Monday, November 10, 2008

Bring On the Rain... I've Got Jambalaya!

I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in the Pacific Northwest it's November. While it hasn't started raining on a daily basis yet, the clouds are moving in and the temperature is dropping, which means it's time for soups, stews and other forms of substantial sustenance that can be made in one big ol' pot. I've decided to ring in the rainy season with a batch of jambalaya.

Now many of you not familiar with the culinary traditions of the south may assume that jambalaya is a cajun dish, but this is not the case. Cajun cuisine was developed largely in rural Louisiana by Acadian settlers (later to be known as "cajuns") from Canada, themselves descended from settlers from rural France, and is rooted in a provincial style of French cooking. Gumbo is cajun. Jambalaya, on the other hand, belongs to creole cuisine, which is more heavily influenced by classical European technique, particularly French, Spanish and Italian, and evolved in New Orleans, as well as on the surrounding plantations. Think of it this way: Jambalaya, which incorporates rice, is basically an urban Louisiana version of paella or risotto, while gumbo, typically served over rice, can be seen as a rural Louisiana version of bouillabaise. Having said all that, it's worth pointing out that these two styles of cooking grew in parallel and share a number of characteristics, not the least of which is the "holy trinity," a combination of sauteed onion, green pepper and celery. So that's where I start when I do jambalaya.

Chopping onions can be a little hard on the eyes, of course. My cousin Barry up in Seattle, who in addition to being a food genius knows a little something about beer, gave me a tip a while back that's come in pretty handy:

That's right... ski goggles! The sulphenic acids released when onions are chopped will still make their way to your eyes via your sinuses, but at least it's not a direct attack. But before I go any further, let's get to the ingredients:

1 lb smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 C rice
4 C chicken stock
2 C water
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large green bell pepper, finely diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz can of tomatoes, diced or pureed (reserve liquid)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like it really spicy)
1 Tbsp dried thyme
5 or 6 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
oil and butter for sauteeing

Behold the mise en place:

First, you'll want to brown the sausage in a large sautee pan over high heat with about a Tbsp of oil. Once it's got some color, add the shrimp and continue to cook until the shrimp has just started to turn pink. Remove these from the pan, and add about three Tbsp of oil and butter. Saute the onion over medium heat until just translucent. Add the pepper, celery and garlic, and continue to cook until all the vegetables have softened:

Now at this point, I decided to throw a roux into the mix. This is a little bit of a departure, as roux isn't typically used in making jambalaya. I like to add a little extra liquid later on and let the roux thicken things up a bit. If you go this route, melt 3 Tbsp of butter. Add 3 Tbsp of flour and whisk constantly over medium-low to medium heat. This mixture can be added to the vegetables once it's just begun to turn light brown:

Put your vegetables, and roux if you're using it, into a large stock pot or dutch oven. Add the rice, tomatoes and their liquid, stock and water, and bring to a boil. Back the heat down to low, add the cayenne, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally:

If you're using white rice, it shouldn't take much more than a half hour before it's cooked through. I used long grain brown rice, because it's a lot more nutritious; it took a little more than an hour. Either way, keep an eye on things, and add some water if it looks like too much of the liquid has evaporated (you want to end up with a less than soupy consistency, but you also want to keep things from drying out, which will cause the rice to burn on the bottom of the pot). Oh, and once it's done, fish out the bay leaves. You really don't want to chomp down on one of these things by mistake.

This recipe should yield just over a gallon of jambalaya; my suggestion would be to get some empty pint containers from your local deli or grocery store and freeze whatever you don't eat right away. And, of course, enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Hope youll have some left by the time I get out there! LGS

tommy said...

I've got seven pints of the stuff in my freezer, so I'll probably have some left when you get here. I hope you've been working on your cayenne tolerance...

jabuspub said...

Nice "mise", Julia Child would be impressed. I'll have to try the roux idea with jumbalaya, I used to make huge batches of a dark roux for the gumbo served at the restaurant I worked at in college. 8 lbs or so of lard, flour, etc. It was nasty work, the lard came packaged and had the same consistency as Velveeta...

tommy said...

Mmmm, gumbo... I think that's next!