Cook22

Jambalaya

One of my all-time favourites. A one-pot dish, with bold flavors, nice colors and a bit of heat. O, and shrimp. It is very much an improvised version, as real creole Anouille sausages are impossible to find, and Ochra is quite difficult as well (untill I started growing it myself). So I left out these, arguably crucial, components, but you still end up with a great dish.

Serves 2-3, Preparation time: 25m, Cooking time: 45m

The Stuff

  • 250g chicken, cubed
  • 250g sausage, sliced (pref. Andouille, I used merguez)
  • 250g prawns
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped (1 if you have a large one)
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 3-6 cloves of garlic, minced (to taste)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • 100ml of sherry
  • 1.5 L of chicken stock
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 250g of rice, uncooked
  • Creole seasoning, premix or make one yourself (see Nuts&Bolts below)

The Cook

  • In a large pot, add some olive oil and brown the chicken and the sausage. Take out.
  • Add a bit more oil if needed, and start to saute the ‘Holy Trinity’: onion, bell pepper and celery on low heat until onion is soft.
  • Add garlic (and the optional jalapeno)
  • Make a well in the middle and add the tomato paste. Cook it off for a min or 5, then mix in in.
  • Turn up the heat, wait untill pot is hot and add the Sherry to deglaze the pot. Give it a good stir and scrape the bottom, then turn heat back down.
  • Add chicken stock, creole seasoning, tomatoes and the meats. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for 10m.
  • Add rice and let cook for 25m. The rice should absorb a lot of the moisture.
  • 5-10m before serving, add the shrimp. Once these are cooked and the jambalaya has a nice thick consistency, you are done. 

The Nuts and Bolts

Interstellar. Yep, that is where this dish started for me. They mention a vegetable in the movie, called Ochra. Never had I heard of it. What is this strange vegetable? So I started reading and soon you come across a recipe for ‘Gumbo’ a traditional Creole Dish. Creole? What was that again. And down the rabbit-hole I went. So, a brief explanation before we start cooking, for the interested:

Right, Creole and Cajun. The subject always confused me…and still does. What I do know is that both are a mish-mash of cultures, formed in Louisiana in the Southern part of the Unites States. Both names originate from French words and can be used to describe descendants of French settlers that settled in the swamps of Louisiana. Later, other cultures mixed in such as Spanish, African, Portugese etc. Now, I don’t want to go too far into the history of the region, but it is an interesting subject for sure. As far as their cuisines go, Creole uses tomatoes where Cajun doesn’t. Apparently, that’s the big difference. At the same time, you could describe Creole as ‘city food’ and Cajun as ‘country food’. Either way, the Creole kitchen is a great combination of different cultures, which is reflected in the ingredients they use. I’m not too familiar with it, but I am trying to learn. I’ve made Cajun Gumbo before but this time, I wanted to make the quintessential Creole Dish: Jambalaya. The ingredients list looks pretty long, but it actually is quite an easy recipe. It cooks a bit like a stew, with some extra things to pay attention to. It turned out quite well, but this first try missed some depth of flavor. Next day, I reheated it, with some extra Trinity mixed in and a good amount of Worcestershiresauce for the extra depth of flavour. This, combined with the fact that most stews are better the second day, really lifted the dish to the next level. Something to think about for next time. For now, let’s start cooking.

The holy trinity

I lied, a few things beforehand. Since this is going to be a Creole dish, I’m going to indulge myself by bringing the knowledge and explain a few recurring elements in creole cuisine. First off, the Holy Trinity. Sounds divine, but it really is just the Creole and Cajun version of the French mirepoix or the Italian soffritto. It is the flavor base for most of their sauces and soups and consists of onion, celery and bell peppers. They are usually sautéed or roasted before the rest of the ingredients are added. Second note are the spices. Nowadays, even here in the Netherlands you can find packages of ‘Creole or Cajun spice-mix’, but they really aren’t difficult to make. There are different versions, but in rough lines it is: a lot of paprika, some salt, dried thyme, basil and oregano, onion and garlic powder, and a little bit of white, black and cayenne pepper. A special note on the sausages. Most recipes call out for ‘Andouille-sausages’, a kind of smoked Louisiana pork-sausage. I haven’t found them over here and they are not the same as the French Andouille-sausages, so you have to get a little creative with finding alternatives. This time, I used merquez-sausages, and added extra smoked paprika with the spices to get a bit more of the smokey flavor. 

instructions

Right, onwards! The actual cooking. Here we go. It is going to be a one-pot dish. This usually means you end up with one pot, but I also try to use the same pot for the whole cook. Partially because I’m lazy and less pots means doing less dishes afterwards, but also because you keep all the flavors in the stew.

So, take out your casserole pot, or if you don’t have one yet like me, a large pot, preferably with a thick bottom and a lid.

Put it on medium to high heat and once hot, add some oil and start browning the chicken and the sausages. They don’t have to be done, just nice and brown on the outside. Take the meat out once they reach this point and put aside.

See all the brown stuff at the bottom of the pot? That’s 100% yummy goodness. Put the pot back on lowest heat. You don’t want to burn, or even brown, anything for the next step. If the pot is dry, add some oil and once that is warm, add the Trinity and start sautéing. If you haven’t already, chop the garlic and add. This is also the point I added some Jalapeno peppers, even though they aren’t regularly used in Creole cooking. Most of the heat comes from the cayenne powder. 

Once the Trinity is done, nice and mushy and glazy, make a little well in the middle. This is where the tomato paste goes. The idea here is to brown it off a little, which adds extra flavor by caramelizing the sugars in the paste. Keep stirring the tomato paste by itself in middle for a few minutes, then mix in in with the rest. By now, there should be quite a bit of stuff stuck to the bottom of the pot. Good.

This is the moment we’re gonna get all the flavor back into the mix by deglazing the pot with the Sherry, so give it a good splash and really scrape the bottom and stir everything together. (as mentioned above, I added Worcestershiresauce the day after which really helped, so you could also just deglaze with a healthy amount of Worcestershiresauce.)

Now it’s time for the rest of the liquids. Add the chicken stock, the Creole spice-mix and the tomatoes. Put all the meat back in as well. Stir and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for a bit, a minute or 10, to combine all the flavours.

Add the rice, cover the pot and let the whole thing cook for about 25 minutes. The final step is adding the shrimp. These take about 5 minutes to cook, so throw them in when the Jambalaya is almost done. You know it’s time when the rice is nice and soft and the sauce is thickened, but not too much. You don’t want a soup but you also don’t want a dry, thick mess.