“Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and filé gumbo…son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.” So goes the refrain of the famous song “Jambalaya” by Hank Williams Sr.
Leave it to the folks in Louisiana to make a catchy tune about food their anthem. No where else in the country is food such an integral part of the culture. One only has to mention the city New Orleans and good times and great food come to mind.
South Louisianans have a love and a passion for good food. Their cuisine is unique because, as a whole, it has a much bigger flavor than what you get in the rest of the United States.
For those not born and raised in Louisiana, what we consider “Cajun” food for the most part is technically “Creole” cooking. The French who settled in Southern Louisiana in the early 1700s adapted their own outstanding culinary techniques to the abundant herbs, seafood, games, meat, vegetables and fruits of the region. Eventually their cooking style was infused with spiciness from the Spanish settlers and African slaves’ use of herbs. This mélange of styles became known as Creole cookery.
Native Louisianans differentiate between Creole cooking and Cajun cooking based on the use of rouxs and spices. Creole cooking is based on French techniques with less emphasis on roux than Cajun cooking. The herbs of choice are oregano, basil, thyme and bay leaf. Also, almost every dish has celery, parsley, onions and bell peppers in its list of ingredients. Cajun cooking on the other hand is heavily dependant on the use of rouxs. It uses the same herbs and vegetables as Creole cooking but often adds the spice of cayenne or Tabasco.
Creole cooking is most attributed to New Orleans whereas Cajun food is most identified with towns such as Lafayette and Ville Platte in Southwest Louisiana.
The Creole version of “dirty rice,” jambalaya is best enjoyed simply with a loaf of crusty French bread. My recipe include shrimp, chicken, and sausage…but you can omit easily omit the shrimp if someone at your table has an allergy.
Shrimp, Chicken, and Sausage Jambalaya
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Andouille sausage, diced
1/2 cup small-diced yellow onion (1 small onion)
1/2 cup seeded and small-diced green bell pepper (1 pepper)
1/4 cup finely diced celery (2 ribs)
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
3 bay leaves
1 can (15-ounce) tomato sauce
4 cups chicken stock
3 cups white rice
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium–high heat, warm the oil until a few droplets of water sizzle in the pot. Sauté the chicken, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and then, in the same pot, sauté the sausage until browned. Transfer the sausage to the plate with the chicken. Drain all but about 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot.
To the pot, add the onion, bell pepper, and celery and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. (Stir often so that everything cooks evenly.) Add the garlic, oregano, thyme, and bay leaves and sauté until the mixture is cooked down, about 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
While the vegetable mixture is cooking, combine the tomato sauce and chicken stock in a separate pot and bring to a simmer.
Add the rice to the vegetable mixture and sauté for about 3 minutes. Return the meats to the pot and stir to combine. Continuously stirring to combine, slowly pour the tomato and stock mixture into the jambalaya. Stir in the chopped parsley.
Bring the jambalaya to a boil, cover, and simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and fold in the shrimp. Let everything continue to cook in the hot covered pot for an additional 10 minutes. Serve warm.
Serves 6 to 8.
Cooking Tip: Andouille sausage is a smoked, spicy pork sausage that is popular in Cajun recipes such as gumbo and jambalaya. If you can’t easily find it in you local grocery, Chorizo is an acceptable substitute.