I can’t even think the word ‘jambalaya’ without one of two things happening. Scenario One: Picturing Newman (from Seinfeld) in the now-famous Soup Nazi episode, coming out of the soup place, looking in his bag, sneering “jambalaya” and scampering off like a big fat squirrel. Scenario Two: Involves the song “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”, as sung by Hank Williams, but I always think of the reception scene in Steel Magnolias when Olympia Dukakis’ character says that the mayor’s wife dancing (to ‘Jambalaya’) looks like “two pigs fighting under a blanket”.
You know, neither of those things is actually very appetizing. Who cares! We’re making jambalaya!
And yes! I’ve dug out another second-hand bookstore acquisition, this one from J. Crawford’s fine used bookstore right here in Hollywood Park. I think I paid a whopping $7 for it and it’s chock-full of Louisiana cooking tips, instructions, and recipes. Which is good, because other than my Regional American cooking class at ARC I truly don’t know a lot about Cajun or Creole cooking. Trial and error, people, trial and error.
I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, but that’s what makes jambalaya so good! Just invest and you’ll be able to make it whenever you want. With the closing of Celestin’s here in Sacramento, there isn’t really going to be a place to just go out and have jambalaya whenever you want it.
You do need a lot of different spices for this, most of which are available at the local grocery. The only one I had trouble with was the filé powder, which is a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree–I ended up finding it at Cost Plus.
I adapted Chef Paul’s general recipe for “Poorman’s Jambalaya”. He uses tasso ham and andouille for his version and I opted for chicken thighs and hot links (except for swapping out the meats, it’s pretty much the same). Other versions use rabbit, shrimp, crawfish or any combination of these meats.
ALL versions of jambalaya and most other Cajun or Creole cooking includes the “holy trinity”–which is green bell pepper, onion and celery, in portions similar to a mirepoix. Meaning 2 parts onion to 1 part pepper and 1 part celery.
As you can see, chopping and assembling the ingredients are really the most time-consuming part of this recipe. Other than that, it’s just browning meat, sauteeing vegetables, adding rice and liquid and covering to let cook.
That’s why I think that jambalaya could possibly be one of the best dinner-party dishes ever. You do all the prep before people get there, brown it off while people have drinks, then add the liquid and cover it for a half hour and dinner is served. Genius.
Gussy it up with a few leaves of parsley and dig in. The chicken is as tender as butter and everything has a pleasing spiciness that makes you want to reach for a cold beer or sweet tea.