Anna Grisham is proud to hail from the city that celebrated the first Mardi Gras on American soil. “Did you know Mardi Gras began in Mobile, rather than in New Orleans?” asks the Mobile, Alabama, native. “We joke about it all the time.”
Indeed, America’s annual pre-Lenten celebration began in 1703 with a party thrown by settlers in the French colony of Mobile. The parades came in the 1830s, when Mobile’s first masked mystic organization, the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, marched down the streets of the Gulf port city with hoes, rakes and cowbells. They soon upgraded to horse-drawn floats.
Mobile’s bash on the bayou continues today with masquerades, parties and parades, all with a family-friendly spirit. Anna makes sure her crew doesn’t miss a minute of the merrymaking. “Mobile begins celebrating about 3 weeks in advance of Mardi Gras (also known as Fat Tuesday). By celebrating, I mean a parade almost every night.”
Modern-day mystic societies with fun-loving names like the Midnight Maskers, the Krewe of
“Colorful floats abound. Members dress up in costumes according to the theme of their floats for that year and they throw Mardi Gras beads, Mobile’s beloved moon pies, toys, serpentines, candy and gum to us bystanders along the route screaming ‘throw me something!’
“The joy is to see if you can catch something one-handed,” Anna shares. Once her family is thoroughly festooned in beads, she says, “We compare types—are they the generic beads or big special ones? It is crazy good fun. But you do have to pay attention so you don’t get hit in the head!”
Anna’s extended family has staked out the same spot on the parade route for 35 years. “It’s like a family reunion each night. We have a ritual. Get there early, walk the granddaughters a couple of blocks away for roasted peanuts, and after the parade, we go eat hot dogs at a well-known local inn. But on Mardi Gras proper, when most everything shuts down, we eat at someone's house
“Since you never know how many you’ll feed, the secret to cooking for Mardi Gras revelers is to make stews and pasta dishes that will stretch your food dollar,” explains Anna. “The crowd tends to grow by the minute and, most of the time, at the last minute. Maybe I’ll cook a pot of seafood gumbo or fire up the grill and roast some sausage.”
You won’t find her attempting a classic King Cake, though. “One special bakery in town makes the absolute best,” she confides. But she might make a batch of her dear friend Margaret Gordon’s Slow Cooker Spinach Casserole, which doubles as a delectable dip.
Or she’ll fix her own southern specialty, Grillades and Grits. Mardi Gras time is sometimes a bit nippy in Mobile, and, Anna says, “It really warms you up after a cold parade. Feel free to add a dash of hot sauce. I can’t handle the stuff...but others guzzle it straight!”
Anna writes, “This is a typical Creole dish served during Mardi Gras. The Creole pronunciation is gree-yad.” Feel free to add a dash of hot sauce.
Place the meat strips in a bowl. Add 1 tsp. of the salt and 1/4 tsp. of the PEPPER and toss to coat. Add the flour and toss again to evenly coat the meat. In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the meat, in batches if necessary, and brown evenly on both sides, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the meat to paper towel-lined plates to drain. Add more oil to the pan as needed while browning the meat, making sure to let the oil get hot before adding the meat. Once all the meat has been browned, add the onion, bell pepper and celery to the pot along with 1/2 tsp. of the salt and the ANCHO PEPPER. Cook, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits. Cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add the tomatoes and garlic (if using fresh garlic). Cook, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes. Add the BAY LEAVES, THYME, OREGANO, BASIL, beef stock, wine and garlic (if using MINCED GARLIC). Return the browned meat to the pot and season with the remaining salt and PEPPER. Bring to a simmer, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally, or until the meat is very tender. Before serving, remove the BAY LEAVES and stir in the parsley. Serve over grits..
For the grits, in a small pot, bring the water, milk and salt to a boil. Slowly stir the grits into the boiling liquid. Stir continuously until the grits are well mixed. Let the grits return to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more water if necessary. The grits are done when they have the consistency of smooth porridge. Stir in the butter before serving.
Grits are usually available by the oatmeal and hot cereals. Grillades is also wonderful served with rice or egg noodles.
Prep. time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours
Nutritional Information: Servings 8;
Serving Size 1 1/2 cups (443g); Calories 490; Calories from fat 220; Total fat 25g; Cholesterol 80mg; Sodium 1120mg; Carbohydrate 33g; Dietary Fiber 2g.