Exotic jambalaya

The word "jambalaya" exudes a feeling of folklore and tradition. Those of us who have spent time in New Orleans know the term must have originated there. As Mark Twain aptly put it, "New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin."

Most believe the name came from the Spanish word for ham, "jambon," a prime ingredient in the first jambalayas of the 18th century.

John Mariani, in "The Dictionary of American Food and Drink," offers a colorful origin of the name: "A gentleman stopped by a New Orleans inn late one night to find nothing left for him to eat. The owner told the cook to 'mix some things together,' which, in the dialect of Lousiana, is "balayez."

The joining of "jambon "and "balayez" is history, but the first reference to the word "jambalaya" was printed in "The Picayune's Creole Cook Book" in 1900.

Today, we know jambalaya as a dish where rice is cooked with a meat or seafood and vegetable mixture. It is often prepared with just about any meat, including chicken, sausage, pork, rabbit, beef or seafood. Several meats are often used in one recipe.

The meat is browned, the vegetables are sautéed and then rice, water and stock are added to cook until the rice is tender.

There are many variations on the theme, from shrimp or crab to ground beef and cabbage, to chicken and sausage jambalaya. Here is a versatile rendition to get you started.

As you become more acquainted with this exotic dish, you can vary the seasonings and ingredients to your liking.

I highly recommend making your chicken stock from scratch, rather than using the canned varieties.

Kathryn Hack is a former Madison Valley resident. To reach her, e-mail mptimes@nwlink.com

Ham and Crab Jambalaya (serves four)
Because the base for this is made with chicken stock, it complements almost any set of ingredients.

Rather than ham and crab, you might try chicken and fresh sausage or duck and smoked sausage, or ham with either crayfish or fresh sausage - or anything that strikes your fancy.
  • One shallot
  • 1/2 rib celery
  • One clove garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Two fresh or two canned Italian plum tomatoes
  • One green pepper
  • 1/4 pound smoked ham
  • 1/3 pound crab meat or peeled shrimp
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup uncooked rice
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon minced, flat leafed parsley
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Mince the shallot and celery. You should have 1 tablespoon shallot and 1/4 cup celery. Mash the garlic with 1 teaspoon salt.

Peel and seed the tomatoes or, if using canned, cut into 1/2-inch chunks.

Roast the pepper over a gas flame or charcoal grill or under a broiler until skin is blackened. Remove skin, stem, seeds and ribs. Cut the pepper into 1/4-inch strips.

Cut the ham into 1/4-inch thick strips.

Cut the crab meat into bite-size pieces.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large, heavy pan, heat oil over medium to high heat. Add rice and stir. Cook until rice is coated with oil.

Stir in shallot and celery. Cook until shallot wilts, about two minutes.

Add garlic/salt paste, tomatoes and tomato paste, and stir well. Add parsley, green pepper, stock, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and cayenne. Bring to simmer.

Cover, and put in preheated oven for 17 minutes.

Stir in ham and crab or shrimp and return to oven for three minutes.

Serving: Reheat if necessary, covered, just until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and then serve.

Chicken Stock
The most flexible of stocks, it is good with all flavors, from vegetables to meat and fish.

Simply save spare chicken parts in the freezer until enough accumulate for a batch of stock.

When the stock is made, pour into small containers and freeze until needed.
  • One large onion
  • Three whole cloves
  • Four cloves garlic
  • Two ribs celery
  • Two carrots
  • 4 pounds chicken bones and parts, such as carcass, wing tips, necks and gizzards (no liver).
  • One bay leaf
  • Four whole peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Six sprigs parsley
  • Salt
Halve the onion and stick the cloves in it. Peel the garlic. Chop the celery and carrots.

Put all ingredients, except thyme and parsley, in a large soup pot; add water to cover bones and vegetables completely. Salt very lightly.

Bring water to a boil, skimming off any foam.

Add thyme and parsley. Simmer, partially covered, about three hours.

Strain stock and reduce (by more cooking) to 2 quarts.

Cool, chill and remove fat.[[In-content Ad]]