I’d better be straight with you, right off the bat. I have no idea if this recipe qualifies as “authentic” jambalaya. Heck, I’m not even sure if I know what authentic jambalaya is. I’ve never wrestled an alligator while an old man in hip waders and a white handlebar mustache looks on in knowing silence. And my experience in New Orleans is limited to eating beignets from Cafe du Monde and hanging off a balcony in the French Quarter, footlong pink plastic Hurricane glass dangling dangerously from my fingers and a plastic gold-plated medallion inscribed with the words “Kiss Me, I’m Cajun” hanging sloppily around my neck.
My understanding of what truly makes a jambalaya a jambalaya, though, is in the rice-cooking technique. Whether you make yours with the completely awesome “Pork and Alligator Smoked Sausage” that your friend Patrick graciously brought all the way back to Maine for you to try after his last trip to The Big Easy, or you use the prepackaged andouille from your local Hannaford, whether you use a cut-up whole chicken or boneless skinless thighs, and whether you add shrimp, crawfish, or nothing at all, a good jambalaya always comes down to the rice.
Unlike other rice dishes, where the grain is cooked separately and then added to the other ingredients before serving, the rice in a jambalaya is cooked right in the liquid that’s created as you cook the other ingredients. Or in our case, a succulent slurry of chicken fat, sausage grease, herbs, spices, and chicken stock. Flavorful? You bet. And if you time it right, you can do it all in one pot.
You’ll be amazed when you take the lid off the Dutch oven, and find that your huge crock of par-cooked ingredients and crunchy grains of rice has turned into a fluffy, spicy, bright red bowl of Cajun-style magic. I have no idea if this is how they do it down South, but I know that it’s delicious.
- 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 3-1/2 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 large celery stalks, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
- 1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 1 pound Cajun-style smoked pork and alligator sausage (or substitute andouille sausage), sliced
- 3 cups long-grain white rice, uncooked
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 bunch flat italian parsley, chopped
- 1 bunch scallions, sliced crosswise
- Cut chicken breasts in half crosswise. In a very large dutch oven over medium heat, fry chicken in vegetable oil in batches, turning often, until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
- In the same pan with the oil and chicken fat, add onions, celery, red bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, garlic, and bay leaves. Cook, stirring often, until onions begin to soften and turn translucent. Add paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and thyme. Stir to combine and cook until spices become fragrant and onions begin to brown.
- Add slices sausage, and cook until it just begins to brown. Add uncooked rice and stir, cooking a few minutes more until rice begins to toast. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, and shrimp. Stir well to combine, then add reserved chicken pieces, and stir well again. Bring to a simmer, then cover, reduce heat, and cook until all liquid is absorbed, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in chopped parsley. Serve topped with sliced scallions.