The Cajuns and Creole Cuisine
Jambalaya includes many signature ingredients associated with the cuisine of the Louisiana Cajuns. Proud of their French heritage, these folks are descendants of the Acadians who settled the area of New France called Acadie throughout the 1600s. When Acadie (presently in maritime Canada) was ceded to the British, the Acadians who didn’t swear allegiance to the British crown were dispersed. Those who settled in the Mississippi river delta adapted to their new homeland, sharing and learning from the other groups of people already living there.
The catchy name for this dish is thought to be derived from jambalaia which comes from the Provençal language of southern France. It means a dish that is a mishmash or jumble of rice and whatever ingredients were on hand. The andouille sausage featured in traditional jambalaya can also be traced back to France. As a general rule, Cajun cooking does not include tomatoes, dishes that do are classified as Creole.
Remember the Holy Trinity
I had a chance to take in a cooking class given by a New Orleans chef who explained the secrets of making a good Jambalaya. Her mantra, “remember the holy trinity”, helped me to memorize this recipe:
- The trinity of vegetables: onion, bell pepper and celery
- The trinity of herbs: oregano, thyme and bay leaves
- The trinity of spices: red pepper (cayenne), black pepper, and white pepper
Sausage is the key ingredient
The sausage you choose for this recipe will provide significant flavour to the dish. Used in a number of Cajun and Creole dishes, andouille is a dried, spicy, smoked pork sausage. Those living far from Cajun country may have difficulty finding andouille. You could consider substituting chorizo or kielbasa. I often use spicy Italian sausage in this recipe. Since it’s not a smoked sausage, I cook it on its own first, then drain the fat away.
Keep in mind, the spices in the sausage will be imparted into the jambalaya. If you don’t like your food spicy, then use a mild sausage. If you’re using spicy sausages, then consider reducing or excluding the red, white and black pepper in this recipe. Better still, sample the dish before adding the three pepper spices and make adjustments according to the spice intensity you prefer.
Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya
- 12 oz andouille (smoked) sausage, sliced (or 1 lb uncooked sausage)
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- 1 rib of celery diced
- 1 green or red bell pepper diced
- 1 quart stewed tomatoes
- ¾ cup converted long grain rice (uncooked rice soaked and drained)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup tomato juice
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp thyme
- 3 bay leaves
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- ½ tsp fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
- ½ tsp white pepper (or to taste)
- ½ tsp salt
- 12 large shrimps raw, peeled
- If using uncooked sausage: Remove the casing from the sausage and chop into bite size pieces. Cook the sausage in a large deep pan or wok on medium heat until the pink has gone.
- Remove the sausage from the pan. Optionally, you can save about 1 tbsp. of the melted fat from the sausage to cook the vegetables in.
- Add the vegetables to the pan (add a little oil if you're not using the fat from the sausages) and cook on medium heat until tender.
- If using smoked sausage add it now. Otherwise, return the cooked sausage back to the pan. Mix with the vegetables and heat for a minute or two.
- Stir in the tomatoes and seasonings and bring to a simmer.
- Stir in the rice, water, broth and tomato juice and allow to simmer covered for about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Before serving, bury the shrimp below the surface with the pot still simmering. Cook covered for about 5 more minutes or until the shrimp turns pink.