I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but you would never be able to tell from just talking to me. The only hint towards any Creole roots is that I pronounce New Orleans properly (y’all… it is not New Or-LEANS).
This is because my family moved north when I was just shy of three years old. My sister, who was nine at the time, was teased into dropping her slow-talkin’ accent within two weeks at her new school. Mine didn’t have a prayer.
I always got the feeling that those years in Louisiana were the years where my parents transitioned into real-life adult-adults. Prior to that they had been carefree newlyweds in Texas unencumbered by children, working within Exxon’s frat-house culture, swilling gin and going swing dancing and living off of canned green beans and vats of Blue Bell ice cream.
They started our family after being transferred to work in New Orleans, and having a family means having to learn how to consistently prepare real and diverse meals all the time, and I think it is for this reason that so much of the food I ate while growing up in Pennsylvania was Cajun in origin. That was the setting of my Boston and St. Louis-born parents’ culinary “education.” I was raised on shrimp and tasso, red beans and rice, shrimp étouffée, gumbo, boudin and andouille sausages, even Turducken and King Cake. The holy mother of it all, and my favorite meal of all time, was jambalaya, the delicious, nutritious, flexible one-pot meal that is so native to Louisiana it actually pre-dates the great Acadian migration.
Jambalaya is one of those meals that you can make however you want. The main components are a tomato-rice base, vegetables, and meats. This is my personal recipe that is super easy, composed of cheap staples, and always goes over ridiculously well with roommates and friends (read: it is eaten to a soundtrack of oohs and ahs and exclamations of “Oh my God this is so good!“) I don’t usually add shrimp, but know that most authentic jambalaya has a seafood component thrown in there.
1 kielbasa (or your favorite sausage)
1 large chopped onion
(A lot of) chopped bell pepper
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 chicken bullion cubes OR 2 cups chicken broth
Cayenne Pepper (to taste)
Thyme (to taste)
Tony Chacheres Original Creole Seasoning (optional but encouraged)
Tobasco sauce (optional)
Baguette to serve (optional)
Slice the sausage and then brown with olive oil in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Flip them so that both sides caramelize like this. Note, the sausage is not burned if it is this color! It is delicious.
Roughly chop the onion and toss into the pot. Stir and let simmer.
While the onion and sausage continue to cook, chop the bell pepper. (If you must skip this step, a mixed bag of pre-chopped bell pepper from the freezer section will work just fine.)
I must confess that I don’t normally love bell peppers, but they are crucial in this dish. They add such vibrancy, freshness, color, and, of course, antioxidants. I didn’t use any green pepper this time for no reason in particular, but feel free!
Look at that! Honestly if you were pressed for time this could be a meal in and of itself. But, we’re not going to stop there.
Strain the tomatoes and collect the liquid in a bowl. Add the tomatoes to the meat and vegetables, stir, and continue to cook over medium heat for about ten minutes. Sprinkle thyme, cayenne pepper, and Tonys over top to your liking. You control how spicy this dish is, from not at all to very.
Measure how much liquid from the tomatoes you have leftover. It is usually about one cup, and you need two cups of liquid in total. Add enough water to make the difference, and then add your chicken bouillon cubes. Alternatively, substitute liquid chicken broth for the water when bringing the tomato juice up to two cups.
Measure out one cup of rice (white or brown will do; brown rice takes longer to cook but is generally considered to be the healthy option) and pour over the meat and vegetables. Add the Worcestershire sauce.
Pour the tomato and chicken broth liquid over the rice and stir.
Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is done. When you return it will look like this!
Serve with Tabasco sauce for your desired kick, and with toasted baguette for an extra level of comfort. This dish keeps extremely well, as the flavors tend to intensify with time.
Enjoy and laissez les bon temps rouler!