I’ve never been to New Orleans, but have always been smitten with its cuisine. Ingredient-wise, it seems simple and unassuming, but the opinions and passion about the right way to do it–well that’s another story. Whatever the case, its all delicious to me. I’ve only come close to doing a Cajun/Creole dish before, borrowing some of the style/flavor, but not going all out. I felt long overdue to actually try a real dish, so I opted for one of the well known stars: jambalaya.
Jambalaya has its roots in paella. The core idea: its a rice dish with a very strongly flavored stock, a hearty mix of proteins (e.g. in my case, chicken, shrimp, and andouille sausage), and a very zesty blend of herbs, spice, and of course, the Holy Trinity (pepper, onion, celery). It sounds deceptively simple–almost kind of plain, but then you smell it and taste it, and its another story entirely.
This was incredibly tasty and surprisingly hearty (for some reason, a rice dish just doesn’t make me think “hearty,” but this definitely fits the bill). All the major rice dishes out there have their distinct mouthfeel–risotto is luxuriously creamy with just a bit of contradictory bite, paella more crisp and uniformly al dente, biryani more like a simple steamed rice in texture–and I would also put jambalaya in its own category. It has a thicker, uniquely full-bodied mouthfeel. Each grain of rice is still distinct, but its thick, like it wants to coat your insides and make you feel good.
This particular rendition had a delicate, sweet, distinct touch of shrimp flavor throughout and that home-made quality you only get from a strong, freshly made stock. I used a blend of chicken and shrimp stock (you wouldn’t throw out the heads, tails, and shells from fresh shrimp, would you?). I was also liberal with the mix of pepper, and combined with the andouille (delicious in its own right, but an important element for seasoning the dish), there was a great smoky heat throughout the dish. It really hit the spot, and despite the rustic appearance, I found it very attractive on the eyes and enticing on the nose. And honestly, I don’t tend to think of the chicken+shrimp+sausage combo ever, but in jambalaya, it truly works in wonderful ways.
- 1 lb andouille
- 2 lb chicken thighs
- Creole seasoning
- 1 green bell
- 2 habanero
- 4 shallots
- 3 stalks celery
- 1 tomato
- 1 Tbsp worchestershire sauce
- 3 cups long grain rice
- 1 cup shrimp stock (you’ll have extra)
- 4-5 cups water
- shells, heads, tails from 1 lb fresh shrimp
- 1 shallot
- 1 stalk celery
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 lemon
- 2 Bay Leaves
- few sprigs thyme
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 4-6 cloves garlic
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- 4 green onions
- 1 lb fresh shrimp
- big handful fresh parsely
If you don’t have good, home-made stock handy, that’s a good place to start. Since I had whole shrimp, I began by throwing the heads, tails, and shells into a pot of water. Coarsely chop the shallot, celery, garlic, and lemon, and throw that into the pot with all of the remaining stock components. Raise this to a boil and then drop to a low simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Skim off any scum that floats to the surface, and once time is up, strain the contents of the pot, discarding the solids. You’ll have more stock than you need for this recipe, so save the rest and freeze it for another day.
I was also overdue on making some chicken stock, so I did this in parallel. If you’ve never done it before, consider doing it with any chicken scraps you’ve been saving in your freezer (bones, wing tips, necks, etc–you haven’t been throwing those into the trash, right?).
With the chicken and shrimp stock ready to go, chop the andouille into coins and brown these in a bit of oil for about 5 minutes. Set the cooked sausage aside.
Cut off any excess hunks of fat, and chop the chicken thighs into bite sized pieces. Rub the pieces liberally with creole seasoning (or a similar mix of spices–use whatever you have handy. There’s room to play) and then brown in the same pot that the andouille was cooked in. Cook the chicken through, figure somewhere around 10 minutes, and then set it aside.
Now, onto the vegetables. First, the star of many a NOLA dish: the Holy Trinity. Mince the pepper (I threw habanero in there, too), shallots, and celery. Sauté 1/2-3/4 of this in the chicken/andouille pot for about 5 minutes. Then, add the finely chopped tomato and worchestershire sauce, cooking for another 2-5 minutes to reduce some of the liquid out of the tomato.
Now, add the rice. Stir this fairly actively for 2 minutes so that you fry the rice without burning it.
Now, pour in the mix of shrimp and chicken stock and scrape all surfaces of your pot to loosen any brown bits in there. Toss in the garlic cloves, remaining Holy Trinity, and thyme leaves. Give this a good stir and put in a 350°F oven for 25 minutes.
When time is up, throw in the finely chopped green onions, shelled/deveined shrimp, and a big handful of parsely. Give this a quick stir and stick it back in the oven for 10 minutes more. Serve your self a plate, grab a beer and some crusty bread, and enjoy!