Happy Mardi Gras!: Chicken & Andouille Jambalaya
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Mardi Gras is quickly coming up on the heels of Halloween to be my most favorite of holidays. The colors, the food and drink, the overall mystique of the entire event is enthralling and intoxicating and irresistible. Despite the criminal fact that I have not been to Mardi Gras...ever...I still hold its glorious traditions and festivities close to my heart. And hopefully we can go next year (ahem Hubsters who may be reading this).
Traditionally I make gumbo for our little family celebration, but this year I changed it up to the easier, just-as-tasty and equally authentic, Jambalaya.
Jambalaya was thought to be conceived by Spanish settlers in New Orleans, using local ingredients to best replicate the Spanish paella -- a rice dish made with seafood and sausage, flavored with soffrito and saffron. Given the expense of saffron and general unavailability, tomatoes were used as a substitute. Flavored with The Trinity as a base (instead of soffrito), jambalayas can be anything from meat-centric to seafood to vegetable and everything in between. The name itself is as convoluted as the dish. Some say it's after "jambon" meaning "ham" in Spanish and "a la" which would translate roughly to "in the style of the ham." Sounds plausible, except for the fact jambalaya or paella for that matter has never been made with ham. Some say it's derived from the French Provencal word "jambalai" which means "mishmash," very much indicative of the dish's eccentricity. Still others say it's from a late-night traveller who wandered into New Orleans and asked the inn keeper to put something together: "Jean, balayez!" in local Cajun. So "Jean, balayez" forms into "Jam-balaya." I like the last one.
There are two main kinds of jambalaya: red jambalaya which is flavored with tomatoes also known as Creole Jambalaya and brown jambalaya, flavored without tomatoes also known as Cajun jambalaya. Both require the Trinity as a base and some sort of sausage, most likely andouille (or other smoked sausage). Protein, seafood, and even seasonal vegetables can be added to the cook's content. For real authentic Cajun jambalaya you may want to try using alligator, rabbit, other gamy meat, or crawfish and oysters. Both require a long-grain rice (American basmati is wonderful), and a little hot sauce for garnish.
Here's my very easy, basic jambalaya recipe that's authentic and satisfying and comes together in an hour. I use simple chicken and andouille sausage (sometimes I'll add shrimp if I've got it), roasting the chicken in the oven separately for extra flavor and texture. The trick to a good jambalaya is not over stirring the rice; once the rice begins to soak up the liquid, stir it very minimally, and add your garnishes all at once at the end with with good fold instead of stir to keep that rice intact and prevent it from getting gummy. Overly mixed jambalaya will taste pasty and overcooked, while minimal stirring will help prevent an "al dente" bite to the rice. You can add whatever you wish to this basic recipe: add shrimp, crawfish, even oysters or clams at the end for added seafood; add fresh vegetables to the Trinity for a vegetarian spin; add beef, duck, boar, or any other meat you desire. The options are quite literally endless, making this an extremely versatile dish you can prepare year-round.
Happy Mardi Gras!
Chicken & Andouille Jambalaya
1 chicken breast, cleaned and trimmed
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, chopped small
2 stalks celery, ends trimmed and chopped small
1 bell pepper (green or red), seeded and chopped small
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup thinly sliced andouille sausage (2-3 sausages)
1 lbay leaf
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp + 1 tsp Creole seasoning, divided
2 cups long grain white rice
1 (24 oz) canned diced tomatoes with juice (recommend: San Marzano)
4 cups chicken broth
2 scallions, sliced thin
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Season the chicken with 1 tsp of the Creole seasoning and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. When done, shred with fork and set meat aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper all at once and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute on medium heat until softened, 10 minutes. Add the garlic, sausage, and bay leaf and cook another 5 minutes stirring often so garlic doesn't burn. Stir in the rice and toast 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth and bring up to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium. and cover tightly. Cook for about 30 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed by the rice. You will want a little moisture so make sure to keep that lid on! Stir very occasionally only to help prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot once the rice starts to aborb the liquid to prevent it from getting overmixed. Once the rice is plumped up and all is tender, add the chicken, scallions, and parsley to the mixture and adjust with seasoning as needed. Fold in these ingredients as opposed to stirring to not break up the rice too much. Serve hot.