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  • Writer's pictureTommy Centola

Interpretations of iconic Arkansas dishes

Arkansas has been my home for 18 years. When I first moved here, I had a case of culture shock when it came to food. The first thing I sought out were ingredients I used in New Orleans. Once I was able to recreate my native dishes, I started to search out creations that were native to Arkansas.

Today, I want to share with you my interpretation of two iconic Arkansas dishes. The first is my take on cheese dip, Smokey Crawfish Queso with Fried Bow Tie Pasta. The second is a breakfast staple, Chocolate Gravy. If you’re ready to try my take on these local dishes, Let’s head to the kitchen!

Smokey Crawfish Queso with Fried Bow Tie Pasta

Nothing is more Arkansas than cheese dip. Only in Little Rock will you find the World Cheese Dip Championship. Here’s my Creole/Cajun spin on this iconic Arkansas dish.

1 pound Velveeta Queso Blanco, cut into small cubes

3/4 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder

8 ounces crawfish tails

Combine Velveeta and milk in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, cook until cheese is melted, stirring occasionally. When melted, add paprika and chipotle powder; mix well to combine. A couple of minutes before serving, add crawfish and cook until crawfish are warm, about 3 minutes. Serve with your favorite chips or Fried Bowtie Pasta.

Deep Fried Bowtie Pasta

8 ounces bowtie pasta

2 eggs

2 tablespoons milk

Seasoned breadcrumbs

Heat deep fryer to 350℉.

Boil bowtie pasta in salted water for 7 to 8 minutes. Drain and cool the pasta. Mix eggs and milk together. Dip each piece of pasta into egg mixture, then roll in breadcrumbs. Fry pasta until deep golden brown, about 2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel lined tray and serve warm.

Chocolate Gravy

I have had the honor of judging the World Championship Chocolate Gravy cook-off since it’s inception. This is the recipe that I use as my benchmark. Please don’t try to enter it in this year's competition.

1/2 stick butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

4 tablespoons Ghirardelli cocoa powder

4 tablespoons flour

1 can evaporated milk

1 cup heavy cream


Melt butter in the bottom of your pan until just melted.

Mix sugar, flour and cocoa together in a separate bowl. Add mixture to the butter and whisk until smooth. Just like with making regular white gravy, you want to make sure you have plenty of fat in there to lightly cook your flour in the butter.

Once all is combined, slowly begin to add the evaporated milk and heavy cream until smooth. Whisk until nice and smooth and let it cook on medium heat until it begins to thicken.

Add a pinch of salt. I know many might skip this step but having just the right pinch of salt will make or break your gravy. There is an old saying when it comes to cooking: if you’re making something sweet, add a pinch of salt. If you’re making something savory, add a pinch of sugar.

Serve over warm buttery drop biscuits

It took me some time to search out Arkansas dishes. I’m so glad that I did. While there is nothing, in my opinion, as good as Louisiana cooking, Arkansas has plenty to offer. Along with cheese dip and chocolate gravy, fried pickles and delta tamales were created here. One of my favorite seasoning blends, Cavenders, is made in the Ozark mountains. I actually have been using Cavenders long before I moved to Arkansas. Little did I know then that I would be living in the Natural State.

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