Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thinkin' Jambalaya

I’ve been busy planning meals that can be cooked without my oven. Many of my friends and readers have shared ideas. I’ve got a whole list to try. Jennifer suggested jambalaya as it cooks on top of the stove and makes a great meal. I agree. In fact, the night the oven blew up, that’s what we had instead of the meal I had planned. We love Cajun food and I’m known for it. I make jambalaya frequently and I only know how to make it for a crowd so we almost always have some in the freezer. That evening, I quick thawed a container in the microwave and threw it in a pot. By the time the smoke cleared, dinner was late but we enjoyed it anyhow.

Most years, we host a Mardi Gras party with lots of food and decorations. My guests object to wearing costumes but they will usually try some hats, small masks and lots of beads just to humor me. (People will do most anything for a good meal!) This year, Mardi Gras is Tuesday, February 24, and our schedule just isn’t working out so we’re not doing the party. I guess, ultimately, it’s a good thing. Normally, I would be getting started on stockpiling the food by now and would probably miss my oven big time.

Since it will most likely just be us for dinner, we’ll probably just pull more jambalaya out of the freezer or I might make a batch of gumbo or shrimp creole or chicken. Normally, there’d be some of each and a King Cake, too. As just one couple, we’ll have to choose just one meal. I’ll still decorate and I’ll beg The Big Guy to wear some beads but it won’t be the same. Since we won’t be using them, I thought I’d share some of my recipes. You know, in case you’d like to party for me. To do it up right, you need to get started. These dishes usually taste best when they’ve had time to sit and let their flavors develop for a couple of days. They also take some time to make, so plan ahead.

Jamabalaya

Tonight’s recipe is jambalaya, possibly the best known Cajun dish. The origin of the dish is controversial. I’ve heard many versions (almost as many as there are kinds of jambalaya!) The one I like best is a story of a regular customer coming into a New Orleans tavern late one evening after the kitchen had begun to clean up for the night. He supposedly asked the owner if there wasn’t something they could serve up for him to eat. The Cajun cook was told to throw whatever he had into a bowl and mix it up. The dish was christened with the Cajun word “jambalay,” meaning to “clean up the kitchen” and the name stuck. I like the gist of this explanation better than any others I’ve heard.

1 - 1 ½ lbs. andouille sausage, sliced crosswise in ¼” thick rounds
(Any hot or spicy sausage will work - I have used kielbasa, chorizo and other hot sausages.)
¾ lb. cooked ham - chopped into ½”-¾” chunks (I have even used a can of Spam for this!)
1 - 1 ½ lbs. cooked chicken
2 lbs. shrimp
3 cups chopped onions
3 cups chopped peppers
3 cups chopped celery
2-3 jalapeno peppers - partially cleaned
7 (14.5-15 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes with green chilies or flavored with onion, garlic, basil, etc.
1 (24 oz.) jar salsa (medium or hot)
3-4 Tbsp. Cajun or Creole seasoning
2 Tbsp. cayenne
6-8 cups cooked rice

· I like to brown the sausage but it is not necessary as smoked sausage has already been cooked. I just think the browning adds a little extra flavor.
· Saute the onions, peppers and celery together over medium heat in a large heavy pot until they are tender. This combination is known as “Trinity” and is the basis of most Cajun dishes.)
· Add the salsa, tomatoes, meats and seasonings to the pot. Stir to mix well.
· Allow the pot to brew on medium low heat for approximately 90 minutes. Add the cooked rice. Mix thoroughly.
· At that point, check the flavor. If you think it needs more heat, add a little extra cayenne and some black pepper. If you really like it hot, add additional jalapenos or don’t clean the original three. If when you taste it, it’s too hot, add more tomatoes.
*** Remember, the spices will expand with time. If you’re not sure you want to add more heat, leave it alone and serve it with a bottle of hot sauce!

This will make a tremendous volume - but freezes fantastically !! We almost always have a container full in the freezer. We also entertain with it frequently. What an easy party! Pull it out of the freezer, thaw and heat. Add corn bread and we’re ready for a crowd.

Enjoy!!

2 comments:

Flight Fancy said...

Oh thanks for sharing the recipe,,,sounds so yummy! I hope your new stove gets there soon.

OliveStreetStudio said...

HHmmmm sorry you're not able to host your party this year, but just think, next year it can be bigger and better!! We were thinking of heading to Jazzfest this year, but airfares too expensive. I'm bumming NOLA this year right along with you.