Taste the Big Easy 

Jambalaya, crawfish pie, filé gumbo
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

These words — immortalized by Hank Williams Sr. in the tune “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” — conjure up the flavors of the title dish, a Louisiana favorite. Many cultures have indigenous rice dishes: fried rice in China, risotto in Italy, jollof rice in Africa, the biryanis of India and the paella of Spain. In the Southern United States, none is more popular than jambalaya, a rice-based mixture of meats, poultry or seafood — and sometimes all three — with vegetables, spices and broth, cooked together to create a true delicacy.

Here’s a favorite recipe: if it sounds complicated, don’t be daunted. Prepare all of the ingredients ahead of time, and the actual cooking will be a breeze. The only utensils required are a knife, a cutting board, a lidded pot and a wooden spoon; the rest is up to you. Use the freshest ingredients you can find.

 

Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya

1/4 cup of oil
1 pound of andouille sausage or another smoked sausage — preferably pork, either thinly sliced or cut into half-inch cubes. I recommend Marciante’s brand available at the Davison Fish Market
1 whole chicken (or 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breasts) cut into bite-sized pieces
Seasoning for chicken: 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Alternatively, use 2 teaspoons of Creole seasoning like Zatarain’s or Tony Chachere’s.
2 chopped onions
1 chopped bell pepper
2 stalks of chopped celery
2 cloves minced garlic
2 or 3 coarsely chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned, drained — optional
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of white rice — Uncle Ben’s converted rice will keep its shape and hold well
3 to 4 cups of chicken stock
Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce — I’m a Tabasco fan.
1/2 cup of parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup of green onions, finely chopped
If omitting tomatoes, add 1 tablespoon Kitchen Bouquet seasoning.

Season the chicken, letting it absorb the flavors for at least an hour; sealing it in a plastic bag works well. In a large skillet or pot with a cover, sauté the sausage in the oil over medium heat until the fat has been rendered out. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon, leaving the remaining oil in the pan (this will add flavor to the chicken).

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken, stirring until browned. Remove the chicken and place aside; add the onions, peppers and celery — known as the “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking — and stir until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, chicken, sausage and tomatoes if you are using them (if so, reduce the stock by about a cup). Stir in the rice, add the stock, the bay leaves, a shot or two of Tabasco and Worcestershire and the tablespoon of Kitchen Bouquet if omitting tomatoes.

Bring it all to a boil, then reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Stir it only once; repeated stirring will break the rice grains. Cover the pot and let simmer for about 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for five minutes. The rice should be tender and somewhat dry. Adjust the seasonings if necessary. The jambalaya is now ready to serve. Garnish with the green onions and parsley or serve them on the side with a bottle of hot sauce.

This dish travels well, especially in a heavy pot that retains the heat. It also makes for great leftovers. The varieties of jambalaya are numerous: Among the more unusual ingredients are short ribs, wild game and alligator, which tastes like pork to me.

Try this dish with some of the other legendary treats of Creole and Cajun cuisine: blackened fish, gumbo, oysters (served a dozen different ways), shrimp Creole, crawfish étoufée, red beans and rice or barbecued shrimp (which aren’t really cooked on a grill, but in a skillet in butter and seasonings). The use of fresh seafood and produce harvested in the area practically assure a chef’s success.

 

Louisiana products, such as fresh or frozen seafood, tasso — a hot, smoked ham — cookbooks and cooking utensils are available online. Try jambalayapots.com for cooking pots and gumbopages.com for recipes.

 

Cookbook picks: Eula Mae’s Cajun Kitchen: Cooking Through the Seasons on Avery Island by Eula Mae Doré and Marcelle R. Bienvenu and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen by Paul Prudhomme.

 

Davison Fish and Seafood Market is located at 1520 E. Seven Mile Road, Detroit. Call 313-893-1106.

Jeff Broder is a chowhound for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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