This particular recipe has been requested by many of those I’ve fed at work. It was back in 2009, when I first attempted this blog. I was faced with several dilemmas: cooking too much to feed myself and another, plus the recipes are not exactly figure friendly all the time. I was beginning to train with Mel and had to make huge adjustments to my diet. But cooking is my creative outlet. It’s the kitchen and I with a little music in the background – it’s my zen. So what’s a cooking enthusiast to do? Well, what do alcoholics do?? (jk!) –
I started bringing these dishes to work and feeding my wonderful coworkers. From there a monthly potluck emerged having different themes: indian, bbq, italian, thanksgiving, celebrate the birthday of a MIA colleague. These potlucks really taught me a lot about cooking for a crowd. And there’s nothing better to feed a crowd than a rice dish. Jambalaya is awesome in that it’s a one pot dish that’s full of flavor, filling and who doesn’t love sausage??
The takeaway of this recipe is flavor building. There are a lot of recipes that utilize cajun seasoning to flavor the dish. I use 2 spices to season mine: paprika and cayenne pepper. I used paprika to get a little more smokiness and the cayenne pepper was for a little more kick. Would it be the end of the world if I didn’t have these 2 ingredients?? Probably not.
The holy trinity of cajun cooking consists of bell pepper, celery and onions. And garlic? Well, garlic is the vegetable equivalent of bacon – it just makes everything taste better! The holy trinity is the base of your flavors, without it your dish would taste simply bland. You can add in all the fancy spice mixtures out there and you would still end up with something flat. The veggies is that depth of flavor you taste in the sauce, everything else just enhances it.
Can you do without the sausage? Probably not. In this recipe, I used kielbasa – organic kielbasa (I was feeling a little guilty making this ultra rich dish, I don’t know if it really makes much of a difference). I love that kielbasa has a little sweetness and a more subtle smokiness as opposed to the andouille sausage which I find a little too salty.
The spices in the sausage add another layer of flavor into the dish. Which is why I don’t really feel that I need to use much spices, but this is more of a personal preference so feel free to experiment. The fat rendered from the sausage is awesome: you got flavor and less oil needed. An interesting comment I got from my tester is that this dish didn’t give off much grease (if any) when reheated. This is typical when microwaving food.
The trick is to render the fat from the sausage first. Most recipes will have you cook the chicken first, which means they’d have you use more oil because of this. When rendering the fat, you simply heat the pan and place the sausage in the pan without oil. It will cook slowly, giving you a chance to prep some more. Once the sausages are browned, use the oil from the pan to cook the chicken. Simple as that – less oil. Adjust the heat on the pan because you don’t want to burn off all the brown bits that’s collecting from cooking the meats(that’s your flavor enhancer). Watch out for this as you are cooking the chicken.
Yes I do make my own shrimp stock – but I haven’t been quite lucky in getting whole shrimps. You kind of need the head and all its goodness to get the “shrimp essence.” A great alternative is clam juice – I was first hesitant because I wasn’t sure if I’d find it. It was surprisingly readily available everywhere. Clam juice is a little more tangy while shrimp is a little bit sweeter. I think clam juice has a little more flavor because of it’s saltiness. When you taste the jambalaya – you have the richness of the meat and the saltiness of the sea… well that’s what I’m envisioning.
Any other tips? Welllll… My best piece of advice is to be patient. This is a dish that is classic American, rich in flavor and in history. Its fascinating that for an old recipe, it hasn’t changed much over the years. I guess the question is: does it really need to??
Chicken and Shrimp Jambalaya
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
1/2 lbs kielbasa or andouille sausage
4 bone in, skin on chicken thighs (1-1/2 lbs)
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 medium rib celery, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper*
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can diced tomato (14 oz.)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 bay leaves
2 cups long grain rice
1 cup clam juice
1-1/2 cups chicken broth (low sodium)
1 lbs medium shrimp, sliced
Salt and pepper to season and taste.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Do the same for the shrimp.
Turn the heat to medium. In a large pot, add the sausage. Let the sausage render for a couple of minutes until it is browned. Transfer the browned sausage to a plate. Add the chicken, skin side down. Brown on both sides, this will take about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken into a plate. Adjust the heat if it gets too hot, to prevent the brown bits from burning.
Reduce the heat and add the onions, bell pepper and celery. Stir and scrape off the brown bits from the pan. Once the vegetables have softened, clear a spot in the middle of the pot. Pour the olive oil into the middle spot and add the garlic. Once the garlic has cooked, before it gets brown – mix it with the vegetables. Add the cayenne pepper and paprika. Stir the mixture for a couple of seconds. Add the diced tomatoes, let it reduced down for a couple of minutes until there are less chunks. You’ll notice that it will have a deeper red hue. Add the rice and stir it until it is fully coated, about 1 minute. Add the clam juice, chicken broth, sausage and herbs. Stir then leave it to get it to simmer.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the chicken skin. Nestle the chicken into the rice. Cover and place it in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the chicken and place in a plate. Add the shrimp and place it back in the oven for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, shred the chicken. When the shrimps are done, discard the bay leaves and add the shredded chicken. Serve warm – this dish gets better the next day.