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Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday or Paczkis Anytime


February 24, 2017

Chef Amber Michelle

Bourbon Bananas

Paczki, by the way, is my new favorite word. Whatever the pre-Lenten celebration is for you, it means "food glorious food" and some of it's gonna be fried. After a week of cabbage, I'm ready to celebrate again. Nearly everyone has heard of Mardi Gras but how many of you have heard of Shrove Tuesday? Shriving is the seeking of absolution through confession and then penance. Personally, I'm in it for the pancakes. Pancake Tuesday is primarily a UK practice. Why pancakes? Not such a big deal for many who don't remember that ingredients like eggs, milk and butter were once a luxury. Actually, they still are for many people.

The pancake is such a delicious item on its own, with butter and real maple syrup, even better. Other great ideas are crème fraiche, or good ole American sour cream; grated cheddar in the batter and sautéed apples on top, fresh fruit, nut butter and chocolate sauce are all winners as well. My personal favorite is buckwheat, made like a blini with trout roe and freshly whipped cream, with grated horseradish. And butter. Always butter. The idea is luxury before abstinence. I promise to have no more pancakes until Easter.

Mardi Gras in Nice, New Orleans, Rio and other various cities, is celebrated with Le Carnaval, the "bringing out of the meat". It is a ritual to abstain from meat during Lent, but now most people just abstain on Fridays. (Look for some delightful fish recipes the next few weeks.) For Mardi Gras in the South, there's lots of gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, beignets, muffalettas, richly sauced oysters, and King Cake. At the Carnaval de Nice you'll find fried Camembert, escargot, beignets, crepes, waffles, and other rich delicacies.

Now for the Paczki. Paczkis are Polish doughnuts and are prevalent on Fat Tuesday, and served on Sundays through Lent. Lent is actually 46 days long, but Sundays are neither counted nor observed as Lent. Sundays instead, are a celebration, a "mini" Easter of sorts. Paczkis are usually filled with jelly or other sweet filling, iced with orange zest and consumed with grain alcohol, probably something close to vodka. I've decided to adopt this Polish practice for myself. Hey, it's cold!

I love combining cultures and coming up with my own rituals. One of the great advantages of being a chef in America, no one is going to squawk when it's not traditional, as long as it's good. For Fat Tuesday this year, I'm making Bacon-Wrapped, Cajun-Spiced Pork Loin and Pancakes with Caramelized Bananas. So a little NOLA, a little UK and a little Rio.

Pork loin is cut into chops then dry rubbed with whatever Cajun combination you'd like. There are many spice rubs available. I mix my own but a clever cheat is to start with a rub you like and add more of whatever you like about it. More coriander? Cumin? Rosemary or cayenne? Use fresh herbs, garlic and onions with it. Try toasting your whole spices to bring out their oils and earthy qualities, then grind by hand in a mortar, or use a coffee grinder. I cure the pork for a day, then wipe most of the coating off, cut into "fingers", then wrap with bacon and pan fry.

Chef Amber Michelle

Laissez les Bon Temps Roule

For the pancakes, I drop an egg in some flour, add baking soda, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and a teeny bit of sugar and mix. The key with pancakes is to not over-think or over-mix. Some people use vanilla, others more egg. Some people like super fluffy, so they separate the eggs, whip the whites and fold them in last. Make them the way you like them. Have fun.

Bananas can be caramelized at any stage of ripeness. I like the super ripe, sugary, almost vinegary bananas. Sauté in butter, add brown sugar or maple syrup, a touch of molasses and then Brandy, Bourbon, Kahlua or whatever you have handy. No booze? Use vanilla or almond extract.

Yum! A big plate of pork, pancakes and butter; spicy, sweet and super rich. My beverage of choice: Champagne! After all, it's Mardi Gras and today we celebrate. I'll let you know how the Paczkis turn out.

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