Last week, when planning a themed dinner for the Saints Superbowl Extravaganza, a friend asked me, "What exactly is Jambalaya?" Well, it's kind of a dump-pot of meat, seafood, vegetables, spices, and rice, often a leftover meal scrapped together from what's in the cupboard (or, at least, what would have been in Louisiana cupboards).
The story is that jambalaya is a kind of bastardized Spanish paella, developed out of indigenous resources when the Spanish first set their boots on the swampy Gulf soil. Rice, which grew in abundance along the Mississippi, was about the only familiar ingredient. So those Creoles added what they had: oysters, shrimp and crawfish. The Cajuns came along with andouille sausage and ham. Competing stories suggest that the name 'jambalaya' comes from the Spanish word for ham, jambon, and the West African word for rice, yaya.
Competing traditions also dictate whether or not your jambalaya uses tomatoes (Creole, yes, Cajun, uh-uh). What is entirely necessary, though, is the "holy trinity" of both Creole and Cajun cooking: onions, celery, and bell peppers. Any and every recipe starts with these three ingredients. They are a must.
So here's a weeknight version, ready in about an hour. It calls for long grain rice, which cooks up fluffy and stays separate, but MAKE SURE you get a parboiled kind (Uncle Ben's, Zatarain's, etc.) to cook in time. Alternately, you'll have to precook your rice for about 30 minutes before adding it in--not a problem, but one more pot to wash, you know.
serves 2; ready in about an hour; see note above about rice choices
1/2 Tbsp butter
1 link andouille sausage, halved and sliced
1 large celery stalk, diced
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 small green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup tomatoes + juice from can of diced tomatoes -OR- 1 diced tomato + 1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup long grain enriched rice (see above)
3/4 cup chicken stock**
1 tsp Tony's**
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup diced chicken (cooked or raw, whatever)
1 cup raw shrimp, peeled and shelled**
3 green onions, sliced
2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
- Preheat your oven to 350º. Have everything chopped, lined up and ready to go. You're going to add things in stages, so you want it all prepped like they do on cooking shows. Except the shrimp--you won't need it for a while, so keep it (peeled) in the fridge.
- Now, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add andouille pieces and saute until they start to brown, about 2 minutes. Add HALF of the trinity (diced celery, bell pepper, and onion) and saute another 3 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Add tomatoes and juice, stirring another minute. Add rice and stir constantly for 2 minutes.
- Dump in the following: stock, rest of trinity, Tony's, Worcestershire, minced garlic, and chicken pieces. Stir to combine. Cover tightly and throw it in the oven for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, carefully remove from oven and check status of your rice. If it's looking good, add shrimp, parsley and green onions. Cook, uncovered, for 12 more minutes, until shrimp is done and most of broth is absorbed. Enjoy with a big piece of crusty French bread.
- Because the stock is so much of your flavor, you want the essence of all the components in it. When you peel your shrimp, throw some of the shells in a pot and pour the stock in with it. Heat it up and let it simmer for a few minutes while you're preparing the other stuff to infuse the stock with shrimpiness.
- Not everyone has access to the riches of Tony Chachere's creole spice mix. If you must make your own, try Emeril's recipe.
- And, not to be Debbie Downer, but promise me you will not buy shrimp farmed in Thailand, frozen, and shipped over here. You don't need much, so spring for the more expensive stuff: wild American caught. We're in the tiny window of Maine shrimp season up here, so we're lucky, but there are so, so very many reasons to buy domestically. Not least of which is to keep those Gulf shrimpers in business. Please.