I spent my first culinary internship at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, in the French Quarter. There I experienced a wide range of the foods New Orleans has to offer. At Begue’s, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant I was taught many of the more refined creole dishes from Oysters Bienville and Shrimp Etouffe to modern twists on things such as Shrimp and Grits, Tomato Tasso Bisque, and Souffles. Desire oyster bar, with frontage on Bourbon St., gave me a crash course in all things cajun, from oysters on the half shell to corn meal crusted fried oysters, to jambalaya, gumbo and po boys. It was here, in New Orleans, that my life long love of all foods Southern (from the BBQ and tamales of Texas to Red Eye Gravy to Frogmore Stew of the Low Country) got its start. While Southwestern cuisine may play a more important role in my style of cooking, it is the food of New Orleans though that captivates my heart.
There are so many great foods that come out of the cajun and creole tradition, but my two favorite are gumbo and jambalaya. Of course there are also Muffulettas, one of The Best sandwiches in the world. A true New Orleans tradition, but not cajun or creole, instead coming from the Italian part of New Orleans history.
While all of these deserve a blog post, and believe me, I will get to each one in due time, it is Jambalaya that I had a craving for this week. Jambalaya is New Orleans' answer to Spanish Paella. It’s a wonderful rice dish studded with sausage, seafood, vegetables and, oftentimes, chicken. Unlike paella, it doesn’t rely on saffron for it’s flavor, instead relying on the Trinity of cajun and creole cuisine (onions, celery and peppers). A good jambalaya also has a nice amount of heat provided by cayenne, hot sauce or both, though the heat is usually more on the mild side. Jambalaya can either be cooked on the stove top or in the oven like a rice pilaf. I’ve seen many recipes for both, though people will fiercely defend (and oppose) one or the other.
Like so many of the recipes I offer, as is the case with many family style, peasant type foods, there are a million recipes out there, each family having their own, and each family claiming that theirs is the proper way to make the dish. The recipe I offer below is a great all round jambalya recipe. It contains sausage, chicken and shrimp and has a fair amount of heat to it. You can easily tone the heat down by omitting the cayenne and decreasing the amount of hot sauce used, but leave it with a little kick to it or the dish just seems to lack that something.
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
12oz. Andouille sausage, large dice
1 pound chicken breast, large dice
1 28oz can diced tomato, with juice
2 1/2 cups rice, long grain
3 cups water
2 Tbsp. hot sauce (New Orleans style such as Tabasco, Crystal, Louisiana, etc.)
1 Tbsp. worchestershire sauce
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
3/4 pound shrimp, peeled (use medium to smallish shrimp-not too small though)
In large pot over medium heat, heat 2 Tbsp. of oil. Add the vegetables and saute until starting to wilt. Add the sausage and garlic, cooking until the vegetables are tender, but not allow them to brown.
Add the chicken and cook for 5 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except for the shrimp.
Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the rice is done and all the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the raw shrimp and allow to rest for 5 minutes longer to allow the shrimp to cook. Fluff the rice and serve.