Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Louisiana II - Jambalaya by-a any other name

For the next dish in our tour of Cajun country, we examine that famous catch-all rice dish, jambalaya - more than just the bagged mix you buy at the supermarket for "instant jambalaya", here's an actual recipe to make it from scratch.

Official Name: State of Louisiana (French: État de Louisiane; French Creole: Léta de la Lwizyàn - though Louisiana has no official language, French is important to the state's identity, and in 1812 Louisiana was the first state to join the Union whose majority did not speak English. For more on the linguistic history of Louisiana, see here)
State Nicknames: The Bayou State; The Pelican State; The Sugar State
Admission to the US: April 30, 1812 (#18)
Baton Rouge (2nd largest city)
Other Important Cities: New Orleans (largest); Shreveport (3rd largest): Metairie (4th largest)
South; Deep South; Gulf Coast; West South Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Gumbo; Cornbread & BBQ
Bordered by: Arkansas (north); Mississippi & the Mississippi River (east); the Gulf of Mexico (southeast and south); Texas (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: crawfish (crustacean); milk (drink); alligator (reptile)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: Cajun cuisine and dishes, especially gumbo, jambalaya, courtboullion (COO-bee-yon) and étouffée; pralines; crawfish, shrimp, crab, alligator, catfish; typical Southern foods in the northernmost part of the state.

What exactly is a jambalaya? Terri Pischoff Wuerthner, in her In a Cajun Kitchen, defines it as

...a rice-based dish with one or several main ingredients. Vegetables are browned, a seasoning meat is added...along with the main ingredient(s), and then rice, parsley, stock and spices are put in and cooked together until the rice is done... [With cooked rice, it is] an ideal way to use up leftovers by adding a bit of extra chicken or seafood, plus cooked seasoning vegetables, spices, and some stock to the rice. [Pischoff Wuerthner 2006: xxii]
Since I didn't have any leftover rice to use at the time, I had to make my jambalaya from scratch. True to the versatility of jambalaya recipes, there are many of them - chicken, shrimp, crawfish, andouille sausage, turkey, catfish, vegetarian, and so on and so forth. I ended up using a basic recipe from one of the best-selling Junior League cookbooks, River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine, published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge. This RRR, which I bought on a trip to New Orleans several years ago for a conference, is merely the first of several volumes that the JLBR published.

Recipe: Jambalaya

The Junior Leaguers recipe, first published in 1959 (on page 76 of their River Road Recipes), calls for the following ingredients (I made the whole recipe, not cutting it by half or a third or anything else):

* andouille sausage and beef chunks - in order to get the amount of meat I wanted, I also added some shrimp to the recipe, bought head-on but eventually cleaned before I added them. You can find head-on shrimp very easily in Baltimore (duh) or Washington, where I bought a half pound at $6 per pound)
* bacon grease and flour (for your roux - because I didn't have enough bacon grease, I made up the difference with unsalted butter)
* cayenne, salt and pepper (had them)
* fresh parsley (right from my garden)
* green onion, onion and garlic (the recipe doesn't call for red onion - and for leftovers, they aren't as attractive - but I had some in the garden and I wanted to use them up. The rest I had on hand)
* rice (plain white rice, in this case, raw)

The recipe is pretty simple: first you brown your meat in the bacon grease and butter (I held off on the shrimp for now), then remove the meat and make the roux with flour and whatever is left over in the pot.

Make a dark roux.

Yes, mine should have been darker. I was being impatient.

Add your vegetables and parsley and soften.

Next add your rice.

Then and then add everything else. Boil, then reduce to the lowest setting you can, cover tightly and cook for an hour.

Uncover for a few minutes at the end to let the rice dry out a little bit.

I loved how the andouille sausage and the cayenne pepper flavor this jambalaya. It's funny, but I gave some to my mother, who like most of my family does not eat a lot of spicy food. Even though it wasn't terribly spicy to me, she said it was quite spicy for her! Overall, it's not a terribly spicy dish, but I could have made it so if I wanted! I think I should have cooked the jambalaya a little longer, as I would have liked the rice to be a wee bit moister. However, the flavor was quite exciting and I will make this again, next time throwing in whatever I can find.

Sources: "How to boil crawfish". Copyright 2005

Edge, John T. A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South. An Ellen Rolfes Book. For the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1999.

Fitzsimmons, Tom. "What's the difference between Cajun and Creole Cooking?" Published 2003 on the "Taste Tent" section of the Tabasco Sauce website. Copyright 2011 McIlhenny Company, all rights reserved.

Junior League of Baton Rouge, Inc. River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine [Volume I]. The Junior League of Baton Rouge, Inc: Baton Rouge, 1959. 72nd printing, April 2000.

Pischoff Wuerthner, Terri. In a Cajun Kitchen: Authentic Cajun Recipes and Stories from a Family Farm on the Bayou. St. Martin's Press: New York, 2006.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Louisiana" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Louisiana".