Diner's dictionary Defining unfamiliar menu terms

Remoulade (ray-muh-LAHD)

Mardi Gras starts next week. So you might as well kick up your heels and reach for the Creole mustard.

Louisiana inherited remoulade from France, but New Orleans in the 1920s had its way with the egg-based sauce, subjecting it to doses of mustard, horseradish, paprika and celery. According to a Saveur story published last year, the fiery red sauce was first conjured by Arnaud's as a shrimp accompaniment. And while shrimp remains remoulade's most steady partner, it's since been paired with crawfish po-boys, hot dogs, broccoli salad and grilled salmon.

The French likely devised remoulade for meat dishes: Tulane University's Culinary History Project speculates its creamy kick could have disguised the strong flavor of spoilage. The sauce emerged sometime in the 1800s. Up until that time, Alan Davidson writes in the “Oxford Companion to Food,” “remoulade” denoted a “broth flavored with chopped anchovies, capers, parsley, spring onions, garlic and a little oil.” By the mid-19th-century, though, the word meant something more like mayonnaise with all of the aforementioned ingredients, plus a bit of mustard and gherkins.

Remoulade was a hit in England, where cooks liked to mix hard-boiled egg yolks into the dressing. But it mostly faded away in France, making only rare appearances in the company of slivered celery root.

In New Orleans, though, chefs seized remoulade as a shot at self-expression. As Judy Walker, The Times-Picayune's food editor, wrote in the headnote for a remoulade recipe calling for green peppers, Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, “Some are mostly oil and paprika; others are based on mayonnaise. Almost all have finely minced vegetables, or sometimes pickles. The color ranges from vivid red to pale pink. And then there's white remoulade!” Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The Wickcliffe House (Ultimate remoulade burger, $8.95)

Zatarain's makes jarred remoulade sauce, but if you can't find it at your local supermarket, cajungrocer.com is a reliable online source.

Remoulade is popular with caterers, but the sauce is on the standing menu at restaurants, including Poogan's Porch, where it's served with fried green tomatoes; Blossom, which adds red pepper to the remoulade accompanying its calamari; and Charleston Harbor Fish House, where the sauce is slathered on oyster po-boys.