Well, Mardi Gras is over, and while the sounds of music and revelry may still resonate, they are long gone. The time has come to rub the party out of your sunken eyes and to prepare for that old harbinger of penitence and sacrifice, the Lenten season. Perhaps it conjures bittersweet memories for the Catholics out there and mystery for the others, but like it or not, Lent is here to stay. Luckily this is a time that we have become accustomed to here in beautiful South Louisiana.
As the custodians of a vibrant and ever-expanding food culture, it is our duty (and our tendency) to transform this challenge of dietary restriction into a celebration of culinary ingenuity, and what better vehicle for this is there than the bounty of our fruitful waters? Beginning on Ash Wednesday, restaurants and churches throughout the region begin advertising special Lenten dishes, fish fries, and all-around seafood bonanzas all the way up until Easter. And while this time coincides with the height of crawfish season, more of the less traditional Lent fare is becoming more and more prevalent, while the old classics still stand their ground.
Just last year the Archdiocese of New Orleans officially declared alligator to be in conformity with the Catholic regulations of Lenten abstinence. Some of Louisiana’s “stranger” foods (at least to outsiders) have consistently come up for debate for years: alligator, turtle, and bullfrog, among others. In 1983, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops officially declared all species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and shellfish to be allowed, though for many these were all still objects of an interesting debate.
So now that the Archbishop has cleared this up for us in aeternum, and it is all free game in the eyes of the Lord, let us celebrate this time and make the most of our wonderful waters. Hopefully we will see a new wave of Lent dishes emerge from restaurants and homes across the region, while keeping tradition alive. Scoot over gumbo z’herbes, and make room for something noveau. The Lord knows we deserve it.