Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One-Pot Tastiness: Jambalaya

My mother would have loved it. Not necessarily the flavor -- I never made any Louisiana dishes for her, and all she knew of New Orleans was "praw-leens." But that a major dinner dish could be turned out of one pot would have won her over. She was actually an excellent cook, my mother. Vegetables were just exactly cooked, flavors were fresh and clear, and some of her cakes are still made by her grandchildren. But anything that required more than one bowl for prep or one pan to cook was "too fussy."

Stumbling onto one-pot jambalaya was accidental. Being a bachelor this evening and not wanting to eat alone at a restaurant, I went to Krogers for inspiration and ingredients. What caught my eye was their own brand of smoked turkey sausage, and I thought about cooking it together with other things for a simple supper.

Those who know me or my cooking might not have predicted this. Simplicity is not among my driving impulses. Flavor and freshness are.

So what about jambalaya? It can be Creole (from the European-ancestry French and Spanish in New Orleans) as mine is, or Cajun from the countryside. The distinction seems to be that tomatoes are typical in the urban Creole jambalaya, while browned meat and seafood without tomatoes are more Cajun. The origins appear to be Spanish (who ruled Louisiana for about 40 years), a New World attempt at making the rice-and-seafood or rice-and-meat dishes of which paella is the most famous. These in turn trace back to Spain's Arab influences, and ultimately to the Middle East and Persia. Jambalaya, then, is a descendant of pilaf, one of my favorite rice preparations.

The rice for this recipe is (gasp!) Uncle Ben's. There are only a few dishes I cook with that rice, but Louisiana dishes are among them. The liquid quantities work for Uncle Ben's. To use a different rice, you would have to decrease the liquid for white rice and increase it for brown rice. The liquid proportions work for dry rice. Rinsing, as you need to for Basmati or Jasmine, means cutting way down on cooking liquid, or you'll have mush.

I use pre-mixed "Cajun seasoning." Louisiana brand is my current favorite, but Tony Cachere's is my favorite at other times. I haven't compared the salt levels between the two. The recipe was worked out for Louisiana brand.

This dish is for supper. Perhaps with warm bread and a salad it could serve as a simple dinner. I'm drinking a Cabernet Sauvignon from California as I write this, and it goes quite well with the rice. Probably any dry red wine would.

The recipe serves 4 to 6. By doubling, not only would the entire ingredients be used, but you could serve 8 to 10, or have great leftovers.

Simple Jambalaya with Smoked Sausage

1 medium stick celery, split lengthwise and cut in 1/4-inch lengths
1/2 medium onion, in 1/4-inch dice
1/2 green bell pepper, in 1/4-inch dice
1/2 pound smoked turkey sausage, split lengthwise then sliced across 1/4-inch thick
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 of a 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cups water or unsalted chicken broth
2-1/2 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning (Louisiana brand), not "lite"
2 cups Uncle Ben's rice
1 thinly sliced scallion (green and white parts) for garnish

In a large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, place celery, onion, bell pepper, sausage, and oil. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, water or broth, Cajun Seasoning, and rice. Stir to mix well. Bring to a boil, let boil 30 seconds uncovered, reduce heat to lowest setting, and cover tightly. Set timer for 20 minutes, and do not uncover during cooking.

Without opening lid, turn off burner and let rice sit another 10 minutes. Stir rice from the bottom to combine well. Serve dusted with thinly sliced scallion.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Black Soy Sauce Chicken: Easy Treat

Of Chinese origin, soy sauce chicken, gai see yu in Thai, is what my Thai sister-in-law, Nai, makes for garnishing her delicious rice soup. The recipe below is somewhat different, a marinated chicken stir-fry dish which uses a heavier soy sauce, and makes a main course when served with rice. It is also fairly easy and economical.

A thick, sweetened sauce, black soy sauce is a different condiment for special uses in southern China, Thailand, and Indonesia, among other places. Called "thick black," or "bead molasses," or "kecap manis," it is available cheaply at Asian food stores, and keeps indefinitely at room temperature. It gives color to some sauces, golden brown highlights to fried rice, helps with barbecues, and in the current recipe delivers a subtle flavor and bold color to the chicken.

Chicken thigh is preferred for much Asian cooking because of its superior texture, moisture, and flavor for stir fries, curries, and barbecues. Happily, it is also cheaper than breast. If boneless, skinless thigh is not available, get twice the weight in whole thighs, pull off the skin, cut the meat off the bones. Make broth of the skin and bones (skimming off the fat) for soup or other cooking.

Although the preparation of the chicken takes several steps, it can be done long ahead of time, so that the actual cooking is quick. The broccoli can be cut ahead and refrigerated in a closed plastic bag. The ginger and garlic can be minced and stored cold in a small bowl covered with plastic wrap.

The recipe serves six when accompanied by white rice. Beer goes with this, as it does in Asia with most dishes. But for wines, try a medium bodied red, like a Grenache or Garnacha, or a white like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. There are still those, and I am sympathetic if not fully in agreement, that feel Riesling (not too sweet) or Gewürztraminer are the right wines for tangy Asian foods like this one.

Black Soy Sauce Chicken with Broccoli

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh (or 3 pounds whole chicken thighs)
2 tablespoons black (dark, thick) soy sauce (from Asian groceries)
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
1/2 inch fresh ginger, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound broccoli crowns
2 green onions
4 tablespoons canola oil
Salt as needed

If chicken has skin and bones, remove skin and cut meat off bones. Trim off excess fat, and cut meat into 1/2-inch wide strips the long way. Mix well with soy sauces, ginger, garlic, cornstarch, sugar, cayenne and pepper.

Cut off broccoli stem, leaving 2 inches attached to the crown. Cut crown into long 1/2-inch wide flowerets, each having a piece of stem. Cut green and white parts of onion into 1/2-inch lengths.

Precook broccoli: In wok or large frying pan, bring 1/2 cup water to a boil, add 1/4 teaspoon salt plus broccoli. Stir and toss broccoli until it turns dark green, 45-60 seconds. Remove to a bowl, along with the water. Rinse pan.

Bring back to medium-high heat. Add oil, ginger and garlic. Stir and cook very briefly until fragrant but not browning. Add chicken and its marinade. Stir and fry quickly for several minutes, until chicken seems cooked through (cut a piece, or bite into a small piece). The sauce and oil will cling to the chicken.

Add the broccoli and its water back to the pan, stir and fry until hot and bubbling. If dry add just a little water for a small amount of sauce. Stir in the onion briefly. Remove from heat. Taste, and add salt if needed.

Serve in a shallow dish or on a platter. Accompany with unsalted rice.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mushrooms à la Grecque: Great Accompaniment for Meat

Heading toward Easter, here's a classy old-fashioned dish for which I worked out the recipe to go with meat and strong-flavored fish dishes, like salmon. It could certainly accompany an Easter ham or roast lamb -- the prized Irish Easter dinner centerpiece of my New England Irish childhood (hint: the lamb needs to be overdone so it practiacally falls off the bones).

Despite the name meaning “in the Greek manner,” mushrooms à la grecque are firmly in the classic French culinary tradition. Quartered mushrooms quickly braised with onions, garlic, olive oil, and a bit of exotic seasoning make an elegant side dish, typically presented at room temperature. But they could equally be served warm with toast points for a luncheon or the appetizer course to a fancy dinner.

These mushrooms go particularly well with a crisp, slightly acidic white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.

Mushrooms à la Grecque

1 pound mushrooms, small sized preferred
1 very small onion or large shallot
1 large lemon (for both zest and juice)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon fresh or dry oregano
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice, from the lemon above
Chopped parsley for garnish

Rinse mushrooms, slice 1/8 inch off end of stems. Quarter mushrooms. Cut onion or shallot in half lengthwise, then slice it lengthwise into narrow crescents. Rinse lemon well and rub dry. With vegetable peeler or small knife take off a strip of lemon zest 2-inches long. On board, cut zest crosswise into fine shreds. Squeeze lemon and save juice for later step. Mince garlic.

In heavy bottomed stainless steel or enameled pan simmer onion and lemon zest with olive oil, covering pan and stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and translucent but not browned (8-10 minutes). Add garlic and simmer one minute. Add coriander, oregano, pepper, cayenne, and salt. Stir and simmer a half minute longer. Add water and lemon juice, and simmer several minutes. Add mushrooms. Raise heat, stir, and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Taste a mushroom, and add salt if not fully seasoned.

Remove mushrooms to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Drain any juices from mushrooms back into the pan. Simmer until juices are reduced to a somewhat thick sauce. Add sauce to mushrooms, and allow everything to cool.

Before serving, taste a mushroom and add a little salt if necessary. Serve mushrooms and their sauce in a shallow bowl. Dust generously with chopped parsley.