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Jambalaya

This week I had some trouble deciding what to cook for the blog. I wanted to try something other than traditional French cuisine, but couldn’t settle on another culture or region, or even on one kind of protein. That was when jambalaya popped into my head. It’s spicy, hearty comfort food that can be made with a mish-mash of your favorite meat and seafood. Best of all, it’s cost-effective and can easily feed a crowd (not that I really have a crowd to feed).

While I was wandering through Whole Foods on Sunday night to purchase everything I needed, it occurred to me that my recipe only called for 4 ounces of chicken, 5 ounces of Andouille sausage, and 12 shrimp. Way to get specific, Emeril!

Initially, I had gone straight to the prepackaged meats section, where I realized that I’d end up buying way too much meat for this recipe. I ended up checking out the butcher counter instead, where I easily purchased one large chicken breast and two links of Andouille. I ended up saving myself a nice chunk of change.

This tip may seem like a no-brainer for some, but we are so conditioned to gathering pre-packed food at the supermarket, that unless we need something special-ordered or can’t readily find what we need, we don’t even speak to the butcher. It used to be that having a good relationship with your butcher or fishmonger was the only way to get the best cuts of meat or the freshest seafood.

As a young lady living alone, I am constantly trying to find ways to make appropriate portion sizes, cut down on my grocery bill, and minimize food waste. Usually, I’m pretty uncomfortable when speaking with the butcher (or buying any unfamiliar cuts of meat) because I find the terminology super confusing. I’m happy that I finally moved out of my comfort zone, and maybe now I’ll learn something new!

That’s enough on my butcher counter epiphany. Here’s your run-down on the history of jambalaya:

The 'Holy Trinity' of bell pepper, onion, and celery.

The ‘Holy Trinity’ of bell pepper, onion, and celery.

As with many dishes, the precise origins of jambalaya are unclear. Over the centuries, countless cultures ebb and flow, mixing together around the world. Places like Louisiana develop into vibrant melting pots, producing remarkable cuisines that can’t easily be tracked back to a single source. Plausible theories abound, and legends and folklore end up becoming “fact.”

One of the most popular explanations for the origin of jambalaya cites jambon, the French word for ham, and yaya, a supposed African term for rice. Although this is a creative theory suggesting it began as a ham and rice dish, many experts have discounted it. Comparisons of jambalaya to Spanish paella, West African jollof rice, and the French-Provencal “jambalaia,” or fowl, vegetable, and rice stew, confuse things even further.1, 2

A few years ago, culinary historian Andrew Sigal conducted a fascinating and extensive study into the origins of both the word jambalaya and the culinary dish. After a great deal of research, a decisive answer still was not reached, but Sigal leaned toward a Provencal origin for the word and a collective cultural origin for the dish. As he puts it:

The recipe might have been created or named in Europe, Africa, or America, and the creators might have been French, Occitan, Spanish, Acadian, Native American or African.3

The 'Holy Trinity,' vegetables, and rice just before the chicken broth is added.

The ‘Holy Trinity,’ tomatoes, and rice just before the chicken broth is added.

Regardless of its ambiguous geographical, cultural, and linguistic origins, pinning down an “authentic” recipe for jambalaya can be equally as frustrating. Enthusiasts disagree over whether tomatoes should be included, what kind of rice to use, how much of the holy trinity should be added, and which proteins belong in this dish.

Ultimately, the argument over certain ingredients and cooking methods has boiled down (no pun intended) to two separate camps: red and brown. The “city” or New Orleans version of jambalaya is usually red, due to the addition of tomatoes—a hallmark of Creole cuisine. On the other hand, the brown version is more prevalent in rural areas of Louisiana since it is typically cooked in a cast-iron pot, which lends itself to more thorough caramelization of the ingredients. This produces the brown color that is then absorbed by the rice.1

The meat and/or seafood isn't until the rice is nearly done cooking.

The meat and/or seafood isn’t added until the rice is nearly done cooking.

I have adapted the following recipe from renowned chef Emeril Lagasse, but make no claims about its authenticity! I left the tails on the shrimp for a bit more flavor, added an extra dash of Lagasse’s signature spice blend, and, as usual, doubled the veggie content. I hope you like your jambalaya hot!

Cajun Jambalaya

(Adapted from Chef Emeril Lagasse’s Jambalaya episode of The Essence of Emeril)

  • 12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails attached
  • 4 ounces chicken, diced
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Creole seasoning, recipe follows
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 3/4 cup long-grain rice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 5 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced
  • Salt and pepper

Combine the shrimp, chicken, and Andouille sausage in a bowl with the Creole seasoning, and mix by hand until the meat is thoroughly coated.

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and sauté the onion, pepper, and celery for about 3 minutes. Next, add the garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in the rice, and then slowly add the broth.

Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until the rice becomes tender, but is not yet fully cooked. At this time, add the shrimp, chicken, and sausage, stirring well, and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through.

The finished product!

The finished product!

In the recipe above, I suppose you could use your favorite creole seasoning mix. However, this was a great blend, and I can’t wait to use the leftovers for other recipes! (FYI, this makes a whopping 2/3 of a cup of seasoning)

Emeril’s ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

  • 2 ½ tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
Sources:
  1. Bienvenu, M. (2011, September 15). Jambalaya shows both sides of Creole and Cajun influences. The Times-Picayune. Retrieved from http://www.nola.com/food/index.ssf/2011/09/jambalaya_shows_both_sides_of.html
  2. Dry, S. (2009, January/February). Jambalaya. Louisiana Life. Retrieved from http://www.myneworleans.com/Louisiana-Life/Winter-2008/Jambalaya/
  3. Sigal, A. (2007). Jambalaya by any other name. Petits Propos Culinaires, (84), 101-119. Retrieved from http://www.sigal.org/culinaryhistory/jambalaya/Jambalaya_by_Any_Other_Name.htm

Chicken Paprikás

Take a trip to Hungary via your spice cabinet. Paprika is sure to warm your soul.

Florida’s rainy summer weather is starting already, and I have to say, I’m quite fond of the thunderstorms that roll in each afternoon like clockwork. (So long as I have nowhere to be and can cozy up in my apartment with a good book or movie!) The only thing that’s been missing from my rainy day festivities is some soul-warming comfort food.

hunky1

One of my great-grandmother’s cookbooks–published in 1955!

It just so happens that my mom dug up her grandmother’s (my great-grandma’s) old cookbooks the other day, so I thought I’d try to whip up one of these recipes with my own flair. My maternal grandfather’s family was extremely Hungarian, so most of the books and recipes that my mom rediscovered include things like ‘pot steak,’ jellied pigs’ feet, and stuffed cabbage. Considering that most people these days aren’t gnawing away on pickled pigs’ feet, I thought I’d go for a classic slow-cooked dish: chicken paprikás.

Looking over the few different recipes for chicken paprikás in my great grandmother’s cookbooks, I noticed that there was a serious lack of vegetables in all of them. But, to be fair, this dish originated as humble country grub. While the adapted recipe I’ve provided below may not be totally authentic, I found it to be flavorful and a tad more nutritious. (Veggies 4 lyfe!)

hung2

One of the variations I found in my great-grandma’s cookbooks.

Here’s a bit of background on this beloved Hungarian entrée:

Chicken paprikás is named for the spice that stars in this flavorful red dish. Paprika is made by grinding the pods of Capsicum annuum peppers into a powder. It can come in eight different grades, varying from mildly sweet and bright red (Különleges) to a dark reddish brown with ample heat (Erös). Paprika has become pretty much synonymous with Hungarian cooking, but the peppers from which it is made did not originate anywhere near Central Europe.

IMG_3924

My version of paprikás simmering away on the stove.

Native to North and northern South America, Capsicum annuum is a species of pepper that varies widely in shape, size, color, and level of spice.1 It is said that Christopher Columbus mistook these spicy plants for the source of prized black pepper and brought them back to Spain from the New World at the end of the 15th century.2, 3 However, culinary use of these peppers did not take off immediately. Paprika peppers, or ‘Turkish peppers’ were actually used as exotic ornamental plants in wealthy Europeans’ gardens.3

Like many ingredients in the culinary world, paprika did come full circle, though. In the 16th and 17th centuries, paprika was brought to Hungary from the Balkans by Greek, Turkish, and Slavic peoples.3 Peasants and herdsmen began using the spice in their simple stews, such as gulyás (goulash), and eventually wealthier folks embraced the practice as well. It is suggested that widespread use of paprika in Hungary came about in the late 18th century, when it appears on a written monastery inventory, and even as a surname in a few registry documents.3IMG_3901

Nowadays, paprika is typically used as a finishing touch of color atop deviled eggs, but if you’re looking for some truly authentic flavor in your paprikás or gulyás, look for the Hungarian variety. The two main hubs for paprika production in Hungary are Szeged and Kalocsa, and each is home to a paprika museum and festival. (Szeged brand is what I used in the recipe below, and it is available in many grocery stores.)

Chicken Paprikás

  • 2 Tbsp. bacon fat or oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 8 oz. mushroom caps, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1.5 lbs. chicken pieces (I opted for skinless chicken thighs)
  • 1 cup chicken broth (approx.)
  • 2.5 Tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup sour cream brought to room temperature
  • Cooked egg noodles for serving

Heat bacon fat or oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, add onions and carefully brown, stirring frequently to avoid sticking and burning. After the onions are browned, salt and pepper the chicken pieces and add them to the pot. Brown chicken on both sides. Add the red pepper, garlic, and mushrooms, stirring to incorporate well. Allow to saute for a few minutes.

Carefully brown the onions and chicken.

Carefully brown the onions and chicken.

Add enough chicken broth to just cover the chicken pieces, being sure to scrape the flavorful browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the paprika and tomato paste, lower heat to a simmer, and cover. Let cook for approximately one hour.

The chicken should be tender and easily come off the bone, and the drippings should be of a sauce consistency once done. If there is too much liquid, cook a little longer uncovered to boil it off, or use a roux to thicken to desired consistency.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Take the room temperature sour cream and slowly stir in warm sauce from the pot a spoonful at a time. This ‘tempering’ helps to ensure that your sauce will incorporate smoothly rather than break or curdle. Once the sour cream is warmed, add it all to the pot and stir.

Voila: A hearty hunky favorite!

Voila: A hearty hunky favorite!

Serve hot over dumplings, rice, mashed potatoes, or noodles. Enjoy!

Sources:
1) Paprika. (2015). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/442178/paprika
2) Swains, H. (2013). Paprika: A primer on Hungary’s spicy obsession. Retrieved
from http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/29/travel/paprika-hungary/
3) Smith, M., & Jusztin, M. (2014). Paprika: The spice of life in Hungary. In Jolliffe, L.
(Ed.), Spices and tourism: Destinations, attractions, and cuisines (pp. 53-71). Bristol, UK: Channel View.
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