Monday, February 15, 2010

Epicurette's First Jambalaya

There are few things as amusing to me as the concept of Mardi Gras. The idea is that the day before Ash Wednesday we all go friggen crazy, indulging in all of the things that you aren't supposed to do during Lent. Essentially, the church inadvertently created a day of debauchery. Rome must be very proud of itself. The indulgences are different depending on the part of the world. In the UK it's known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. In Philly, where I'm from, it's known as "Donut Tuesday" from the local PA Dutch festival of Fastnacht, which is also the word for a fatty, donut like pastry. The local Yum Yum will open early for it. In the days leading up to Mardi Gras, I like to spend a good deal of my time trying to think up new sins and then spend Mardi Gras committing them.

Lacking the space for (or desire to own) a deep fryer, I was not about to make donuts to celebrate this day of indulgence. I decided to follow Mardi Gras to its most famous source, New Orleans. Hey, if Will could master a New Orleans drink, I could handle some of its cooking, right? After the valentine's sweets that had entered my apartment in the form of chocolates and cupcakes, I wasn't about to dig out the flour and sugar again to attempt a king cake. I was craving something spicy, something meaty, something really fun to say. I settled on making my very first Jambalaya.

Southerners, it seems, refused to keep things simple for me. In the same way that I discovered there are two different types of Pulled Pork--depending if you are on the East or West side of the Carolinas--it appears there are two different ways to make Jambalaya as well. Cajun Jambalaya is a brown sauce, made by browning the meat before cooking. Creole Jambalaya, the kind more common in New Orleans, is made with tomatoes giving it a red sauce. I went back and forth between these two, and finally decided, despite New Orleans being the epicenter of Mardi Gras, that the Cajun style sounded more interesting to me. Maybe I just love the accent. Maybe it's the nerd in my that still has a crush on Remy LeBeau. (The X-Men's Gambit, for those of you who don't speak nerd)

Now that I had settled on style, ingredients were the next order of business. I must have paged through 50 different recipes looking for common themes in order to get an "authentic" jambalaya. There were a few things that seemed to be rules.

1. The Trinity. Louisiana cooking almost always has what is referred to as the Culinary Trinity, onions, green peppers and celery. These are to be sautéed in oil and added to the Jambalaya.

2. Andoulille Sausage. This was a spicy sausage of French decent, brought over with the French settlers the Cajun's descended from. While many recipes suggested spicy Italian sausage as a substitute, Andoulille was the consensus as to what the true Jambalaya pork should be. In fact if you Google "Andoulille" and "Jambalaya" you get nearly 700,000 results. I accidentally only bought one package before I realized that I needed two pounds, so I bought another package of a different brand at another store. Therefore I had two different spice levels in my sausage. I thought it added complexity.

3. SPICE! This is not meant to be a gentle dish, one that will coddle you. Cajon seasoning is a subjective but consistently spicy dish. Paprika turns up often. I didn't have that but found a recipe with a good deal of chili powder, which I am fairly in love with. Cayenne is a MUST.

Other then that it's sort of up to you. It's a whatever you have around kind of dish, I had green onions and a jalapeno so in they went. I defied many recipes by omitting shrimp and going with chicken and sausage only. Will can't STAND shrimp and there was no way I could through an entire dutch oven full of jambalaya by myself. Some recipes call for just water, but most seem to feel chicken broth is superior. I would have needed six cups of broth and only had three left in the freezer, so I did half and half. Don't panic, I made more last night. There are few things worse then a freezer completely devoid of chicken stock. Besides, I've fully butchered two chickens in the last week and have an abundance of parts. Well, not the killing and de-feathering kinda butchered. The wuss kinda butchered.

Epicurette's Cajun Jambalaya
Adapted (heavily) from Bon Appetit

-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
-A 3 and a half to 4 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
-2 Small Onions, chopped
-1 Large Green Pepper, chopped
-3 Sliced Green Onions
-2 Jalapenos, chopped
-2 pounds andouille sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices
-2 bay leaves
-2 teaspoons chili powder
-1 teaspoon dried thyme
-3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you really like smoke pouring out your ears)
-1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
-3 cups long-grain white rice
-6 cups of low-salt chicken broth


Heat oil in large heavy pot or dutch oven over high heat. Working in batches, add chicken and cook until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer chicken to platter. Reduce heat to medium-high, add sausage and cook until brown. Remove sausage to separate platter. Add onion, bell pepper, jalepeno, and green onions to pot. Saute until onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Add sausage, bay leaves, herbs and spices, saute until spices are fragrent and flavors blend, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir to coat.

Pour broth over rice mixture in pot. Add chicken, press to submerge in liquid. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, rice is tender and chicken is cooked through, about 35-45 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Season with salt, pepper, and more cayenne pepper if desired.
Okay, so I had a bit of a problem with mushy rice and water not absorbing. And still not absorbing. And I was late to meet Will for drinks and dinner. And I gave it another ten minutes and it still wouldn't freaking ABSORB! I may have banged the lid on, thrown it in the fridge, and plunked it back on the stove the next day. I also may have made some inappropriate comments about some Cajun's momma. I don't really know any Cajuns, so I didn't get specific about which Cajun's momma...all of them I guess, it didn't seem to matter at the time. I got most of the extraneous liquid out, but the rice was still fairly mushy. I read some reviewers on the original recipe and many felt that if you rinse the rice three times before using, you will avoid mushy rice syndrome. Probably should have read those reviews first. Doh. Despite the mush factor, I had made a very tasty and tongue burning pot of Jambalaya. The browning of the sausage had given the pieces a delightfully crispy edge, and the chicken fell apart into the rice. And lord knows moistness wasn't a problem.

So have a Happy Mardi Gras everyone, enjoy your day of indulgence, be it culinary, boozy, or *cough* indelicate. I'm sure we'll be ever so good this Lenten season...

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