Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Jumble-lie, Crawfish Pie, Pheel-lay Gumbo"...

Every now and then, I mention that I cook New Orleans style food. The other day I heard someone say on the radio that New Orleans food is not healthy because there's too much fried food. Well, yes and no! I guess it depends on how you might wanna savor all those fabulous tastes while here visiting. But, if you are a native, you'd be dead in no time eating everyday what tourist eat here just visiting.

Jambalaya, pronounced "Jumba-lie-ya" by the locals, is one such dish and like potato salad, there are a million ways to make it. I once read that the Cajun version doesn't cook with tomatoes or any tomato product like paste, sauce, diced etc. and that the Creole style does. In my family and in many families, I suppose, the Creole style is jambalaya and the Cajun style we'd call "dirty rice".  One is red and the other is brown, but they both start, pretty much, the same way using flour and water or stock, onions, celery and bell pepper in varying amounts.

A few friends have asked for my recipe and I have resisted because I don't have any real set amounts of this or that. Like the old folks, who had many mouths to feed and little ingredients to work with, I make it with what I have... sometimes with shrimp and sometimes with ham or chicken and almost always sausage, andouille or hot Italian sausage. I only have two problems with jambalaya. One is that even though it is full of good things, I have been raised to eat it as a side dish not an entree. The other problem is that no matter how I try, I always make more than is necessary.

Anyway, for those that have asked for the recipe, here are my ingredients:
  Two pounds of raw shrimp, peeled, ( I'll boil the shells and heads in water for stock! )
  Two cups of brown or white rice
  One pound of Andouille or spicy Italian sausage ( but you could use wieners if you had to! )
  Half pound cooked chicken, shredded and/ or half pound diced ham
  Half stick of butter
  Four tbsp of flour
  Two 16 oz. cans of beef broth
  Four cloves garlic chopped
  Three medium white onions chopped fine
  Six scallions with leaves chopped
  Four peeled tomatoes chopped ( I usually use a large 16 oz can of diced tomatoes )
  One bell pepper, chopped
  One or two bay leaves
  Spices like thyme, cayenne allspice, cumin... all about a quarter to a half a teaspoon
  Black pepper and sea salt to taste

I usually start with a roux, but you don't have to. It takes a little practice to make a successful roux. Sometimes when I don't wanna be bothered, I just melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven, cook the sausage ( in a different pan... some say the sausage fat makes it taste better, but I prefer to not add that to the dish! Also, it looks more appealing when the sausage is cut in two or three inches pieces, but I've always sliced it thin. ) and ham until browned and then stir in the flour. Add the all the veggie goodies and cook them until soft and transparent. I judge how long to cook the veggies by how the onions are cooking. When they go translucent, I'm ready to then add the tomatoes and their juice and add the various spices along in the mix.

By the way, I don't have the fire on too high, more like just passed medium heat. After everything is pretty much cooking I cover the pot and turn down the heat like you would do normally to cook rice. I can add the chicken and all the rest of the liquid stock after I add the rice making sure the liquid completely covers the contents of the pot. I salt and pepper and cayenne to taste, then lastly, add the shrimp. If I am using shrimp, I seldom cook it until the last five minutes of the simmering. I prefer my shrimp not so rubbery and the rice is already simmering in shrimp stock anyway, so there's no need to throw them in any sooner. It doesn't take long for shell fish to cook! It should cook according to whether you cook white or brown rice.

The dish should be moist, but not soupy and if it comes out soupy just pretend you made gumbo instead ha! French bread warmed and whatever libation you approve of should add to the trick. It should serve about nine or ten people or, maybe, three New Orleanians!

'Dere ya go... 'dats how I do it... Bon Appetit!

Copyright 2012/Ben Bensen III

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