Celebrate Mardi Gras With John Besh

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Courtesy of Besh Restaurant Group

Louisiana native and Next Iron Chef finalist John Besh has been celebrating Mardi Gras since he was a young boy. He remembers, "Night parades were for the older crowd but Mardi Gras Day (Fat Tuesday) was getting together and eating jambalaya on Saint Charles Avenue with my parents and all of their friends and spending the whole day eating and enjoying friends and family. We'd be on the hunt for a Zulu coconut from the first parade to run that day." That tradition continues with his wife and kids by visiting the parade routes throughout Mardi Gras and on Fat Tuesday eating red beans and rice, fried chicken and jambalaya.

And, of course, beginning on Kings Day, everyone starts eating King Cake. As a kid, Besh recalls, "You're eating King Cake in class least once a week if not more until Fat Tuesday and with every slice you're thinking about the excitement of Mardi Gras Day." With all this King Cake consumption Besh has definitely found his fair share of the porcelain figures called feves, one of which is hidden in the cake. The custom requires the finder to supply the next year's cake, and we're betting that everyone is pretty happy when Besh gets that job.

If you're making your first King Cake, he says, "think of it as a big Danish pastry with Mardi Gras colors." If you're feeling creative, take inspiration from one of the pastry chefs from Besh's restaurants who are redefining classic King Cakes. Lisa White, pastry chef at Domenica, makes a caramel-and-pecan King Cake stuffed with bananas foster and covered with flecks of real gold.

Mardi Gras is a part of what makes New Orleans the city that it is. And when Besh gets a chance to ride on a float, it's even more obvious how much fun this city-wide party is. "You put your mask on, no one knows who you are and you roll your sleeves up and get involved in the party. You see all of the people out there for the express purpose of just having fun. Once you hear the drums and the music and the bands, you just gotta dance."

That is, of course, if you can still move after consuming one of his delicious recipes, below.

Pork and Sausage Jambalaya

Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing
Serves 10–12
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1 onion, diced
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 pound smoked pork sausage, sliced
3 cups uncooked converted Louisiana white rice
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
5 cups chicken broth
1 cup tomato sauce or canned chopped tomatoes
2 cups diced cooked pork
3 green onions, chopped

1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered, about 3 minutes. Add the onions, stirring often, until browned. Add the bell pepper, celery, and sausage. Cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes, then add the rice, paprika, thyme and red pepper flakes.

2. Increase heat to high and add chicken broth and tomato sauce, then the pork and green onions. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 18 minutes. Remember, the pork and sausage are already cooked; you’re making only the rice at this point. Remove the pot from the heat and it’s ready to serve! Season with salt and Tabasco.

King Cake

Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing
Serves 10-12

Because the humidity fluctuates and the moisture content in flour will fluctuate as wel,l you may need to add a bit more flour once you start kneading the dough. What you really want is for that dough to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl, so if that’s not happening while you knead, you’ll have to add a spoonful or two.

1  cup warm milk
2  tablespoons dry yeast
1/2  cups sugar
3 3/4  cups flour
3  teaspoon cinnamon
1  dash nutmeg
1  teaspoon vanilla extract
1  teaspoon lemon zest
2  sticks butter, melted
5  egg yolks
2  cups powdered sugar
4  tablespoons condensed milk
1  teaspoon lemon juice
Purple, green and gold decorative sugars
1 feve or plastic baby to insert after baking
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine the warm milk with the dry yeast, sugar and a small scoop of the flour while mixing with a wire whisk until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
  3. Once the surface of the milk mixture begins to froth up or foam it’s time to add the remaining cake ingredients.
  4. After the dough comes together as a large ball, knead the dough on a clean but floured surface for 15 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
  5. Place the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and move to a draft-free place in the kitchen to “proof,” or rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  6. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into three equal pieces and form into long rolls of dough that you may either braid or twist around each of the other pieces and then form into a circle.
  7. Place the braided circle of pastry onto a nonstick cookie sheet and allow it to rise for another half-hour or so or until it doubles in size again.
  8. Once it’s doubled in size, place the cookie sheet into the oven for 30 minutes or until the cake is golden brown. Remove the cake and place onto a wire rack to cool for another 30 minutes or so.
  9. While the cake is cooling, mix the powdered sugar, condensed milk and lemon juice together with a small wire whisk so that the icing is smooth and easily spreadable. If it’s too thick, add a bit more condensed milk; if it’s a touch too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.
  10. Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle with purple, green and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet.
  11. If you wish, insert a feve or plastic baby into the underside of the cake and transfer the cake to a platter and serve.
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