Sometimes, all it takes is an exotic name of a dish to get me excited about cooking. Jambalaya fits the bill perfectly. “Jambalaya” rolls off the tongue lyrically and it speaks of the African influences in this Louisianan, Cajun dish. French and Spanish cultures are also essential to Cajun cuisine, which has helped make Cajun food a wonderful mélange of cross-culturalism. And, lest I forget, there is a particular sofrito that is the fundamental base of many Cajun creations. The sofrito, which traditionally consists of diced onion, celery and bell pepper is so revered in Louisiana that they refer to it as the “holy trinity”.
The last several months have been full of challenges, disappointments and despair but, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. We’ve all been suffering from anxiety, depression and hardship in our own ways. I selfishly want this dangerous virus to be crushed so that I can happily return to my favorite restaurants, without feeling that I am putting myself or others at risk.
I am glad that I know how to cook. Maybe I should rephrase that.
I am thankful that I have the confidence and courage to cook and that I have the necessary tools to prepare a meal. If there is anything good to be said about 2020 it might be that we have been given the opportunity to invest in our families and bolster each other with love and support. Providing home-cooked meals for the family allows us to gather around the table and enjoy good food and have meaningful conversations.
Okay, that’s enough my maudlin rambling. Let’s make a Jambalaya. But, before we get to it, just imagine how James Earl Jones would say “jambalaya”. Let that be your muse!
1 ½ cup chicken broth
8 oz tomato sauce
1 Tbs Cajun seasoning
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried parsley
½ cup chopped celery
1 medium onion
3 small, mild jalapeños ( I didn’t have bell peppers on hand)
2 cloves garlic
3 small tomatoes (the last of my fresh tomatoes!)
½ lb smoked sausage (andouille is traditional, but I used another tasty smoked pork sausage)
10 shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup rice (I used short grain, but long grain is perfectly fine)
Garlic bread (get a good loaf of French bread – it might become the star of the show!)
Butter and garlic salt, for the bread
I like to prepare everything in advance and I like to have all of my ingredients ready and within arm’s length. Mise en place, if you will.
I used whole, raw shrimp, but it is a wonderful convenience to use raw, frozen shrimp that has been peeled and deveined.
Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, seasoning and herbs to a large skillet. Set heat to low/medium and simmer for a few minutes.
Add the holy trinity (onion, celery and, in this case, jalapeño) to the pan. Adding garlic to the holy trinity is referred to “adding the Pope”, so, add the Pope. Add the chopped tomatoes.
Mix everything in the pan and simmer at low/medium heat for a few minutes.
Add the uncooked rice. Stir to combine.
Cut the sausage into ½” disks. Add to the pan.
Cover the pan with a lid and simmer at low/medium heat, until the rice becomes tender. This took about 30 minutes, for me.
While the rice cooks, prepare the garlic bread.
Slice the French bread into thick pieces (1 ½’ or 2” thick). Brush melted butter on one side of each piece and dust liberally with garlic salt. Reassemble the loaf and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove the garlic bread from the oven and keep it sealed until you are ready to serve.
Once the rice is soft, add the shrimp . Nestle the shrimp in the jambalaya and cover the pan again. Simmer for another 5 to 7 minutes.
Serve with laughter and merriment. Eat well, stay healthy and find something to admire about everyone you meet!