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Jambalaya!

I've heard tongue-in-cheek references to this dish as "Cajun paella." But jambalaya (pronounced "jum-bah-lie-ya") is more Creole than it is Cajun because it is more the result of old European cooking influences, rather than those of the French-Acadians (a/k/a "Cajuns") who fled to southern Louisiana from northeast Canada when Great Britain took it over from France and tried to make them all swear allegiance to the British crown in the mid-1700s. Being a rice dish traditionally made with pork, chicken and seafood, jambalaya is indeed very similar to its ancestral inspiration, Spanish paella. But being a "one-pot" recipe, it has also always been associated with Cajun culture.



Like gumbo, jambalaya has always been a way to deal with leftovers, especially small quantities of cooked meats that wouldn't be enough with which to prepare another whole meal by themselves, and which one wouldn't want to go to waste. So, what you add to jambalaya is up to you, and the sky's the limit as to what works well in it! I picked up this truly authentic recipe from a chef-friend at a hotel I worked at years ago in New Orleans while I was in college. He taught me to use the seafood in it, but I never do because I can't stand it in jambalaya. Consequently, this recipe calls for traditional, non-seafood components most often found in New-Orleans style jambalaya. The measurements are all "guesstimates" from watching him measure out the ingredients either in the palm of his hand or using simply a basic kitchen ladle. I've made this favorite recipe too many times to count!

Ingredients:

½ lb. (252 g) raw, whole shrimp (peeled and cleaned/deveined - optional)
1 cup (226.8 g) ham, diced into ½" (1.25 cm) pieces
1 cup (226.8 g) cooked chicken meat, diced or shredded
½ cup to 1 cup (113.4 g - 226.8 g) smoked sausage, cooked, diced
2 Tbs. (30 ml) butter or olive oil
4 - 6 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup (113.4 g) (½ average/medium) white or yellow onion, finely chopped
½ cup (113.4 g) (one rib) celery, finely chopped
2 cups (474 ml/453.6 g) canned tomatoes, chopped, crushed or diced (drain, but reserve the liquid)
1 cup (226.8 g) raw, white rice
2 bay leaves (whole)
½ cup (113.4 g) green, bell pepper, finely chopped
½ cup (118.5 ml) chicken broth or water, plus ½ cup (118.5 ml) boiling water
2 Tbs. (28.3 g) mild paprika
1 tsp. (4.77 g) salt
ground cayenne (red-hot) pepper to taste



Preparation:

Heat the butter/oil in a large, heavy pan or skillet over medium heat. Fry the meat until browned and warmed through.



Next, sauté the onion, green pepper, celery and garlic together in it until the onion turns soft and translucent.



Stir in the tomatoes and cook another minute or two. Then stir in the raw rice, add the seasonings, the liquid from the tomatoes and the broth/water (not the
boiling water yet - that's coming up ahead in the instructions).



Bring it all to a boil, cover and simmer on very low heat (just so it's bubbling slightly) for 30 minutes (do not remove the lid during this phase if you can help it - the rice needs the pressure and steam in the pot to cook properly).



After the 30 minutes has passed, take off the lid, stir the boiling water in well, cover the pot back up and let it cook on low an additional 15 minutes. Add the shrimp, if you're including shrimp, and simmer until the shrimp turn nice and pink (5 minutes). Don't forget to remove the bay leaves before serving!

Makes 4 - 6 helpings.


Jambalaya - festive and filling!


Notes:

Cheating (but good): Brown the sausage, chicken and other meats (save any shrimp for the last five minutes) - add 3, 14½-oz. (435 ml/410.35 g) cans commercial, diced ready-made tomatoes with onion and bell pepper. Add 1½ cups (340.2 g) instant rice, the garlic, and spices. Cook 25 minutes, until the rice is tender.

Of course, I drench my jambalaya with my favorite brand of hot sauce, Tabasco!

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