"New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin." Mark Twain
For those of us who like to theme our Super Bowl parties, this Sunday's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens is a no-brainer.
Two words: New Orleans.
Never has a host city provided such delicious possibilities for a party menu. Jambalaya. Gumbo. Red beans and rice. Heck, dirty rice. Muffuletta sandwiches. Barbecued shrimp with hunks of French bread to sop up spicy butter sauce. Po'boy sandwiches. Any baked confection spiked with bourbon.
Really, the trick this year will be picking from an embarrassment of riches.
The Big Easy has a deep and abiding connection with food. It's a place where cuisines collide: French meets Cajun and both mingle with American Southern, African, Caribbean and other European influences. And partying? That's right up its alley, too. The festivities are under way in New Orleans because the big game lands in the middle of Mardi Gras season. Parades — leading up to Mardi Gras day on Feb. 12 — have already started.
Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans? Let the good times roll indeed.
What you need to know
Timing is a consideration for a Super Bowl party, not just how long the food takes to prepare but when to set out provisions. The beauty of a New Orleans menu is that much of the menu can be made ahead or allowed to simmer on the stove until you're ready to dish it out. For instance, the crowd-friendly muffuletta sandwich should be made hours before so that the flavors have time to meld. Because it has no mayonnaise, it can be without refrigeration a little longer, too, and that makes it perfect for the party table.
The game starts at 6:30 p.m. on CBS (WTSP-Ch. 10), which means halftime won't come before 8 p.m. and after that some of your just-here-for-the-food guests might start for home. It is a school/work night, you know. This year, they likely won't leave until after Beyoncé sings at halftime, just to make sure she's not lip-synching as she did at the presidential inauguration. (If some are more interested in the commercials than the game, Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials 2013 airs at 8 tonight on CBS.)
Food should be set out by 7 p.m. and people can fit in their visits to the buffet table during commercials or during the game if they are part of the growing legion of people who prefer the much-hyped ads to the action on the field.
As far as beverages are concerned, offer nonalcoholic choices like water and soda, and then beer and wine. If you want to pour a speciality cocktail with New Orleans flair, consider the Hurricane, a city original. The sweet-tart drink was created at the legendary French Quarter watering hole Pat O'Brien's.
Have plenty of napkins and utensils at the ready and maybe even enlist the help of a teenager to do a regular sweep of the main table and viewing areas to pick up dirty plates and glasses.
A super menu
A buffet party should have several specific components. A couple of substantial offerings, at least one hot, mixed with finger foods that include cold vegetables accompanied by something sweet should do the trick. Make sure you've planned a few things that can be made in advance, otherwise you'll be relegated to the kitchen for the party. Rather than looking heroic, that could come off as rude.
You can make jambalaya or gumbo, and recipes for those abound in cookbooks and on the Internet. My suggested menu for this Sunday's games is: Tailgate Muffuletta Sandwiches, Barbecued Shrimp with French bread, and Cajun Red Beans and Rice Salad. You can augment with your favorite dips and chips and vegetable crudite. (I've included a recipe for baked Muffuletta Dip with this story, and while it may not go perfectly with this menu since it mimics the same ingredients as the sandwich, you might want it if you are making gumbo or jambalaya as your centerpiece.) Finish the meal with Bourbon Pecan Cake, which is quite boozy. There's no mistaking that it's ready to party.
The Tailgate Muffuletta Sandwich is piled high with mortadella, salami and provolone, along with the olive salad. It's a meat-lovers dream, for sure. You would be a hospitable host if you prepared a vegetarian version, too, substituting roasted red peppers and/or grilled vegetables such as onion and zucchini. If you use store-bought red peppers, drain them well on paper towels to remove excess liquid.
You can make the olive salad yourself, but I like to use a prepared version that I buy at the Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg from Jay's Market Place. The ratio of olives to veggies to seasoning is perfect and there's plenty of juice to flavor the bread. Owner Jerry Szkoruda also sells the mix, which comes in a jar, at outdoor markets in Dunedin, Tampa and Tarpon Springs. He's got a storefront at 3618 49th St. N in St. Petersburg.
Muffulettas are traditionally made on a large, round loaf and then cut in wedges. Wrap the loaf in plastic and store in the refrigerator for hours or even overnight. For a party, go a little rogue and use long lengths of French bread, which can be cut in small slices to make them easier to eat.
Barbecued Shrimp has nothing to do with grilling. It's a broiled dish, in which the shellfish swims in spicy butter. There are as many ways to make it as there are Mardi Gras parades. The shrimp are typically cooked in the shell and then the eater picks his way through the mess. It's fun when you're sitting at a table with access to plenty of napkins, but for a party it's a hassle. If you peel the shrimp before cooking, your guests will have an easier time.
And then there's that Bourbon Pecan Cake. One bite and you'll know Mark Twain was right. It's absolutely criminal.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.