Just as there is no set standard list of ingredients that must be included in jambalaya, even the dish’s origins are open to speculation. Some cookbooks–many, actually–suggest it has French roots. The French word for ham is jambon which sounds like… well, you get it. Perhaps a more likely source is that classic Spanish dish, paella, which its rich assortment of surf and turf mixed with fragrant saffron rice. The Spanish ruled Louisiana for nearly 40 years and Spanish influence over the region was much longer.
No matter its roots, jambalaya is probably one of the best known dishes to come out of Louisiana, and a perfect way to cap off Mardi Gras which ends Feb. 16 on Fat Tuesday. With the added spice of the New Orleans Saints’ massive victory in the Super Bowl last week, there’s plenty of reason to cook up a platter of this Cajun classic.
Jambalaya isn’t a dish to be rushed, but it doesn’t have to be a Half-time worthy production, either. Preparing jambalaya with a friend or two not only helps you with all the knife work and sautéing, but also makes this an even more celebratory meal. Cooking its various ingredients separately builds up its multi-layers of flavor. And don’t be afraid of the fats in the dish, it’s not as if you’re eating like this all the time. Besides, you’ll have 40 days of penance and fasting to work off those dietary sins.
¼ pound ham, diced
1 pound Andouille or other sausage, such as Kielbasa, sliced
One 3-pound chicken, cut into pieces
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups yellow onion, chopped
1 cup celery, minced
1 cup green pepper, minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ bunch parsley, chopped
3 bay leaves Zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
3 cups stock (chicken or seafood), hot
2 cups long-grain rice
You’ll need a very large, heavy bottomed pot or skillet, preferably with a tight-fitting lid.
- Heat the fat in the pot you’ve selected and then sauté the sausage and ham until just browned. Remove the meat and let drain on a paper towel.
- In the same skillet, using the fat from the sausage, fry the chicken pieces until nicely browned.
- When they’re done, let the pieces drain on paper towels, as well. Once they’ve cooled enough to handle, peel the meat from the bones and dice it into bite-sized pieces.
- Drain off all but about 3 tablespoons of the fat and sauté the onions over medium heat until translucent. Add the celery, green pepper, and garlic, cooking until they’re just tender. Reduce the heat to low.
- Add the rice to the vegetable mixture and stir it, letting it cook for about for three or four minutes, or until translucent.
- Add all the spices, herbs, and lemon zest, stirring it until everything is well incorporated.
- Add the meat and the stock – give it a few more good stirs – and then cover the pot, letting the entire concoction simmer over low heat until the rice is done.
- Gently fold in the shrimp, cover the pot again, and let stand for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the seafood is cooked.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.