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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim, I cooked this dish on Sunday and put it in the refrig overnight for Monday's meal. I warmed it @ 400 when I got home from work and served it with a little salad. We loved it! Betsey

2:02 PM  
Blogger Tim Dondero said...

That's one of my easiest New Orleans dishes. It's Creole rather than Cajun, and has more Spanish influences. In fact it was from the Spanish settlers in New Orleans (Louisiana was ruled by them rather than the French for nearly 40 years), and was an effort at reproducing the type of dish that paella was, but based on locally available ingredients. Maybe why you like it is that it is a descendent of Spanish rice. Or should I say Spanish Rice? Try it on Eva and the kids. You can also add chicken or lamb pieces cooked in with the sausage and vegetables. Tim

8:28 PM  

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