My Rouses Everyday, January | February 2018
Besides king cake, what’s the most popular Carnival food?
If you don’t know the answer, you’ve never been on the parade route early on Mardi Gras morning, when dozens of people in the waiting crowd are eating fried chicken for breakfast.
Some Carnival revelers will tell you that Mardi Gras is the only time of year they eat fried chicken, so they look forward to the Carnival season as a time to indulge. Others eat it year-round, and Mardi Gras is no different than any other day of the year for them. Either way, you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who has no opinion whatsoever about fried chicken, including which is their favorite kind — white meat or dark. Personally, my favorite piece of fried chicken is whatever is left in the box.
Fried chicken is popular all the time, but why such seasonal popularity? Perhaps because fried chicken can be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature, and it’s easy to transport — no cooler required. You don’t need plates or utensils to eat it. And small children, older relatives and all but the pickiest of eaters will be satisfied with a piece (or two).
In 2016, Rouses sold 3,242,800 pieces of fried chicken, or almost 1.45 million pounds. The weekend of the 2016 Endymion parade, Rouses Corporate Chef Marc Ardoin was on the rooftop of the Baronne Street store in Downtown New Orleans.
In two days there, he said, “We sold 2,784 pieces of chicken just in eight-piece” packages, not even counting fried chicken sold on the hot food line or ordered for catering.
“The parade makes a ‘U’ around the store. We had an outdoor frying unit brought there, and we were frying under a tent on the rooftop to keep up with the amount of chicken needed,” he said. “We had three people working three different fryers.”
Ardoin arrived at the store at 5 a.m. on parade day, ahead of the 6 a.m. opening, to start frying. And the frying didn’t stop until 9 p.m. From the rooftop, Ardoin and his staff could see the parade, which rolls into the Superdome, near the end of its route.
“You could tell when we were about to get slammed, because as the parade ended, people started walking to the store. So we started frying faster. It was nuts.”
When the fry-a-thon was over, Ardoin was covered in flour. “Luckily, I’d thought ahead and brought a change of clothes so I could change before I drove home and my wife would let me in the door. It was fun.
“It was a lot of work, but those are the kind of things you look back on and say, ‘Remember when we did that?’”
Two kinds of Rouses fried chicken are available year-round: Family Recipe and Spicy.
Family Recipe “goes back to Mr. Donald [Rouse] and his dad. They came up with it, and we haven’t touched it; we use that recipe to this day. Donny learned to make it, and this is the one fried chicken he loves,” Ardoin said. Seasonings include garlic; onion; black, white and red pepper; and other secret ingredients.
And, the famous Nashville Hot chicken has got nothing on Rouses Spicy chicken.
“Our Spicy is SPICY,” Ardoin says. “It’ll light you up. If you don’t mind heat, and if you’ve got a couple of cold beers, it’s definitely the best hot chicken.”
One of the notable characteristics of Rouses fried chicken is its consistent crunchiness, resulting from a mandate by the founders.
“We double-bread our chicken. That’s one thing Mr. Donny is adamant about. We get that nice crunch,” Ardoin said. The chicken is coated with the flour mixture, then a seasoned milk-based liquid, then coated again.
“Another thing I love about our fried chicken — the breading we use really sticks to the meat. It doesn’t fall off in one big piece,” Ardoin said.
Frying happens in a canola oil blend at 325 degrees for about 131/2 minutes, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and a golden, not dark, brown in color.
And it’s fried in-store, all day, every day, in small batches.
“We have employees who do nothing but fry the chicken,” Ardoin said.
For the first time, Rouses will have a limited time offer of a special style of fried chicken: Buttermilk Fire chicken will be available only in January, February and March, meaning it can be purchased all throughout Carnival season.
“It’s really good,” Ardoin said. “It’s got that nice buttermilk sour tang, and your tongue tingles a little bit because of the heat.”