Pared-down jambalaya doesn’t lack protein, spice

Traditional dishes that seem like smorgasbords of meat I suspect got their start with much, much less.

That’s because the obvious way to make a meal from a couple of poultry parts, a single sausage and a pork knuckle or bacon end is to throw them all together in one pot. Cooks fortunate enough to capture a few crustaceans in a trap or pry some mollusks from nearby rocks could make the stew extra-special. And lo and behold, the flavor of each meat enhanced the other.

That’s basically the back story to any number of iconic dishes, particularly those extended with some type of starch. Think paella and, closer to home, jambalaya.

I recall the last time I made jambalaya that its reception at the dinner table didn’t justify the effort I put into it. That’s almost certainly because I was following a Creole recipe boasting no fewer than a half-dozen proteins: smoked ham, andouille sausage, boned and skinned chicken, raw shrimp, cooked crabmeat and shucked oysters. Whew! Maybe not for a weeknight dinner.

So when I ran across this much-simplified Cajun variation that called for items I already had in my freezer, I decided to give jambalaya another shot. But true to my thrifty nature, I couldn’t conscience using my last pound of organic chicken thighs, which make such an ideal meal on their own, when the dish didn’t lack for meat. Plus the sausage and shrimp would thaw at roughly the same rate in about half the time as the chicken, or less, smoothing the way for speedy preparation.

Preparation, of course, deviated further from the recipe. I loathe green bell peppers, so the Cajun “holy trinity” has little power of persuasion in my kitchen. The French traditions that contribute so heavily to Cajun and Creole cuisines informed my substitution of mirepoix: onion, celery and carrot.

And because I prefer to compound my own seasoning blends, rather than relying on prepackaged ones, I approximated Cajun seasoning with a few twists of my own. To the di rigueur salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, dried thyme and granulated onion and garlic, I added dry mustard for heat that doesn’t register as “spicy,” a dash of allspice for a whiff of the Caribbean and slightly bitter celery seed for balance. I lacked dried oregano but reached for savory, which has a subtler Old World sensibility. I reserved the hot sauce for garnish, out of deference to my 2- and 4-year-old sons’ palates.

The resulting dish probably wouldn’t pass muster as jambalaya anywhere in the South. But it still made for a flavorful, filling, one-pot meal that didn’t take half the day — and was a cut well above Zatarain’s.

Tribune News Service photo

Cajun Jambalaya

3/4 pound chicken, cut into small pieces

3/4 pound andouille sausage, cut into ½-inch pieces

2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped bell peppers

1/2 cup chopped celery

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon hot sauce

4 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups rice

3/4 pound shrimp (40-50 count is a good size)

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, mix the chicken and sausage with the Cajun seasoning, making certain that spice is distributed evenly.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and cook chicken and sausage until lightly browned. Add garlic to skillet to soften. Add the onion, bell pepper and celery — the Cajun “holy trinity” — and cook until soft.

Add the bay leaves, Worcestershire, hot sauce and chicken stock, then bring to a boil. Add the rice, reduce heat and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until rice is tender. Add the shrimp to pot for final 10 minutes of cooking. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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