Creole Jambalaya

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 with Caribbean spices. 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. 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.

1 sausage link, about 3 ounces
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 or other stock
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 habanero or Tobago seasoning pepper, whole
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 teaspoon annatto (achiote) ground
1 teaspoon allspice, ground
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups 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 paella pan or 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, separately, with the ham, bowl, chicken, and shrimp.

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 and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring often, until most of the tomato liquid has evaporated. Stir in the spices and cook for a further minute or two.

Add the rice to the spice and vegetable mixture. Fry, stirring constantly, for about three minutes. Strain the stock and pour it over the rice. Arrange first the chicken, ham, sausage, and shrimp over the rice. Press down gently into the stock but do not stir. Bring to a boil, then 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 before serving.

Note: this is an update of a recipe I posted in September 2011.


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