Monday, December 27, 2010

For the Record: Jambalaya

On Xmas eve, facing an incredibly busy 24 hours ahead, one of the tasks I needed to accomplish was coming up with some sort of Xmas dinner. I had planned to bake a ham my friend Deb hooked me up with earlier this fall when she offered to split half a pastured hog from Forever Endeavor Farm .

We've already feasted on the extremely tasty, super-thick uncured bacon from this hog share, and I am looking forward to trying the ham. The thing is, it's big, this ham. Also I've never cooked a whole ham before. I have a bit of Ham Anxiety going. Plus I really, really didn't want to wreck it, and when I'm multitasking like mad on 10,000 different things that need to be done NOW is precisely the time I tend to lose track of little things like the ham in the oven.

Then I just forgot to get the darn thing out of the freezer. Since it would require at least a day to thaw that pretty much took ham off our family's Xmas menu. Standing in the grocery store late on Xmas Eve afternoon -- me and the other bazillion last-minute grocery shoppers -- casting about for a replacement meal I came up with jambalaya. I've made this recipe literally dozens of times; it's always been a go-to dish for football weekends, open house holiday scenarios, any time there's an open-ended time frame yet lots of people to feed.

The recipe comes from a cook book that I alas no longer have access to. It's a church fundraiser cooking collection from some tiny parish in Louisiana, self-published in 1982 in blurry mimeograph print. There are recipes for muskrat and alligator in there, plus all kinds of Cajun dishes -- some common outside the bayou, others I've never heard of even in Paul Prudhomme. I've made some amazing dishes from that book -- a smoky, buttery crawfish etouffe prominent among them -- but always go back to this jambalaya. It's relatively easy to put together, holds well, and tastes even more amazing the next day.

I really really wish I could reproduce the original recipe in all its glory; the directions are quite eccentrically bossy and specific. But the ingredients are right. I made this late Xmas afternoon and we've been living off it ever since.

Serve with the best French bread you can find, sliced and thickly spread with lots and lots of sweet butter.

2 lbs shrimp, peeled
1 lb andouille sausage (the andouille from Neopol in the Belvedere Market makes for a truly outstanding jambalaya)
1 c chopped onion
i c chopped green pepper
1/2 chopped celery
4 cloves garlic
1/8 t cayenne
1/2 t salt
4 bay leaves
1/2 t chili powder
1.5 t thyme
1.5 t basil
1/4 t allspice
1/4 t cloves
2 cans stewed tomatoes, drained, reserve juice
2 c beef stock (use tomato juice to reconstitute stock if using beef base)
1.5 c rice
green onions
curly parsley
Crystal hot sauce

Sear andouille, set aside. In same pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons oil. Sautee peppers and onions until softened, then add garlic, spices, tomatoes (drained, saving juice to make up stock if using stock base). Add stock and rice, bring to boil, cover, cook on low 20-30 min until rice is cooked. Add shrimp, stir frequently five more minutes. Stir in chopped green onions and parseley. Top with more of both, plus hot sauce. Don't forget the butter bread.