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Jambalaya

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Jambalaya is a Louisiana Creole dish of Spanish and French influence. Jambalaya is traditionally made in three parts, with meats and vegetables, and is completed by adding stock and rice. It is also a close cousin to the saffron colored paella found in Spanish culture.

Left: Creole Jambalaya with Shrimp, Ham, and Andouille Sausage.

Jambalaya was an attempt by the Spanish to make paella in the New World, where saffron was not readily available due to import costs. Tomatoes became the substitute for saffron. As time went on, French influence became strong in New Orleans, and spices from the Caribbean changed this New World paella into a unique dish.

The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that "jambalaya" comes from the Provençal word "jambalaia," meaning a mish mash or mixup, and also meaning a pilau (pilaf) of rice.

There are two primary methods of making jambalaya. The first and most common is Creole jambalaya (also called "red jambalaya"). First, meat is added, usually chicken and sausage such as andouille or smoked sausage. Next vegetables and tomatoes are added to cook, followed by seafood. Rice and stock are added in equal proportions at the very end. The mixture is brought to a boil and left to simmer for 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the recipe, with infrequent stirring. Towards the end of the cooking process, stirring usually ceases.

The second style, more characteristic of southwestern and south-central Louisiana, is Cajun jambalaya, which contains no tomatoes. The meat is browned in a cast-iron pot. The bits of meat that stick to the bottom of the pot are what give a Cajun jambalaya its brown color. A little vegetable oil is added if there is not enough fat in the pot. The trinity (of onions, celery, and green bell pepper) is added and sautéed until soft. Stock and seasonings are added in the next step, and then the meats are returned to the pot. This mixture is then simmered, covered, for at least one hour. Lastly, the mixture is brought to a boil and rice is added to the pot. It is then covered and left to simmer over very low heat for at least 1/2 hour without stirring. The dish is finished when the rice has cooked.

A third method is less common. In this version, meat and vegetables are cooked separately from the rice. At the same time, rice is cooked in a savory stock. It is added to the meat and vegetables before serving. This is called "white Jambalaya." This dish is rare in Louisiana as it is seen as a "quick" attempt to make jambalaya, popularized outside the state to shorten cooking time.

Jambalaya is considered by most Louisianians to be a simple dish to prepare, yet filling, rice dish. Most often a long grain white rice is used in making jambalaya.

Jambalaya is differentiated from other traditional ethnic Louisiana dishes, such as gumbo and étouffée, by the way in which the rice is included. In the latter dishes, the rice is cooked separately and is served as a bed on which the main dish is served. In the usual method of preparing Jambalaya, a rich stock is created from vegetables, meat, and seafood. Raw rice is then added to the broth and the flavor is absorbed by the grains as the rice cooks.

This famous dish is surprisingly simple to prepare and works well as an everyday meal. The below Creole Jambalaya recipe includes poultry and canned tomatoes.

Creole Jambalaya Recipe Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2/3 cup long grain rice
  • 14.5 ounce (411g) can of tomatoes, diced or torn apart
  • 1.5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups cooked and chopped turkey, or chicken
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon savory
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1.5 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 drained small can of sliced mushrooms (optional)
 

Serves: three persons.

Time: 1 hour

Recipe Cooking and Preparation Method

 
  1. Mix the salt and unground spices (bay leaf excepted) together, then grind them.

  2. Prepare the canned tomatoes: tear them up, remove the stem ends, remove the seeds, etc. Keep the juice.

  3. Select a wide pan with a lid.

  4. Lightly fry the celery in the butter. Soften the celery but do not brown it.

  5. Add everything to the pan. You can add the basil, meat and mushrooms later if you prefer.

  6. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. The rice will absorb the liquid.

  7. Discard the bay leaf.

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