American Paella

Recently, one of my girlfriends was going on and on about the jambalaya she recently made one night for dinner. Hers was a bit non-traditional, but boy did it get my taste buds hankering for jambalaya! I like a slow-cooked, super-authentic dish like the next foodie, but often weeknights are busy and frankly a simple Better Homes recipe just hits the spot sometimes. I’ve always maintained that if a recipe/dish was good, it didn’t much matter where it came from.

Jambalaya, if you’re not familiar with the ubiquitous Louisiana stew, springs from a wonderful amalgam of West African and Mediterranean influence upon the cuisine of Louisiana. It’s strikingly similar to paella in that the rice is added to the pot and cooked directly in the stew. This is not only efficient, but it also has the added benefit of infusing each grain of rice with all of the generous flavors of the rest of the pot.

Rice seems to be a common theme in my kitchen lately. It’s so simple, easy, and cheap that any pantry should keep it in store, really. One day, I’ll have it all together and give you an authoritative list of pantry staples like some other great bloggers/home cooks/chefs out there. (And maybe I’ll even have it together enough to produce a holiday gift guide to boot.) Until that day, I can really just say you should always keep a sack of long grain white rice on hand. It goes with (almost) everything! My personal favorite comes from the bulk section at my local Sprouts (both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have these and other more mainstream grocery stores are catching on to this concept as well) where I can get as much or as little as I want/need.

A mirepoix is most commonly used in cooking to add flavor, but something called “the holy trinity” is one you’ll find more often in Louisianan cooking. The beginnings of flavor here is “the holy trinity.” Now don’t go getting religious on me and calling anyone a heretic. “The holy trinity” in this case refers to the combination of chopped onions, celery, and green bell pepper. This is similar to a mirepoix which is a combination of chopped onions, celery, and carrot. If you’re like us and you don’t eat much celery, don’t worry about buying an entire bunch of celery only to use a couple stalks. When I absolutely must buy celery, I use what I can for soups and broths; and then I chop and freeze the rest in a freezer bag for easy access later for other recipes. For more info on this subject, Food Network has a great article here.

This recipe for jambalaya was not just easy, but it was filled with umami and unctuousness too. The shrimp was recently gifted to us, by some dear friends from church who caught them fresh and brought us a pound so the dish felt extra special and fresh. Commonly, I prefer to use fresh herbs in cooking, but the convenience of dried is a bit unparalleled. Fortunately, I had some home-dried thyme with which to use here! This not just enlivened the dish, but supported all of the other flavors so much better than factory dried.

As with other posts, I of course will leave my personal notes here. The recipe called for the use of a deep and wide 12in skillet. Instead, I opted to use a big soup pot just to be safe. You have of course heard me rhapsodize about my love of using bacon fat in place of cooking oil. This was no exception. Something about bacon fat just deepens flavor to a different level than any sterile, bland cooking oil could. Chopped Canadian Bacon stood in for the ham here. In my view, it’s just about the same and when it’s all married together in the hot tub of goodness, it doesn’t make much difference. The Mr even mentioned how it was a nice twist on a classic!

I of course chose to use a 50/50 mixture of andouille and kielbasa sausages. Andouille is far more traditional and authentic, but we like kielbasa and I knew it wouldn’t go to waste in my house. I honestly grew up with the Hillshire Farm variety being used if you can believe it! My family spent a number of years in Louisiana (Baton Rouge to be precise); so I figure if it’s good enough there, it must not be so taboo!

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We rounded out the meal with delicious (and fun) Corn Sticks from a Good Housekeeping recipe. Corn Sticks are simply cooked sticks of cornbread batter! You can fry these on a griddle just like you would Johnny Cakes, but usually a recipe will call for a corn stick pan like this one I got from Lodge! If you’re using a corn stick pan, I cannot recommend strongly enough to allow the sticks to cool in the pan for 10-15min at least. This will ensure that they release with ease. If you pull them too quickly, you’ll surely mangle them. If you wait, they’ll come out without much handling at all.

This recipe definitely satisfied our craving for jambalaya just fine! What are some of your favorite jambalaya recipes?

Currently Reading: Food Network Magazine, Vol 10 No10, Dec 2017


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