Mar 18, 2009

Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File Gumbo...

Jambalaya is one of the most well-known dishes of South Louisiana. Some believe that jambalaya is a version of paella--brought to Louisiana by Spanish colonists. In their book, Stir the Pot: The History of Cajun Cuisine, Marcelle Bienvenu and Carl and Ryan Brasseaux also present a case for West African influences:

"New Orleans jambalaya is possibly an offshoot of jollof rice, a West African delicacy. Jollof rice is quite similar to paella in that it was traditionally made from whatever happened to be available, however tomatoes and rice are key ingredients. Like paella and jambalaya, the dish is prepared in a single cooking vessel." (p. 131)

No doubt, jambalaya is a one-pot-wonder that uses a variety of ingredients. Rice is the base, and that's true of most Cajun and Creole dishes. Hey, we grow it so why not?

Jambalaya can also include some type of tomato (chopped, diced, sauce, paste), although this is a topic that sparks hot debate: Brown v. Red,
Cajun v. Creole. I grew up eating "red jambalaya," but actually prefer brown.

Vegetables found in jambalaya include "the trinity" (onion, celery, and bell pepper--which is really a fruit). Some cooks, like me, add garlic and green onions too. Protein components of jambalaya can include one or a mixture of the following: chicken, turkey, shrimp, crawfish, pork chops, sausage, ham, game.

Add the list of vegetable possibilities to the protein and you can see that many variations of jambalaya exist. I'll let the math whizzes figure out the exact number of possibilities. All I know is that it equals a lot.

I though I'd encountered all the possibilities that could become jambalaya either by cooking it myself, from family and friends, from eating it at various festivals, or obsessing over cookbooks. Then I noticed a recipe for Crab & Andouille Jambalaya in an issue of Food & Wine Magazine. Crab? In jambalaya? Skeptical right away. The fact that I found this recipe in Food & Wine just cemented my cynicism...what did some fancy-pants, hoity-toity food magazine know about this homely and homey dish?

Call me a food snob. I am in a sense. I tend to be a stickler for tradition when it comes to the dishes of Louisiana. I don't go for short-cuts and am often as dismayed by the "upscaling" of local foods as I am by dumbing them down. Gumbo cannot be made in 30 minutes (hear that, Rachael Ray?). Roux should be made the old-fashioned way and not in the oven, microwave, or from a jar (sorry,
Savoie's...I'll buy your sausage but never jarred roux). Beignets should never, ever be made out of canned biscuit dough (the mark of a couillon if I ever saw one). And jambalaya doesn't contain crab. Don't write angry letters; my blog = my rules.

But...the picture in the magazine. I found myself flipping to it over and over. Slightly offended, but still interested. Could it really be that bad? Merde! Immediately guilty for even thinking that. I've liked other recipes from this contributor. Just one little peek at the recipe. Olive oil...eye roll. Andouille. Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Onion, bell pepper, celery...wait...the trinity! Maybe the author just watches too much Emeril. Garlic. Yes. Old Bay...angrily slap the magazine shut. What kind of Yankee nonsense is this? But I could substitute
Tony's, right? Blasphemy! One more peek. Jasmine rice. Slap the thing closed again. What?! Well, that isn't going to happen. But... I could use local rice. Stop it! Let me look again...chicken stock, thyme, salt, pepper. Okay. Lump crabmeat. I don't know about this. Green onions and hot sauce. That's acceptable. At least everything is cooked together in one pot. Some fakers cook the rice and meat separately, then mix them together at the end. "Pairing suggestion: Bright, berry-rich Charbono: 2005 Summers Estate." Serious eye rolling. Is it possible for a person's eyes to roll right out of her head? First of all, jambalaya isn't "paired with" anything. If you'd like a beverage with it, drink iced tea or a tall cold one. Wine? OhPlease!

So, I caved. I tried the dang way, of course. And I meekly report that it was good. Really good. But I did not use Old Bay, or jasmine rice and wine did not cross my lips with this meal. I do have standards, you know.

Crab and Andouille Jambalaya
from Ms. enPlace, adapted from Food & Wine magazine

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb andouille sausage, quartered lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 to 1 ½ tsp Cajun seasoning (depending on taste)
1 1/4 cups white long grain rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups water
Several dashes hot sauce (or to taste)
1 thyme sprig
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound cooked lump crabmeat
3-4 scallions, chopped

Heat olive oil in a medium pot. Add the andouille and cook over high heat, stirring, until browned, about 4-5 minutes.

Add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the pot. Cover and cook over high heat about 4 minutes or until softened. Stir occasionally. Add the Cajun seasoning, and rice and cook until rice takes on a bit of color. Add the stock, water, hot sauce, and thyme, season to taste with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.

Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes. Fluff with a fork and gently stir in the crab and scallions. Cover and let stand a few minutes for the crab to heat up. Remove thyme sprig and serve. More hot sauce can be added at the table. Serves 4-5.

Get it ready.
Brown the andouille in oil. Yes, I used olive oil. Yes, I am ashamed.

Add the vegetables (except for the green onion) and saute until tender. The original recipe calls for removing the sausage from the pot then adding it back when the liquid is added. I found that there is more flavor in the jambalaya if the sausage is left in the pot through the entire cooking process.
Add the rice and Cajun seasoning and cook until rice takes on a hint of golden color.
Add the chicken stock (homemade preferred), hot sauce (go ahead and separate the men from the boys), thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes.Fluff the rice with a fork, gently fold in the crab and green onion. Cover and let stand to heat up the crab.

Serve with a bottle of hot sauce at the table and beer (jambalaya is not wine food).

1 comment:

  1. Mmm. It's been a long time that I ate one of these. I miss'em. So much, I'll make one tomorrow.


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