Sunday, October 4, 2009

Trying to beat Louisiana at its own game...

No, not trying to beat Louisiana at crawfish, and certainly not trying to beat them at smoking. Okay, I have no idea if people from Louisiana smoke a lot, but the cute crawfish is holding a cigarette, so let me make a very poorly-constructed association to the awesome picture.

What I was referring to is this past weekend's tailgate for the Georgia/ Louisiana State game. And while I cannot control the outcome on the field (outside of streaking during a big play, and I'm just not in streaker-shape right now), I am always up for a challenge to take on the opponent's regional culinary delights.

The showdown did not end well for the home team (cue Ray Steven's "The Streak"), but I can proudly say that the jambalaya would've made many a cajun nervous as a nutria in a swamp-shack stockpot:

Chicken n' Sausage Jawjambalaya:

-3 lbs. mild smoked sausage, cut in 3/4" chunks (you could certainly use andouille, but I think there's already enough spice in this recipe, so I go mild)
-4 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
-1 6 oz. can tomato paste
-2 large yellow onions, chopped
-1 stalk celery, chopped w/ leaves
-3 green peppers, chopped
-8 cloves garlic, chopped
-1 1/2 lbs. Tasso, 1/2" cubed
-1 T red pepper flakes
-1 T fresh ground black pepper
-1 T fresh ground white pepper
-2 T dried thyme
-2 t dried basil
-8 roma tomatoes, seeded & chopped w/ juices
-4 bay leaves
-64 oz. turkey or chicken stock (unsalted)
-Kosher or sea salt, to taste
-2 lbs. long-grain white rice
-1 cup curly parsley, chopped

Preamble: The most critical thing I can stress for making good jambalaya is having the proper equipment. Cast iron holds heat better than any other vessel, and it will really prove its mettle when the rice comes into play. I used a 16" Lodge cast iron camp stove. If you're partying into the night in South Pittsburg, TN, stop by the Lodge Factory Store and pick up one of these bad-boys at a good price. My "LODG" pot is missing the "E" on the lid, so I saved about $50.

1. Get the stove rocking on medium-high heat on a high-powered propane burner.

2. Add the sausage and keep an eye on it so it won't burn...stir frequently. After about 10 minutes, the delicious fats in the sausage will have rended out significantly.

3. Skim out any excessive fat (but dammit- leave some behind, Richard Simmons), then add the chicken for browning.

4. After the chicken is browned, add the tomato paste, the onions, peppers, celery, and garlic. Add some salt to help sweat some of the moisture out of the veggies. Cook about 5 minutes.

5. For some kick, throw in the red pepper, black pepper, white pepper, thyme, basil, and tasso. Tasso is pork shoulder (think pulled pork) that is smoked and cured like ham (which comes from the back leg of the pig instead of the shoulder) with some serious spices. It adds a great flavor and heat to the pot. You can get it at your local butcher's market.

6. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, and pour in the chicken/turkey stock. Use your spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen the fond, or the browned bits that stick to the bottom of the pot...they add flavor and color to the dish. This is also the point where I like to add salt to taste. I don't think it incorporates as well after the rice has been added.

7. Once the liquid reaches a boil, lower the heat and stir in the rice. Stir the rice for a couple minutes; this will help release some of the starches to thicken up the final product. Then, kill the heat and clamp on the lid. This is where your cast iron pulls its weight. Since it holds heat so well, the rice will steam and absorb the liquid perfectly. With no heat on the bottom of the pot, the rice down there will not burn. Stirring would also keep it from burning, but since you need to leave it lidded, this isn't really an option, is it? Sorry, that came off as snooty. You're tops, kiddo!

8. After about 25 minutes (with NO peeking...bite any hands that get near that lid. I'm serious! Bite!), open up the pot. The rice should've pushed all the marvelous meats to the surface. Add the parsley and fold everything back into the rice.

9. Feed to the hungry natives and wait for thumbs-up. Save leftovers to fill your belly while drowning your sorrows after the team comes up short.

Oh well, to better luck next time; another competitor, and another crack at feeding the crowd: Cheers, Sláinte, L'Chaim, Salud, Prost, Skål, Konbe, and Kampai!

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