Creole Jambalaya

This text and recipe is from Howard Mitcham’s magical Creole, Gumbo, and All That Jazz.

After gumbo, the most famous Creole-Cajun dish is jambalaya. The word is probably derived from “Jambon,” which means am in both Spanish and French. The “a la ya” is probably an African expletive which can be interpreted as either acclaim or derision. Jambalaya was a well-known dish even before Hank Williams’s Hit Parade song came along and made it nationally famous. Millions have sung the song without knowing anything about what the dish was like. The recipes herewith will give you a chance to really get on the bandwagon. Jambalaya started out as a poor man’s catch-all, utilizing any leftover meats, sausages, shrimp, or fish that might be lying around, and stretching them a long, long way with plenty of rice. If a poor Cajun family had five or six kids, it’s a safe bet they ate jambalaya several times a week. Like red beans and rice, it kept people from starving during depressions and recessions.

But the consummate artistry of Creole and Cajun cooks has lifted jambalaya above its humble beginnings to a higher plateau, and it is now served with pride and joy in the mansions of the wealthy and in high-toned restaurants. This dish is a close cousin of the Spanish paella, and it probably originated down around New Iberia, which, as its name suggests, was originally a Spanish settlement. However, there’s another town with a Spanish name, Gonzales, up near Baton Rouge, that calls itself the Jambalaya Capital of the World. Its citizens hold a jambalaya festival every year. They cook big black iron wash pots full of the stuff, and people come from all over to sample the rich and redolent fare. A real Gonzales jambalaya is so peppery hot, spicy, and rich that the uninitiated can barely cope with it, but an aficionado of the art can consume a half gallon of it and ask for more. The version of Creole Jambalaya here is lighter fare than the Gonzales product.

Melt a half stick butter in a thick-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, cook 1 pound andouille or smoked sausage (or both) until lightly browned. Stir in a heaping quarter cup of plain flour, add 3 medium white onions, chopped finely, 4 minced cloves of garlic, 6 whole scallions, chopped. Cook until onions soft and clear. Add a 16 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, along with a bay leaf, and a teaspoon each thyme, cayenne, cumin, and black pepper. Add 4 cups broth (chicken or beef), a cup of cooked chicken, and a cup of diced ham. The liquid should cover the ingredients. Bring to a rolling boil and stir in 2 cups raw rice (let me recommend Zatarain’s long grain, jly). Cover, boil for about 5 minutes, then reduce heat and cook until rice is done. Remove lid to cook off excess liquid; “a jambalaya should be moist, but not soupy.” Salt to taste.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

In our neck of the South, stuffed peppers mean mild, fleshy bells filled with a mixture of rice and meat or seafood, usually ground beef or shrimp. A vegetarian version with beans and rice is also wonderful. A lot of people will parboil the peppers beforehand, but don’t. Select peppers that are globular rather than oblong, slice off the top, remove whites and seeds, and fill with your stuffing mixture. I recommend a 50/50 blend in a light tomato sauce seasoned with black pepper, sage, and basil. Crowd into a casserole, baste with more sauce and place in a medium (300) oven until peppers are cooked through. Baste again with sauce, top with dry white cheese, and toast.

Pork Meatballs with Cinnamon

To one pound lean ground pork, work in a tablespoon cinnamon, a teaspoon of cayenne, and a teaspoon each of salt and black pepper. Beat an egg with a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste, mix in a half cup of bread crumbs and a half cup of very finely chopped white onion. Mix eggs with meat, and refrigerate for an hour. Grease your hands, form  mix into balls, and cook in a light oil (you can use olive oil, but it’s not necessary) until browned and firm. Serve over rice or couscous sprinkled with chopped parsley and sesame seeds. These are great with Jezebel sauce.