award's Best Chef of the South is showing TODAY Food how to cook up a a few incredible dishes. From his recipes for timeless southern dishes like jambalaya or shrimp and grits to a good ol' fashioned po'boy piled high with root beer pork, Toups transports everyone from their home kitchens to a balmy, bead-ornamented porch in New Orleans.
If you've never marinated pork in root beer before, prepare to experience the ultimate pairing of flavors. The sugary, somewhat acidic root beer acts as a tenderizer and after cooking it with the pork, low and slow, for a long period of time, this is a melt in your mouth combination. During Mardi Gras, we cut these po'boys up into small sandwiches and bring them out with us on the parade routes to keep us satiated throughout the festivities.
Who doesn’t love a good serving of shrimp and grits? In New Orleans, we love barbecue shrimp and, no, it’s not just slathered with some barbecue sauce. This is a traditional NOLA dish made with a lot of seasoning, herbs and damn good grits. Head-on shrimp are coated in a rich and buttery sauce loaded with Creole spice, that, when you plate up is best ladled over the dish so that there's plenty to get mopped up with a loaf of soft, crusty French bread.
If you're wary of a two-starch dish, don't be! The soppin' bread may just be the most important part of this and your tastebuds will thank you for it.
Jambalaya is a hearty dish that's steeped in New Orleans' rich Cajun culture. It's like a melting pot of savory, spicy flavors with hot andouille sausage, tender chicken thighs and a base of nice stew vegetables, all of which get mixed into a buttery roux, chicken stock and (as the folks at Toups Meatery like to do) a can of golden amber beer. As all that goodness gets infused together over about an hour-and-a-half, the result is a traditional southern dish that's perfect for feeding the masses. When we have family and friends over during Mardi Gras, I double this recipe and feed everyone.