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New Orleans Shrimp Jambalaya



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New Orleans Shrimp Jambalaya

How do you present someone a recipe for jambalaya? No easy task, for there
must be as many ways to make jambalaya as there are Cajun or Creole cooks,
to say nothing of those who aspire to be. And of course everyone thinks theirs
is the best. It's somewhat like trying to come up with THE definitive recipe for
potato salad or gumbo, stew or vegetable soup. The variety is limited only by
the creative imagination of the cook and the availability of ingredients.
Basically, jambalaya consists of rice with either meat (sausage, ham, chicken,
duck, etc.) or seafood (shrimp, oyster, crab) or a combination of both, plus
tomatoes, Cajun spices and the "holy trinity" of New Orleans cooking:
onions, bell pepper and celery. Some cooks add okra to their jambalaya,
but I prefer to save the okra for gumbo.
According to the Acadian Dictionary (Rita and Gabrielle Claudet, Houma,
LA, 1981) the word jambalaya "...comes from the French 'jambon' meaning
ham, the African 'ya' meaning rice, and the Acadian [language] where every-
thing is 'à la.' "
So, having said all that, how could I possibly declare this the definitive
jambalaya recipe? I could not. All I can say is that it is one of my very
favorites. Perhaps it will become one of yours too.

3 tablespoons olive oil or bacon grease
1 cup chopped onions
3/4 cup chopped bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Two 1-pound cans plum tomatoes
2 cups seafood stock or chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning mix*
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups long grain raw rice, washed
4 pounds raw shrimp, peeled
Additional salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
[Feel free to add andouille or other smoked sausage!]

* My favorite  purchased seasoning mix is Tony Chachere's , but there are lots
of them out there since Chef Paul Prudhomme has made Cajun cooking a part
of the standard fare of the American table. Cajun seasoning is simply a mixture
of salt, red pepper, black pepper, and an assortment of spices such as thyme, oregano, paprika, onion and garlic powder, etc. Paul Prudhomme has a variety
of "Cajun Magic" seasoning mixes on the market. Or mix up some
Emeril's Essence to kick it up a notch! I always have a jar of it handy. Adjust to taste
the amount of thyme and oregano you add, which will depend on the brand
of seasoning mix you choose.

In a large heavy kettle sauté the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic in
the olive oil until tender but not brown, about 5 minutes.
Drain the tomatoes, reserving the liquid. (Of course an excellent option is
to use fresh tomatoes, about 4 medium-sized, peeled; in this case you will
need additional liquid - preferably tomato juice.) Chop the tomatoes and
add them to the pot along with the reserved tomato liquid, stock or broth,
green onions, bay leaves, seasoning mix, thyme and oregano. Bring the
mixture to a boil and add the rice, stirring well to combine.
And now for the big question: Is jambalaya best prepared on top of the stove, in the oven, or both? That's one of those questions that could
start a big argument in South Louisiana. A question like "Is authentic
Creole gumbo prepared with gumbo filé or with okra?" I really prefer
not to get caught in the middle of such controversies, especially since,
regretfully, I am neither Creole, Cajun nor even a native of Louisiana.
The only thing that might possibly give me the right to even discuss
these issues is that I am familiar with them due to the fact that New
Orleans was my second home for many, many years and my home
of choice now. The most important reason is that I absolutely adore
New Orleans and its unique cuisine - the very best on the planet to
my admittedly prejudiced palate...
But I digress. Again. Many recipes call for jambalaya to be cooked
on top of the stove, covered, over low heat until the rice is tender -
30 minutes or so. Then again you will see recipes which call for the
mixture to be transferred from the kettle to a greased baking dish and
baked 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. There are also recipes that call
for a combination of both methods - 30 minutes on the stovetop fol-
lowed by 20 or 30 minutes baking at 350 degrees F. This depends to
a large degree on the ingredients you have chosen - sausage, ham,
chicken, seafood, etc. My preference for this particular recipe is to
cook about 15 minutes on the stove, then add the shrimp and bake
for about 15 minutes (or less) at 350 degrees F. I am highly offended
by overcooked shrimp. And there is an excellent reason for using
seafood or fish stock in this recipe. Yes, of course it takes a little more
time, but that way you derive the benefit of the incomparable seafood
flavor without sacrificing the texture of the shrimp. No matter which direction you choose to take, this is a wonderful dish and calls for a
large green salad and French bread, or perhaps a yummy batch of
garlic bread. A bottle or three of good red wine. Or Abita Amber...
Bon appétit, cher!

Featured Archive Recipes:
Favorite Creole-Cajun Jambalaya
Commander's Palace Seafood Jambalaya
Emeril's Crawfish and Sausage Jambalaya

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