Jambalaya, they call it a peasant’s dish. A one dish meal made from a bit pf chicken, a couple of links of sausage, whatever seafood you have on hand, an onion, a couple of tomatoes, a pepper or two, Cajun spice and a couple of cups of rice in one big pot on the back of the stove.
It’s made with what you’ve got. It’s made to feed a hungry brood on the Bayou. Jambalaya goes a long way. In an all too brief trip to New Orleans some years ago, I developed a deep fondness for its people and their food. Funny. Kind. Believers in cream, butter, pork fat, spice and great music.
I’m glad to see New Orleans tourism recovering and the people of the city below sea level bouncing back once again. On my life list is a return to New Orleans for Mardi Gras for one big party.
But we can celebrate Mardi Gras anywhere! Literally translating to ‘Fat Tuesday’, it is the feast before the sacrifice, the party before the purge. The indulgence before Lent, 40 days of fasting and self-denial. Personally, I’m fond of any festival that involves feasting and debauchery. Followed by penance.
Thought we would do a little Cajun tribute on Food Gypsy with a simple menu that includes a spicy Jambalaya and classic Beignets for some Louisiana heat and a bit of sugar. No matter where in the world you may be.
Jambalaya is good, home cookin’ from Louisiana’s Cajun culture and among my favourite rice dishes. Made right it’s spicy, coated in rich tomato-based sauce, it should slide or ‘slump’ just slightly when presented on a plate or in a bowl, that’s true south.
Many use a “Cajun Spice” readily available in most supermarkets but as I avoid additives and preservatives whenever possible, this Gypsy recipe uses cayenne, paprika, chili and just a touch of thyme. It is after all influenced by the French. (The French love their thyme.)
This is the first time I’ve paid very close attention to technique while cooking Jambalaya. Searing and braising meats, checking liquid levels for the rice to ensure proper humidity and doneness, and adding tender shrimp just ten minutes prior to the end to ensure they were pink and perfect.
It was a personal best.
It began with… sausage shopping. Nothing says “I really like you” like your best guy (and Food Gypsy Technical Advisor, Chef Benoit) taking you sausage shopping.
Ottawa’s premier sausage house, The Sausage Kitchen on the Byward Market was out of Andouille sausage, the traditional favourite in Jambalaya. A spicy smoke cured sausage, it’s what gives the dish its signature hint of smokiness that is so essential.
In cuisine, there are no problems, only solutions. So instead of the Andouille, he suggests a combination of Cajun Sausage and Hungarian Smoked Czabai.
The Czabai is a cooked smoked sausage unlike the smoke cured Andouille, so it requires no precooking, but the Cajun is an uncooked, herbed spicy sausage, rich and full of flavour. With the combination of the two we were able to achieve combination of spice and smoke. Sausage solutions. That’s my kind of guy.
I’m good with a poor man’s meal. I can stretch a penny so far I can turn that sucker into copper wire and knit a stinking sweater. I’ve had practice.
Jambalaya is comfort food, it’s one pot purity, it’s love.
A Cajun classic and poor man’s meal, this Spicy, Saucy Jambalaya is long on falvour with just enough spice to clear a nasty head cold. A one pot, comforting, spicy, signature dish of the Cajun people is worth the effort… every single time!
1 Pound chicken, bone in, cut into ‘two bite’ chunks ½ Pound Andouille Sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices ½ Pound shrimp (or other seafood i.e. crawfish, clams, mussels or combination of any and all) 4 Large, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped 2 Large sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange), roughly chopped 1 Large onion, roughly chopped 1 ½ Cups long grain rice ¾ Cup chicken stock ¾ Cup water 4 Tablespoons olive oil 1 Tablespoon butter 1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper 1 Tablespoon paprika 1 Tablespoon chili powder 1 Teaspoon dried thyme Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F (180⁰C) Combine spices (cayenne, paprika, chili, thyme and salt) in large bowl.
Roll chicken pieces in spice mixture to lightly coat, remove and set aside. Add shrimp to remaining spice mixture, toss to coat and set aside, chilled.
In large oven proof pot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil, then add seasoned chicken to sear the outside and seal in juices. Remove and let stand.
In the same pot, add sausage and lightly sear. Remove and let stand. (If spices are burnt on the bottom of the pot, quickly rinse and remove all traces of burnt spice, this will help to avoid any unwanted bitterness. Never cook in a burnt pot.)
Return pot to heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add onions, peppers and tomatoes and sweat over medium heat until onions are transparent and peppers are tender. Add butter, mix to coat.
Add chicken and sausage, submerge in vegetables & liquid, and cook, covered in preheated, 350⁰F (180⁰C) oven for 10 -15 minutes (or until vegetables are cooked & soft).
Remove from oven, add rice, stir into dish, coating well. Add chicken stock and water and salt to taste. Cook covered in 350⁰F (180⁰C) oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven. Check humidity levels and doneness of rice, and add additional stock or water if needed. Add shrimp. Place back in oven, covered, and cook for 10 minutes or until rice is fully transparent and almost tender. Remove from oven. Let rest, without heat – covered – for 10 – 20 minutes.
The rest period at the end of the cooking cycle allows all those bubbling juices to be absorbed by the rice and makes the difference between a good jambalaya and a GREAT jambalaya.
This recipe is listed as easy, because it’s not technically difficult, but it is just a dish that requires a few extra steps in technique to execute it well, every time.
Gypsy note: If you are not a lover of heat, reduce both the cayenne and chili powder (paprika has little heat, it’s mild and smokey). This dish has heat, it’s supposed to, it’s Cajun. I would give this a solid three out of five on the Gypsy heat-o-meter that’s why it’s called ‘spicy’.
Fearlessly cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer, food marketing consultant, recipe developer and sustainability advocate. A Cordon Bleu trained chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and now shares all things delicious - right here.