Classic Louisiana jambalaya comes in two basic varieties, Creole and Cajun, the former being the original dish adapted from the paella of their native land by Spanish Creoles; the latter is probably a rustic variation on the more urban Creole jambalaya. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word jambalaya comes from a Provençal French word, jambalaia, meaning a mish-mash. Traditionally the Creole version contains tomatoes while the Cajun does not. And while Cajun jambalaya usually includes Andouille sausage, the Creole jambalaya recipe in The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book(New York: Random House, 1989) calls for chaurice which is similar to fresh chorizo or Portuguese chourico. Then there is the third, far less common version of Jambalaya, sometimes called white jambalaya, in which the meats and rice are cooked separately. Confused? Don’t worry, so is no less an authority than Emeril Lagasse who uses tomatoes in what he calls Cajun jambalaya.
In this recipe I have tried to recreate what I think the original jambalaya probably looked and tasted like by using ingredients that would have been available to colonial era Creoles to make what is basically paella. I used a heavy, deep cast iron skillet in place of a paella pan and Caribbean spices in place of saffron. The proportions of the various meats are not important; mine is a bit heavy on chicken only because I package chicken for the freezer in half-pound packages. I used chicken thighs because I think they stand up to other flavors better but you could certainly use breast meat if you prefer. The sausage I used is what Wegman’s sells as Andouille but which is more akin to chaurice than to the smoky Cajun sausage. While most jambalaya recipes build the dish by adding the ingredients on top of each other, I have opted to use the same technique I use for paella which is to cook the various components of the dish separately then combine them for the final cooking. And like paella I cook it uncovered.
Serves 2 generously with leftovers
- 1 sausage link, about 3 ounces (see above)
- 3 ounces cooked ham
- ½ pound boneless chicken thigh
- 8 medium shrimp, about 6 ounces, thawed if frozen, shelled and deveined (do not discard shells)
- 4 cups chicken stock (or water as a last resort)
- 1 tablespoon lard, butter, or oil, plus a bit more if needed
- 1 medium onion, about 4 ounces, chopped
- 2 ribs celery, about 2 ounces, chopped
- 1 small bell pepper, about 2 ounces, chopped
- 2 medium or 4 small tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped, about 6 ounces net
- 1 small hot chili, seeded and minced, I use Tobago seasoning pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
- 1 teaspoon annatto (achiote) ground
- 1 teaspoon allspice, ground
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup long grain white rice
Slice the sausage into ¼-inch rounds, dice the ham into ½-inch cubes, and cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Set each aside separately along with the peeled and deveined shrimp.
Put the chicken stock and shrimp shells into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then let steep while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Heat whichever fat you are using in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When nearly smoking, add the sausage and brown well. Remove to a bowl leaving as much fat behind as possible. Do the same with the ham putting it into the same bowl. Add the chicken and sauté until nicely browned and nearly cooked through. Remove to a second bowl. Finally cook the shrimp until pink but not overdone. Remove and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium and, if needed, add more fat to the pot, perhaps a half a tablespoon. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper. Sauté until well softened, about five to eight minutes, then add the tomatoes. Continue to cook, stirring often until most of the tomato liquid has evaporated. Add the chili, garlic, and spices. Stir to combine well and cook for a further five minutes or so.
Add the rice to the pot and mix to coat with the spice and vegetable mixture. Cook for about three minutes then strain in the stock. Sprinkle on about ½ teaspoon of salt, stir, scraping up any bits sticking to the bottom of the pot, and bring to a boil. Arrange firs the chicken over the rice, then the ham and sausage, and finally the shrimp. Press down gently into the stock but do not stir. Lower the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the broth is absorbed, about 20 minutes to one half hour. Taste and adjust salt.
Remove the pan from the heat, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest for five minutes.