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Tuesday Project: Jambalaya Time!

As the onslaught of Portland and Seattle articles are finally reaching the end (almost…), we’ll be heading out to New Orleans next, switching microbreweries for sazeracs and espresso for beignets and cafe au lait.

Which got me thinking about creating a New Orleans dinner. With a little help from Emeril Lagasse and John Besh (of August and an emerging New Orleans restaurant empire), I tackled a jambalaya dinner with mostly success.

Jambalaya is essentially a paella with a paprika-chili based seasoning instead of saffron. You can put whatever seafood, sausages, meats you want into it. The more the merrier, right?

I stuck with the rule of three I use for pasta dishes, adding chicken, shrimp, and a somewhat tame chorizo from Fra’Mani, Paul Bertolli’s charcuterie shop in Berkeley. O.K., I cheated a bit to have a fatty-smoky element from bacon, but bacon doesn’t count in the rule of three.

Chop some garlic, onions, and bell peppers, and saute them with the chicken and shrimp until the chicken and shrimp are cooked, or almost cooked. Meanwhile in a casserole pot, I added a can of chicken stock to a 1/2 cup of paella rice we had on hand (most recipes call for Louisiana White Rice…basically, no Uncle Ben’s here!). Throw in a good handful or two of canned tomatoes, then the sausage, and sauteed ingredients from the pan. Finally, be liberal with whatever seasoning you choose. I cheated and used Emeril’s “Bayou Blend” that had been a gift years ago. Essentially, go for some chile and paprika for heat, a little parsley, a little thyme, maybe even some sage. John Besh’s recipe gives some good inspiration on how best to season. Besh’s recipe could easily feed the New Orleans Saints’ entire offense.

And I’ll say it again, don’t skimp on the seasoning. It’s what makes jambalaya unique.

Cook the jambalaya in the oven for an hour at 350 (thanks to Craig Claiborne for that). I’d suggest maybe even slightly longer to let the rice absorb more of the chicken stock and tomato juice. Or perhaps, take the pot out for 15-30 minutes, then put it back in the oven for another 30-40 minutes. Jambalaya happens to be like quiche– better when cooled and re-heated to get more structure.

And yes, 1/2 cup of rice doesn’t look like much at first. Don’t worry, it will be enough for 3 hungry people, or 4 not so hungry people. Adjust the amount of rice, the seasoning,  and toppings appropriately for your dining party.

There you go! Make a sazerac, some bananas foster (that’s next Tuesday’s Project…still a project after a minor failure), and laissez les bon temps rouler!

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