Folks in Gonzales, Louisiana, take jambalaya seriously.
For nearly 40 years, their annual Jambalaya Festival has celebrated the local Cajun chicken-and-rice specialty, with cooking contests to crown the World Champion, Mini-Pot Champion, the champion team of firefighter jambalaya makers, and even the Champ of Champions. Hundreds of teams and individuals compete each year, and more than 50,000 people come to taste and test. The contest rules specify these ingredients:
Preliminary round: 30 lbs. chicken; 10 lbs rice
Semi-Finals: 45 lbs. chicken; 15 lbs rice
Finals: 60 lbs. chicken; 20 lbs. rice
Other ingredients and seasonings to be chosen from the following: Yellow Onions, Garlic (Fresh & Granulated), Green Onions, Red Pepper, Red Hot Sauce, Bell Peppers, Celery, Salt, Black Pepper, Cooking Oil
NO OTHER PERSONAL SEASONING ALLOWED IN THE COOKING AREA.
Wait a minute....no Beef Hot Links? Are they kidding????
The word jambalaya (pronounced jum-bo-LIE -ah) derives from jambon, from the French meaning ham, and aya, an African word for rice. Jambon. Ham. Sausage. So where's the meat???
Now, believe me when I tell you that I am a girl who takes my jambalaya seriously. Now. But until I visited Louisiana, I'd never even tasted jambalaya. I didn't keep more than one hot sauce in the pantry. I never ate spicy food.
And I don't eat pork.
In New Orleans, it was the age of Paul Prud'homme, and I fell in love with the food: fresh Gulf shrimp, etoufee, dirty rice, blackened everything. And me-oh-my-ah, jambalaya. I'd pick around the andouille sausage, but I couldn't stop eating the spicy rice. And I started collecting recipes, trying to figure out how to make jambalaya without the sausage.
Luckily, it also was the age of Amy's, a line of gourmet chicken sausages made by third-generation sausage maker Amy Kurzawski. Soon, many varieties of non-pork spicy smoked sausage appeared in local shops and online sources.
Easy to find at my local supermarket, Hillshire Farms Beef Hot Links are a pantry mainstay for bean soups, jambalaya, pie-ella, pasta concoctions, and kabobs cooked on the grill. They're not marketed as "Cajun style", but they contain chile peppers (an essential ingredient) and give a mild kick. Beef Hot Links do have pork casings, and I'm okay with that, but be sure to check labels if this is an issue for you. Chicken andouille (which occasionally comes in pork casings, too) adds a wonderful flavor, but gives up less fat into the dish; you may need to add a few teaspoons of butter and olive oil to compensate.
With many wonderful spicy smoked sausages on the market these days, you're sure to find a favorite. Stash some in your freezer. And by all means add it to your jambalaya, where it belongs — no matter what those folks in Gonzales say.
Lydia's very famous jambalaya
This is a rustic dish, so proportions are not terribly important. The level of heat is entirely up to you. You can make this with regular (pork) hot links, or andouille, or chicken andouille, or any spicy smoked sausage you like. Serve with sauteed dark greens (kale is good), and pecan cookies for dessert. Serves 6.
3 Tbsp butter
1 lb hot smoked sausage , sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 onions, chopped (3/4-inch – fairly large)
1 large green bell pepper, chopped (same as onion)
3 stalks celery, chopped (same as onion)
1-1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
4-6 cloves garlic, minced, or a large dollop of crushed garlic in a jar
1 handful dried oregano (approx 1-1/2 Tbsp)
1/2 handful dried thyme leaf (approx 3/4 Tbsp)
4 large dried bay leaves
1 Tbsp black pepper
Hot sauce, to taste (from 4 drops to 4 ounces)
8 oz tomato sauce (1 small can)
1 lb chopped or diced canned tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium store-bought)
2 cups long grain white rice
1 lb peeled, deveined large shrimp, 26-30 size (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a 6-quart or 8-quart stock pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add sausage, and cook, stirring occasionally, until quite brown and sticking to the bottom of the pot, aprox. 10 minutes. Add onion, green pepper and celery, and cook, stirring, 5 minutes or until onion is translucent. Turn heat to high, and add chicken. Stir frequently, 2-3 minutes, until chicken is “seized” (no longer pink on the outside). Reduce heat to medium-low, stir in garlic, oregano, thyme, bay leaves and black pepper, and stir 1-2 minutes. Add hot sauce, and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and tomatoes. Stir to combine, and cover. Cook 8-10 minutes, stirring once. Uncover, add chicken stock, and bring to the boil. Turn off heat, and stir in the rice. Cover the pot, and place in the oven. Bake for 1 hour. (Add shrimp after the jambalaya has been baking for 50 minutes.) Turn off oven, and let pot sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
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