To me, it’s about Newman in Seinfeld getting excited about his purchase from the Soup Nazi. It’s also awesome winter food, and super healthy. There’s actually two versions of the dish, a Cajun version and a Creole version, Mine’s a bit more Cajun, but like many things I do, it’s got a dose of the mongrel to it as well. I’m also changing it each time I make it, experimenting with something new & different to add or substitute, but the core elements are the same. It’s thick, filling, spicy, and full of different flavours.
The basics of jambalaya are rice, chicken, chorizo, spice, tomatoes and as they call it in Louisiana, “the holy trinity” of capsicum, onion & celery. I personally use brown rice, partly because it’s healthier than white, and partly because these big pot dishes are so good the second day, and the outer layer of brown rice gives it a little bit more structural integrity. You also avoid the glug-factor that ruins risotto when the rice sweats starch which binds up the tastiness of the sauce.
When I make it, I make a big pot and eat it over a couple of days. Here’s my ingredient list:
- Brown rice (a little less than a pint glass full)
- 2 pints of chicken stock
- 3 cans of chopped tomatoes
- A big onion, chopped pretty finely
- 1 big green capsicum, and 1 smaller red one, sliced finely
- About 4 sticks of celery, chopped so finely they’re almost minced
- 2 chicken breasts, black peppered, grilled & shredded
- A hot chorizo, sliced, grilled almost crispy & drained well
- A chilli or two (know your enemy)
- A couple of cloves of garlic (more know your enemy)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- Tomato paste
Let me forewarn you. This dish IS time-consuming. It does however save you time on the next night or two when you reheat it.
First things first – you need to grease the wheels with that rice. Brown rice takes a long time to cook, so it’s a good idea to soften it ahead of time. Keep it in that pint glass, and add as much boiling chicken stock as you can fit. Shove a cinnamon stick or two in there as well. When I make this, I have a frypan and a big pot going. Start things off in the pot with the garlic & onion in a little bit of oil, and get them softened and translucent. Once they start to brown a little bit, you can add the celery. Once that loses some moisture, you can add the capsicum until it goes bright & flexible.
While this is happening (it’s not exactly lightning fast) you can cook up the meats. It doesn’t matter too much if the chicken’s not cooked all the way through, it simmers for a long time later. I slice my chorizo on an angle so it looks swankier. While you’ve still got the pan going (and after you’ve drained out the ridiculous amount of red oil the chorizo’s going to shed), drop in about a rice bowl of tomato paste. Put the heat on fairly low, and move it around. The idea is to try to brown the tomato paste. It should form kind of a skin on the bottom which can be lifted and turned back through. This forms the basis of your nice thick sauce.
Back to the pot. Once the vegetables have reached the point I described earlier, you can add your browned tomato paste, your cans of tomato, and you can start seasoning. I usually add the chillies at this point, grind in some black pepper, and add a good dusting of paprika – more for colour than anything else. Throw your shredded chicken and chorizo in now as well, all those flavours need to be in the pot. It’s important to get the spice right at this point, because the flavour in the liquids needs to actually cook into the rice when you add it later.
Once those tomatoes have cooked up a little bit and they start looking more like food and less like ingredients, you can add that rice. Pour it in, and add that extra pint of chicken stock as well. Stir it all through, bring it to the boil, then back the heat off. This is when you can kick back for a bit – that rice is going to take around half an hour, maybe more. The cool thing about this point is that it’s a good time to drop some “simmer ingredients” in, all in the name of science. Tonight it was a few bay leaves and some wedges of lime.
It’s done when the rice is cooked, and you’ve got sauce rather than soup. To serve it, I throw a little bit of melty cheese over the top, mix it through and go. The bonus to it is that it’s even better the second night.