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Jambalaya—A Versatile, Savory Dish

I ate jambalaya while visiting New Orleans and fell in love with this delicious, savory dish. I had to take a piece of that wonderful trip home, so I often make jambalaya, reminiscing about my time in The Big Easy.

There are as many variations of jambalaya as there are cooks, making it the perfect recipe to prepare when we don’t know exactly what we will find at the grocery store. Its main ingredient is cooked rice, but jambalaya also consists of a variety of other ingredients, including meat (either pork, chicken, diced ham, or even rabbit); shellfish (shrimp, crawfish, or crabmeat); pork sausage, normally andouille; the “holy trinity” of vegetables—green bell pepper, celery, and onion—and, of course, spices. So, when you shop for this recipe, if some ingredients you want to use are out-of-stock or just too expensive, you have several options. Also known as rice dressing, jambalaya originated in Louisiana in the late 1800’s. Historians believe it resulted from a collision of the cultures of French, Spanish, and African settlers and was created to provide an inexpensive, filling meal, made from easily accessible ingredients. Pinpointing its exact history is tricky business. Some historians believe jambalaya is a French creation, getting its name from the French word, jambalaia, which means mishmash or mixture. Others believe it is of Spanish origin—its name a combination of the Spanish word for ham, “jamon”, and “paella”—a popular Spanish dish made with rice. Some believe it has French and African roots—its name a blending of the French word for ham, “jambon,” and the African words for rice, “a la” and “ya”. Whatever its origin, jambalaya is downright delicious. There is a Creole version of jambalaya as well as a Cajun version, and they are distinguished by their color. The Creole style is red and more likely found in New Orleans; the Cajun style is brown and found in the rural parts of south Louisiana. What makes jambalaya red? Tomatoes. Historians believe in the late 1800’s tomatoes would have been hard to come by in Cajun country, but the Port of New Orleans gave city dwellers more access to a wider range of ingredients. So, if you don’t have tomatoes on hand or your supermarket is out-of-stock, don’t worry. Just make the Cajun version. My first trip to New Orleans, I got a bit confused—so many dishes I had never eaten. I wondered what the difference was between jambalaya, gumbo, and étouffée. I learned the ingredients in jambalaya are cooked together in one pot, and rice is the most prevalent ingredient. Gumbo is like a soup, and étouffée is a stew; and both are served over rice that has been cooked separately. My favorite of the three is jambalaya, and the preparation my family prefers follows:

Carol Ann’s Jambalaya  Serves 4 to 6

I usually use long-grain white rice when I make Jambalaya; but you can use brown rice, which takes longer to cook. I like to get my rice cooking before I prep the jambalaya, so I’ve included directions for rice at the beginning of the recipe. Boulder’s® Cajun-Style Sausage is a good substitution for andouille.

To cook rice: 3 1/3 cups water 1 tablespoon butter ¾ teaspoon salt 1 ½ cups uncooked long-grain rice

In a large saucepan, bring 3 1/3 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add butter and salt. Stir in rice. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered 5 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork. For the jambalaya: 1 pound andouille sausage 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided 1 cup green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped 1 cup celery, chopped 1 cup white onion, chopped 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 tablespoon dried parsley 2 cans (14 ½-ounces) peeled tomatoes, chopped 6 cups canned chicken broth, divided 1 cup green onions, sliced 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon chili powder ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper ¼ teaspoon large grind black pepper Cooked rice 2 pounds cooked small shrimp, peeled and tails removed Browned sausage Using a sharp knife, slice andouille sausage into bite-size pieces. Place a large heavy 5-quart kettle over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When oil sizzles, add sausage pieces and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage and place on paper towels to drain.

Add 2 remaining tablespoons olive oil, bell pepper, celery, onion, garlic, and parsley and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, along with their juices, 5 cups chicken broth, green onions, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Add cooked rice to the kettle of vegetables, stir to combine, and cover, simmering for 30 minutes.

Just before serving, add shrimp, browned sausage, and the remaining 1 cup of chicken broth and simmer gently until shrimp are pink and warm. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Tips on buying shrimp: Fresh versus Frozen. Fishermen put shrimp on ice as soon as they are caught. This preserves the shrimp, freezing them so they are just-caught fresh until they are thawed. The fresh shrimp you see on ice in the seafood counter at your supermarket were most likely once frozen and are thawing in the counter. The longer they are in the counter, the less fresh they will be. Unless you know that the fresh shrimp you are buying is fresh off the boat, frozen shrimp is a better choice.

Wild-Caught or Farm-Raised? Wild caught shrimp have a sharper, more shrimpy taste; however, they are pricier and harder to find. Ninety percent of shrimp sold in the United States is imported from Southeast Asia, Ecuador, and India; and the majority of that is farm-raised. Your supermarket is required to divulge the country of origin and whether shrimp is wild-caught or farm-raised. Check the label. If you have doubts, farm-raised shrimp cultivated under cleaner standards will bear a “Best Aquaculture Practices” label. The certification label to look for when buying wild shrimp is “Marine Stewardship Council Approved.” The most common imported shrimp sold in the supermarket are white vannemei and tiger shrimp from Asia. The most common domestic varieties are white and pink shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. If I have a choice, I prefer pink shrimp.

Do not purchase frozen shrimp that have dry spots on their shells. This is a sign of freezer burn. Except for the black tiger variety of shrimp, black spots on shells are an indication of spoilage. Signs of yellow or grit on the shells could mean the shrimp have been bleached to remove black spots. Avoid shrimp that smell like ammonia or feel soft or slimy.

Tips on buying unsoaked shrimp: Shrimp are often soaked in a solution of water and tripolyphosphate. This does extend their shelf life but hurts their flavor. If available, buy the unsoaked or “dry” variety. They have a superior taste.

Tips on storing shrimp: Keep fresh shrimp in the coldest part of your refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If the shrimp is sold in a plastic bag, place the bag in a bowl of ice in the coldest part of your refrigerator, open the bag so the shrimp can breathe, and cover with a damp paper towel. It is best to use frozen shrimp within 3 to 6 months of purchase, but they will keep indefinitely.

Tips on de-veining shrimp: Unless you are cooking with very small shrimp, they must be de-veined. The intestinal tract on medium to large shrimp runs down their back and is quite unappetizing. To de-vein shrimp, hold them under a slow stream of cold water and run the tip of an ice pick or sharp knife down their back, scraping out the intestine, yet leaving the shrimp intact. Rinse gently to remove any black from the shrimp.

Carol Ann


Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Carol Ann Kates

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