El Big Bad bartender Sheridan Fay knows a lot about Mardi Gras. She grew up in New Orleans and remembers serving as royalty in one of the many parades in town, then racing across town to see a different parade. There was lots of food ("My family always brought fried chicken"), lots of revelry ("My uncle tried to see how many parades he could get to in one day") and lots of booze.
"What did you drink during your Mardi Gras celebrations?" I asked Fay.
"Um...whatever you wanted," she replied, laughing. "If you were going to drink all day, you'd start the morning with a Bloody Mary or bourbon milk punch, easy on the alcohol. Then later you'd move on to things like Cognac or a Sazerac."
Fay decided to go a little more creative for the purposes of this article, though. Here are two recipes for your Mardi Gras celebrations: A Vieux Carre, a cocktail invented at the Carousel bar in New Orleans and named after the famed French Quarter, and a King Cake Vodka Shot, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Fay says that in spite of your instincts, you should generally start making a cocktail with the non-alcoholic ingredients first in case you mess up, because then you won't be wasting the pricier product. For this drink, she started by putting a dash of Angostura, a dash of Peychaud's and a spoonful of Benedictine in a mixing glass. Then she measured out and added the whiskey, sweet vermouth and Cognac. She filled the glass with ice and stirred until the outside of the glass felt very cold. This also dilutes the drink a bit, which is good. Once the mixture is ice cold, it's served "up" -- strained into a chilled coupe glass. It is then downed during many a Mardi Gras celebration.
A Vieux Carre is a "middle of the day to end of the day" drink. You want to start with something a little less strong, then ease your way into the high-alcohol cocktails.
Fay says that many families will rent hotel rooms along the parade route, but not for sleeping. The hotels take out all the furniture and line the floors with plastic. Families then bring in their own folding tables and chairs, as well as food and a bar setup. That way, when you need a clean bathroom and another drink, you can just head up to your own hotel room without paying extra for a sugary Hurricane or waiting in line for a nasty bathroom.
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King Cake Vodka
Break king cake up into fist-size pieces and stuff into the infusion jar. Make sure you get all the icing and colored sprinkles. Pour vodka over the cake and let sit for two hours, occasionally shaking jar to aid in mixing. Strain over chinois into an empty bottle for serving. Pour shots and enjoy.
Fay developed this recipe for her guest bartender series at Triniti, when the theme was New Orleans. She thought it would be funny to infuse a king cake in vodka -- after all, she works for El Big Bad and worked for the late, great El Gran Malo, the Houston kings of infusion -- so she tried it. And lo and behold, it worked pretty darn well. Fay notes that there are a few king cake vodkas on the market, but this one is much more fun to make.
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She uses Cinco because it's a very smooth vodka without a lot of bite to it, so it tastes more like king cake and less like vodka once it's been infused. You should also make sure you get a cake with icing, as the icing really aids in the flavor. This infusion will start looking kind of gross part of the way through the process. Carry on! It's totally worth it.
Garnish your shot glasses with colored sugar (purple, yellow or green, of course) and maybe even dunk that little plastic baby in one of them. Whoever gets the shot with the baby has to make next year's king cake infusion, right?
This year, Fay has been here in Houston for the festivities leading up to Mardi Gras, but she has some recommendations for how to celebrate here in style.
"I always go to LC's Cajun Stop," she says, referencing the owner, Lisa Carnley, with her initials. "Best gumbo and po-boys in Houston. That place is going to be mobbed."