It’s finally here! The perfect match up-a football party and Cajun Jambalaya! There is nothing like gathering friends and family to cheer on your favorite team. Any football party has to have some great food fit for a crowd and my favorite feast for a football crowd is
Jambalaya. Whether you are at a tailgate party or having a watch party at home, nothing says party and football better than Cajun Jambalaya.
What is Jambalaya?
The origins of Jambalaya in Louisiana can be traced back to Spanish settlers in the 1700s. Jambalaya is a variation of their paella, adapted with ingredients readily available in South Louisiana. The conglomeration of various meats, seafood, vegetables, seasonings and spices cooked with rice epitomizes South Louisiana cuisine. Economical to make and perfect for a large crowd, it can be cooked inside or outside making it just right for watch parties and tailgate parties. It’s popularity as a pillar of Louisiana cuisine is highlighted by one of Louisiana’s greatest annual festivals. Every year since 1967, friends, families and tourists from around the world converge on Gonzales, Louisiana, the Jambalaya Capital of the World, to soak up rich Louisiana food and music and to see the World Jambalaya Cooking Champion crowned. But if you line up a hundred Cajuns and ask them to cook some Jambalaya, you’ll get a hundred different recipes, however, don’t expect any of them to tell you their secrets.
Like many Louisiana dishes, it can be prepared in Cajun or Creole style. Generally, Jambalaya is made with combinations of pork, chicken, sausage, beef, seafood, all sorts of onions and vegetables cooked down with the Louisiana staple, rice. Jambalaya shows up on restaurant menus all over the country, but beware….don’t trust anything called Jambalaya that is served “over” rice. It’s only authentic if the meats and vegetables are cooked with the rice, so the rice soaks up all those delicious flavors that build along the way!
This is what you need….
Sweet Daddy D’s Cajun Jambalaya is a classic pork, andouille sausage and chicken style. Other meats can be used but its best if most of your meat has a relatively high fat content. The ingredients and quantities don’t have to be exact but should be somewhat proportional; if there is something you like-use more, if there is something you don’t like-use less or substitute. Maybe Uncle Stinky doesn’t like celery…so cut back on the celery if you want (or don’t invite Uncle Stinky!) I like to be on the high-end of the veggie quantity-and to me the onions reign supreme. If the crowd isn’t so big, this recipe can be easily cut in half.
Remember, this is a no-angst undertaking. It’s cooking, it’s not brain surgery. The best way to make it no-angst is to be prepared. Get all your ingredients together and prepped before you start to cook. Chill, have fun with it, experiment with it-the only way to screw it up is to burn it. The various browning stages are very important so don’t rush those and keep an eye on your heat. A heavy cast iron Dutch oven is best, but all you need is a pot that you can cover tightly big enough to hold all the ingredients. Generally, one cup of uncooked rice will yield three cups of cooked rice, so you’ll end up with 12 cups of rice plus all the other stuff you are adding. Getting all your ingredients prepped and together before you start will make it much easier and take the angst away.
The basic process layers the flavor and color starting with browning and rendering the meat then cooking down the vegetables until starting to caramelize. Simmering it all in a rich chicken stock brings all the layered flavors together. Once that’s done, then rice is added to soak up the stock and flavors that transforms the whole thing into a Jambalaya any Cajun would love. The chicken stock can be homemade or the prepared kind sold in the grocery store. I’ve even used bouillon cubes! Use a pork butt or country style pork ribs that have a nice fat content. Andouille sausage is a spicy Cajun sausage that will definitely influence the flavor profile of your jambalaya. If you can’t find andouille, a nice pork kielbasa will do, the spicier the better. I generally use both white meat and dark meat chicken, but using all chicken thighs is not a bad idea. The browning and rendering of the meats, in a progression of fattiest to leanest, lays the foundation for the rich flavor and color you are looking for. Starting this process in bacon grease….well, you get the point.
This is what you do….
So, let’s get started. First, you have a beer. Cube your pork and chicken into about 1” cubes and slice the sausage into medallions about 1/4” thick; set the meats aside in separate bowls. Chop your veggies and place them in a bowl; your chopped garlic and parsley should be placed in separate small bowls. Mix the herb and spice blend (except the salt which you should add separately) in a small bowl and set aside. Set out the bacon grease or bacon, the stock and measure up the uncooked rice.
Now you want to start building the delicious flavor and nice brown color a good Cajun Jambalaya should have. A heavy cast iron pan will distribute the heat very well, so it’s not necessary to start with a high heat, just give it time to get up to temperature. Fry the bacon to render the fat or heat the bacon grease over medium heat until nearly smoking. When it’s ready, start to brown the cubed pork. Don’t move it around too much because you want to sear the pork to form a crust and get some fond (brown sticky bits) on the bottom of the pan, but do stir it occasionally so it doesn’t burn. Cook the pork for about 15 to 20 minutes carefully scrapping the fond off the bottom as it cooks. These brown sticky bits on the bottom of the pot are the most important step in building a nice brown color. After about 20 minutes add the andouille sausage and continue to scrap the bottom. Brown the pork and sausage together for about 10 minutes, rendering as much of the fat as possible. Then add the chicken-you may need to turn up the heat just a bit as the chicken will start to lose its water-keep stirring and trying to get it browned-up. After 10 to 15 minutes you should have a nice batch of browned meat and some rendered fat in the pot. Good time for another beer.
Our next layer is the chopped vegetables: stir in the onions, bell peppers and celery until they are mixed well with the meats. You want them to cook down and caramelize-this is the most important step in building a nice brown color. Keep an eye on them so they don’t stick to the bottom-well, you want them to stick a little, but keep scraping the bits off the bottom so it doesn’t burn. Turn the heat down slightly if you see they are cooking too fast. Don’t rush this step (have I mentioned how important it is?) After about 15 minutes you should have a nice batch of browned meat and veggies and some nice rendered fat from the meat. Add the garlic and about half of the herb and spice blend and salt and pepper. Stir it up until aromatic-it usually just takes a couple of minutes for you to start smelling that wonderful garlic aroma.
Time to add the stock. To start, add just about a cup or so to deglaze the bottom, lifting off any remaining brown sticky goodness left from the meats and veggies-stir this well with the meats and veggies to get the scrapings all dissolved. As you may guess, this is the most important step in building a nice brown color. Add the parsley and about half the remaining spices-save a little to add at the end if you think you need it. Now add the remaining stock and bring it all to a boil. Leave it on a slow rolling boil for 15 minutes. Don’t let it boil over and no need to cover. This step starts to bring all the flavors together.
It’s looking great about now and you’re doing great, so have another beer. After the stock has boiled for 15 minutes, stir in the uncooked rice and mix together well. Reduce the heat to a very low simmer and cover the pot. If you don’t have a heavy lid, use some aluminum foil to cover the pot then put the lid on top of that, the idea is to take advantage of all the steam coming off the stock. The total remaining cook time is 30 minutes. You will NOT uncover the pot except one time only and that’s at the 15 minute mark to stir the jambalaya completely-scrapping off the bottom so it does not scorch; then replace the cover tightly. After a total of 30 minutes (15 minutes after you stirred) taste it-it’s done if the rice is cooked-if all of the stock has not been absorbed, cook it a little more
with the cover off; if all the stock has been absorbed but it’s not quite cooked, add a little of the stock you reserved and cook it covered another 5 minutes or so. Keep checking like this and it will be done soon.
Now you’ve got a large pot of some classic Cajun Jambalaya that everyone will love. Serve it with a green salad dressed with some Creole Vinaigrette and some crispy French bread. Tweak this recipe to your liking and before you know it you’ll be headed to the World Jambalaya Cooking Championship. But before you do that, have another beer and enjoy the game.
Yeah you right!