No two consecutive days in New Orleans contrast more than Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, as a full-blown Mardi Gras bacchanal slams hard into the reflection and moderation of the forty-day Lenten period. Many in the sizable local Catholic community subscribe to the orthodoxy of giving up meat on Fridays during Lent (this year stretching until April 6), and some folks, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, are inspired to abstain from meat altogether.
The happy exception, especially so in coastal southern Louisiana, is that seafood is permitted. Naturally, New Orleans chefs take full advantage of this Lenten loophole by creating specials spotlighting fish, shrimp, crab, and crawfish. Indeed, even a casual perusal of some popular Big Easy eatery menus reveals a slew of buttery, cheesy, and fried preparations so decadent that they must still be a little bit sinful.
For instance, one might assume Lent seriously dings the vibe at carnivore-proud Toups Meatery. Instead, Cajun chef Isaac Toups counterpunches with crab claws dressed in lime vinaigrette and bowls of his grandmother’s couvillion stew rich with Gulf fish and crab-fat rice.
At Compère Lapin, chef Nina Compton makes a gorgeous presentation of broiled shrimp cradled in Calabrian chile butter, while Bakery Bar tempts with corn tortilla tacos overflowing with blackened tilapia and double-fried plantains. Prefer to indulge while the day is still young? Tuck into the smoked salmon toast with whipped cream cheese, apricot marmalade, and trout roe at Birdy’s, or go big at Tujague’s brunch with chef Gus Martin’s crab cake Benedict.
But if any dish is likely to stave off a Lenten craving for a hamburger or fried chicken, it’s the crabmeat mac and cheese at Jack Rose (recipe below). “Adding crabmeat to our mac and cheese takes the sting out of the sacrifice of giving up meat on Fridays,” chef Brian Landry says. “We wish every day were Friday during Lent with dishes like this.”