When I think of jambalaya I immediately think of southwest Louisiana, Cajun country. Rice is one of the main crops grown in the area so it is no surprise that this dish is prevalent there. Pretty much everything in this area starts with the Cajun holy trinity which is onion, celery and green bell pepper. Then you add some sausage and chicken, and of course the rice and stock. And you end up with a hearty, rib sticking meal that should be served with a loaf of crusty bread and plenty of your favorite hot sauce. So join me as we talk about making this wonderful jambalaya and then we will talk about how to modify this recipe to make your very own jambalaya recipe.
Plate of Jambalaya Served with Green Onions (Scallions)
I worked on this recipe making it for a good buddy named "Moe", actually Marion Meaux, who grew up in Kaplan, LA. Moe has since passed on but many fond memories remain of the times we had together. I would cook and he would always give me pointers as to what he liked, and it's really a joy to cook for someone who appreciates the efforts and the results. He would tell me this is good but next time it should be a little drier, or it should be this or that. And then eventually it was "that's it." And by getting his blessing on the dishes I made for him I knew I was on the right track to making something that was close to that which would be served somewhere in southwest LA. But more importantly something we both liked to eat.
As I mentioned this dish starts with the holy trinity of Cajun cooking, namely onion, celery and green bell pepper. Very little is made in Cajun cooking without it. The standard mix is about 50% onion, 25% celery and 25% bell pepper but I happen to like celery with this dish so I up the quantity of that a little bit. I also add garlic which is pretty traditional.
Cajun Holy Trinity with Garlic
During the cooking process, I like to put the rice in after the vegetables have finished cooking to help soak up the oil that might be left over and to add a little more flavor to the rice. And I only use Uncle Ben's converted rice. It's what I have always cooked with and I know how it cooks and I'm used to its flavor profile. You can use whatever kind of white rice you want but you have to understand that different rices have different flavor profiles and textures.
I also like to add tomatoes to my jambalaya. This is a little more of a Creole tradition as the Cajuns don't use as many tomatoes as they do in New Orleans. And this probably has something to do with growing up in New England where tomatoes are common in a lot of foods. Back to the old adage, if you like it, do it.
I like traditional Texas/Louisiana smoked sausage for this dish. I don't like andouille sausage in this so much because I think it is a little strong for my preference. If I have some on hand I might add a 1-2 inch length of it cut into small pieces but the primary sausage is a traditional pork smoked sausage. The kind you can find in any grocery store in Texas such as Holmes or Chappell Hill. Or if you're lucky the kind you get at Pete's Fine Meats in Houston, the La Grange Smokehouse between Houston and Austin, or The Best Stop in Scott, LA just outside of Lafayette off I-10. And if you go to The Best Stop, you have to try their boudin. Man that's good! And the boudin doesn't go in this dish, you just eat it on some crackers while you are cooking this dish.
Chappell Hill Sausage
Regarding the chicken, I like to use bone-in, skin on chicken thighs because I think they have the most flavor and I really like them when making homemade chicken stock. And speaking of the stock you will use in this dish I can't emphasize enough that the more love you put into making a rich chicken stock the more depth of flavor you will have in your final dish. But if you're in a hurry you certainly could use store bought.
Making the Chicken Stock
So there you have it. Let's get cooking, I'm getting hungry talking about all this good food. Enjoy!
A. Make the Chicken Stock
1. Add the chicken, onion, celery, carrots, peppercorns and water to a pot large enough to hold everything. Place it over medium high heat and bring it just to the boil. Simmer over medium low heat so it stays just at or below a very slow boil for about 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool down a bit, maybe about 30 minutes. This cool down is not absolutely necessary but I think it helps make the stock richer.
Making the Chicken Stock
2. Once the stock has cooled remove the thighs and remove the skins and pick the meat off the bone. You don't need to chop up the meat any more because it will break up in the dish while cooking. This can be done a day ahead of time if you want to streamline the process when you are making the jambalaya.
Remove the Chicken from the Bones
1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Cut the sausages in half lengthwise and place face down on a rack over a sheet pan. Bake in the oven until they're crisp. This may take 15 to 60 minutes and you can decide how crisp you want them to be. I like them to be like bacon and don't worry if they look like they are dried out a bit, they will come right back to life when you add them to the stock and they won't bring all that fat into the dish. Just don't burn them and you will be fine.
Smoked Sausage Cut in Half (Note the Fat Marbling)
Smoked Sausage Ready for Baking
Smoked Sausage Baked
2. Cut the sausages into 3/8" pieces and set aside until ready to add to the dish. And don't eat them all!
1. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet with deep sides or in a cast iron dutch oven. Enameled cast iron such as Le Creuset works best here I think.
2. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook and do not brown these ingredients. In the pictures below you can see the process. When you first put them in the pan it is just oil and vegetables. As they cook they will start to "sweat" their liquid and it will pool in the pan. After the liquid cooks off, you will just have oil again and that's when you know they are done.
Vegetables When First Put into the Pan
Vegetables Sweating Off Liquid
Vegetables Are Ready and All We Have Left is Oil
3. Add the peppers, salt and oregano to the pot and stir in with the vegetables.
Spices Added to the Pot
4. Add the rice to the pot and stir it in with the vegetables and spices. Cook for a minute or two to help absorb the oil.
Rice Added to the Vegetables
Rice Stirred in with the Vegetables
5. Add the tomatoes and stir them in. They will break up as they are stirred but if they don't chop them up with the stirring spoon until they are broken into pieces.
Tomatoes Separated from the Juices
Tomatoes Added to the Rice and Vegetable Mixture
Tomatoes Mixed in and Broken Up
6. Add the stock to the pot and stir.
Stock Added to the Mixture in the Pot
7. Add the chicken and sausage to the pot. In the picture below, notice how crispy the sausages are. When they cook in the stock they will come right back to life and add all that cooked flavor to the dish.
Chicken and Sausage Added to the Pot
Chicken and Sausage Mixed in
8. Cook uncovered over medium low heat so you maintain a slow simmer until the rice is cooked and the liquid is absorbed. If it gets too dry and the rice is not yet cooked, add some more of the stock. You want this to be somewhat on the dry side and that's about all I can say. Moe would have to tell you the rest. When it's done add a handful of chopped parsley and stir that in.
Cooking Stage 1
Cooking Stage 2
Cooking Stage 3