We are in the middle of winter now - and this weekend we are getting blasted with Arctic air here on Cape Cod. It’s cold and windy with wind chills around negative 6 degrees Fahrenheit - brrrrr. But half way through January we are already turning our minds to Spring and Summer - and the warmer weather ahead.
Mardi Gras is only one month away and in New Orleans the celebrations have already begun.
Mardi Gras is often thought to be a single day event being celebrated on the Tuesday before
Ash Wednesday. However, it is actually celebrated over several weeks - from WikiPedia - "Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, refers to events of the Carnival celebration, beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday, which is known as Shrove Tuesday. "
So, in the spirit of those festivities we had a go at one of our favorite creole dishes. Yep, Steve went ahead and cooked up a batch of his famous Cajun Chicken Jambalaya.
Jambalaya is an American Creole and Cajun rice dish of French, African, and Spanish influence, consisting mainly of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. Traditionally, the meat includes sausage, along with pork, chicken or seafood, such as crawfish or shrimp. The vegetables are usually a mixture known as the "Holy Trinity" in Cajun cooking, consisting of onion, celery, and bell pepper.
If you have never enjoyed New Orleans, Cajun or Creole cuisine - you are missing out - and we highly recommend giving it a try. Cooking it yourself gives you the option of turning down the spice a bit and adjusting the flavors to your taste. We like ours with lots of flavor and layered heat - sooo good!
The hardest thing about this dish is chopping the vegetables - but we like to put on some nice jazzy music - grab a glass (or two) of wine and relax while methodically chopping the veggies. The process is almost like meditation. Being mindful and immersed in simple moments like this just might be the secret to life. (Watch your fingers cutting though)....
Here’s how it went:
First the ingredients:
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 ½ cups andouille sausage (about 7 1/2 ounces), cut into (1/4-inch-thick) slices
Holy Trinity - the secret to Creole Cooking
3 cups finely chopped bell pepper
3 cups finely chopped yellow onion
2 cups finely chopped celery
2 bay leaves
2 ½ cups chopped skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped jalapeño pepper (don’t rub your eyes after slicing the jalapeno)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground red pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup tomato puree
2 ¾ cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 ½ cups basmati rice
1 cup thinly sliced green onions
Now the magic starts - the dish is actually pretty easy with only 4 simple steps - and a lot of amazing aromatic scents emerging from your kitchen.
We have seen this dish described as a sensory cooking experience… if you cook this dish multiple times, you will learn to cook it using the sounds, scents textures and colors as your guide through the timing process. Each step is guided by a sensory cue to move on and begin the next step in the recipe. Again - meditative cooking - LOVE IT!
Here we go:
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook until sizzling quiets (about 8 minutes), stirring occasionally.
Jeanne says it is illegal to cook this dish without using a Dutch oven.
And, you notice the first sensory cue - "cooking the sausage until the sizzling quiets"... It’s amazing how accurate this is. The Sausage dropped into the hot oil pops and sizzles while the moisture is cooked out - and over the span of a few minutes settles into a less frantic state and forms the flavor and texture base for the rest of the dish.
Add bell pepper, onion, celery, and bay leaves; cook until vegetables are golden brown, sizzle loudly, and begin to squeak (about 14 minutes), stirring occasionally.
Again we are listening to the cooking. The moisture cooking out is now causing the veggies to "sizzle and squeak"... And the scent of the trinity mixed with the sausage is amazing. We are also now looking for that golden brown color in the veggies that lets us know we are ready for the next step..
Maybe a good time to take another sip of wine.
Add chicken, salt, dried basil, dried oregano, dried thyme, jalapeño pepper, ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, and garlic - cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Not much time here as the Dutch oven is very hot - and these ingredients don’t take long to cook. We are mostly looking for the chicken to turn from translucent to white and even a bit golden brown.
The flavors and spices are really coming together now..
Add tomato puree; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth, and bring to a boil. Stir in rice. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.
These 20 minutes really let the complexity of the ingredients come together and build the layers of spice and flavor that make this dish amazing.
This is also when I make the Martini - spin Jeanne around the kitchen a few times to the jazz music - and of course feed the dog.
After the dog finishes his food - Discard the bay leaves and stir in green onions.
OK here is where we cheat. We don’t add the rice at this point.. We use microwavable steam rice packs and add it when we eat the dish.
As with most flavorful, spicy dishes like this, they taste better the day after cooking as the flavors marinate and settle in. If the rice is added during cooking - it will absorb all the liquid while it cools in the refrigerator. For this reason, we keep the rice and Jambalaya separate. If you are feeding a large group and will be eating most of the dish the same day - then follow the recipe as described and add the rice during cooking.
If you give this dish a try - please let us know how it comes out.
Also - keep in mind Mardi Gras is on March 1st this year. A couple weeks after Valentine's Day, which is a perfect occasion to buy one of Jeanne’s beautiful paintings. The art will last longer than flowers, be healthier than chocolate, and could be a very thoughtful way to let the special person in your life know how much you love them.