In South Louisiana, celebrations abound on the weekend before Mardi Gras, but one party just keeps on going year-round. Fred’s Lounge located on the main drag in Mamou is an original, off-beat piece of the French Acadian tapestry that has been sipped and savored by locals and the famous alike. Every Saturday morning Fred’s Lounge opens at 8:00 a.m. But, it’s not until later — 9:00 a.m. sharp — when the KVPI-FM radio broadcast begins that the fun really cranks up.
Rox and I arrived just as the live band kicked into high gear for what was to be another no-holds-barred, you-ain’t-seen-nothin’-yet, Cajun good-time. Characters abound at Fred’s on any normal Saturday, but the joint was full of Mardi Gras revelers dressed in full regalia.
Tante Sue (Fred’s 83-year-old widow) was holding court sippin’ her Hot Damn cinnamon schnapps from a holster strapped to her side. Serving up Bloody Marys (the house favorite), barking out the rules (no dancing on the tables), singing with the live band (in Cajun French, of course) are all part of Tante Sue’s Saturday morning routine. The beer-drinkin’ fun goes on until the proverbial last-call for alcohol at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and the every-Saturday ritual winds down.
Living in Louisiana is special for many reasons, but Mardi Gras is at the head of the list. While the rest of the country goes about its normal routine, all of Louisiana celebrates the biggest party of them all. Balls, parades, parties, and even the rural Courir de Mardi Gras madness are all in full swing. My crazy-good Bloody Mary recipe is good any time of year, but I always bring it out during Mardi Gras — and this year, in honor of Tante Sue, I’m sharing this recipe with you.
South Louisiana is Bloody Mary country. New Orleans is the epicenter for the cocktail, and after one night out in the French Quarter it’s not hard to figure out why this hangover cure has made its home there. Folks in South Louisiana are quite passionate about their Marys, and everyone in these parts has a favorite recipe.
Lots of brilliant culinary masterpieces start out as kitchen mistakes. This is one of them. My journey to discovery began with a pile of ripe tomatoes and peppers and ended with a kitchen timer that never went off. It was a recipe for roasted tomato soup that wound up to be a souped up version of a Bloody Mary.
On my way to making that soup, I slid the sliced tomatoes (along with some sweet peppers) into a 400-degree oven for what I thought would be a quick 15-minute roasting to loosen the skins and release the sugars. Forty-five minutes later, I had what I thought was a burnt mess destined (along with my broken kitchen timer) for the trash.
But, after removing some of the burnt bits and taking a taste, I discovered the magic of the dark, depth of flavor that blackening brings out in tomatoes. It just makes sense. Charring the exterior of a red bell pepper has always been a basic trick to peel back flavor. But, it was the combination of blackened tomatoes and peppers together, that woke me up and prompted me to change course.
To remain true to tradition, I adhere to three Bloody Mary mandatories that must always be followed: tomato is at the base, spice (and lots of it) is imperative and garnish is all-important. How you construct your perfect Bloody Mary is where the fun comes in. Creativity abounds.
A well-made Bloody Mary is cause for celebration, so let’s break out the vodka. It’s 9am somewhere. Time for a cocktail.
Tante Sue would be proud.
- 3 pounds ripe red tomatoes
- 1 pound sweet red mini peppers
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon Tabasco hot sauce
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons celery salt
- 3 tablespoons grated fresh horseradish
- 3 cups water, plus more if needed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 6 ounces quality vodka
- 4 stalks celery, with leaves
- 4 pickled okra
- 4 pickled garlic cloves
- 4 slices smoked bacon, cooked crispy
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- Wash the tomatoes and peppers. Slice the tomatoes in half and place cut-side up on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Place the whole peppers on the tray. Place the baking sheet in the oven for approximately 45 minutes, or until roasted and the skins blacken.
- Once the tomatoes and peppers have blackened remove the tray from the oven. Remove the stems and place the peppers in the container of a blender. Move the tomatoes to the container. To the container, add the lemon juice, Worcestershire, hot sauce, garlic, celery salt, and grated horseradish. Add the water along with a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper. Pulse the blender until all contents are blended. The Bloody Mary base should be thick but still able to pour. If it is too thick add more water.
- In a small bowl add the lemon juice, and in another small bowl add the salt. Invert a large glass into the bowl of lemon juice and moisten the rim. Put the rim into the salt and move around until the salt coats the rim. Add ice cubes to the glass and pour 1½ ounces of vodka. Pour enough of the Bloody Mary base to fill. Garnish with a celery stalk and a pickled okra and garlic clove on a toothpick. Add a slice of crispy bacon and serve.
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