Mardi Gras celebrations happen for a span of several days, but it technically falls on Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, to be exact), which means making classic New Orleans cuisine for the occasion is out of the question for many of us, since many of the city’s most iconic dishes are pretty time-consuming to make. Luckily, there are plenty of shortcuts to quick and easy Mardi Gras recipes that are full of those Big Easy flavors, emphasis on the easy. These slow cooker, air fryer, and Instant Pot versions of New Orleans classics may be nontraditional takes, but they mean you get to savor fantastic food with minimal effort.
So if you don’t have a half hour to devote to making a proper dark roux (the base of any authentic gumbo, unless you use filé), let alone the time or stamina to take on the production of a king cake, try these easy Mardi Gras recipes and let the good times roll—right into your mouth. (And consider shaking up a classic New Orleans cocktail with the free time you’ve gained back!)
If you plan ahead, you can even order iconic New Orleans food online to have delivered.
Traditional gumbo takes a fair amount of active time—at least 30 minutes of stirring the roux alone to build up a flavorful foundation. But this slow cooker shrimp and sausage gumbo employs a few tricks: you toast flour in the oven and mix with chicken stock for an easy shortcut roux, then cook everything in your Crock-Pot, so you can go to work, run errands, or just take it easy while dinner basically makes itself. (If you need something that’s quicker, try an Instant Pot Gumbo—but be sure to be extra-vigilant with your roux, as Instant Pots can easily scorch on the saute setting.) Get our Slow Cooker Shrimp Gumbo recipe.
A classic andouille and shrimp jambalaya, complete with the holy trinity (bell pepper, onion, and celery) and Cajun seasoning, this comes together in a flash in the Instant Pot—even more so if you use pre-cooked shrimp, but be sure not to add them until the very end. Liven it up with a squirt of lemon juice and some hot sauce (in fact, same goes for almost everything else on this list except dessert). Get the Instant Pot Jambalaya recipe.
Instant Pot 6-Quart 7-in-1 Pressure Cooker, $79 on Amazon
A pressure cooker can help take the pressure off at dinner time.
If you’re all about the seafood, shrimp étouffée is a fantastic choice (especially since crawfish tails can be hard to come by in some places), and it comes together even more quickly than the standard version—which honestly isn’t all that hard either. Serve with plenty of rice to catch all that gravy. And if you’re not a fan of tomatoes, leave them out. Get the Instant Pot Shrimp Etouffee recipe.
This vegan Instant Pot gumbo relies on lentils for heft and okra both for traditional flavor and its natural thickening power. Cauliflower rice gets stirred into the pot, but you can serve the gumbo over top if you like. Get the Instant Pot Vegan Gumbo recipe.
Making a big pot of red beans and rice is a timeless tradition and a great, comforting way to feed a crowd, but it does usually take a few hours (which can be part of its charm), and requires an overnight soak of your dried beans. If you want a quick fix that doesn’t rely on canned beans, this Instant Pot version is perfect—and it means you can still use Camellia brand beans, which are much loved in Louisiana. (For another rice-based Cajun classic, try Instant Pot Dirty Rice too.) Get the Instant Pot Red Beans and Rice recipe.
Camella Brand Red Kidney Beans, $9.99 on Amazon
The classic New Orleans brand for authentic red beans and rice.
New Orleans is home to several peerless sandwiches, including po boys, and fried seafood po boys are among the best examples of the form. An air fryer makes crispy fried shrimp not only easier but way healthier too. So pile them up on your roll and slather on a little extra remoulade. (While it’s best if you plan ahead and marinate the shrimp in their buttermilk bath overnight, 30 minutes will suffice). Get the Air Fryer Shrimp Po Boy recipe.
Ninja 4-Quart Air Fryer, $119.99 on Amazon
If you're on the fence about an air fryer, check out the reviews on this mid-size model.
Read More: 15 Air Fryer Recipes You Didn’t Expect
Switching from surf to turf, the roast beef po boy is a lesser-known but equally rapturous sandwich experience, especially when it’s literally dripping with “debris” gravy. Making the roast beef in a slow cooker means you can prep it and forget about it until it’s time to assemble your dinner—and in the interest of maximum efficiency, you could probably skip the searing and use a high-quality prepared gravy with pretty great results. Either way, since you’re eating in the privacy of your own home, get as generous (and messy) with the debris as you want. Get the Slow Cooker Beef Debris Po Boy recipe.
Another iconic New Orleans sandwich, muffalettas aren’t hard to make, but you do have to press them under a skillet or other heavy object for at least an hour to get the full experience. Chop all the traditional filling ingredients (salami, provolone, olives, etc.) while a pot of pasta’s cooking and you can toss it together and eat it right away. Not quite the same, but no one will complain. And leftovers are great cold, or at room temp. Get our Muffaletta Pasta Salad recipe.
Mardi Gras king cake is a hallowed tradition, but making one from scratch is not exactly for beginning bakers, or anyone tight on time. You can mail order them, but if you’re cool with semi-homemade, break out the crescent roll dough and make this easy king cake for a tasty (and frankly, still impressive) compromise. Plastic baby optional, but highly encouraged. Get the Easy Crescent Roll King Cake recipe.
Related Reading: 12 Ways to Get Your King Cake Fix for Mardi Gras
Many air fryer devotees consider it not only healthier but much easier than traditional deep-frying—and while making this beignet recipe’s yeasted dough from scratch would still take some time, luckily, you can buy the famous Café Du Monde beignet mix in boxes, so combine that shortcut with the air fryer method and you’ll have a delicious powdered sugar-dusted dessert (or breakfast) in no time! Get the Air Fryer Beignets recipe.
Cafe du Monde Beignet Mix and Coffee & Chicory, $18.10 on Amazon
You can even get the beignet mix along with its classic New Orleans chicory coffee accompaniment if you like.
One New Orleans classic that’s already quick and easy is bananas Foster—but it does take a little gumption to flambé. Bread pudding is perfectly suited to even the faint of heart, and quick and easy too, though you do generally have to wait for the bread to soak up some of the custard before putting it in the oven. Not so with this slow cooker version, which has pecans for a southern accent; just throw everything in the Crock-Pot, turn it on, and go do something else for a few hours, then come back and dig in. (Feel free to use a good-quality jarred caramel sauce to save even more time.) Get the Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pecan Bread Pudding recipe.
Sea Salt Caramel Sauce, $7.95 at Stonewall Kitchen
Smooth, sweet, salty perfection.
Related Video: Get the Party Started with These Mardi Gras Cocktails