Cajun Jambalaya

I watch an absurd amount of television. There’s a long list of shows I consider “must-see,” most of which are guilty pleasures (see: Outsourced, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of everywhere and Nick at Nite reruns of The Nanny) and others slightly less embarrassing to admit (30 Rock, Parks and Rec, Community, Modern Family, Parenthood, etc. [yes, there's a lot more]).

My Wednesdays follow a strict schedule: The Middle at 8, a half-hour break for cleaning up after dinner, Modern Family at 9 and now Mr. Sunshine at 9:30 (though I was equally into Cougar Town — Wednesday nights have been good to former Friends).  Then, perhaps most important, Top Chef All-Stars.

I’ve been a loyal Top Chef fan since Season 1, watching religiously and visiting Harold Dieterle’s Perilla in the West Village and Spike Mendelsohn’s D.C. burger joint (Bryan Voltaggio’s VOLT in Frederick, Md. is next). Top Chef All-Stars brought back most of my favorites — Carla Hall, Richard Blais and Fabio Viviani — so I’ve been glued to the screen, even getting my cousin hooked.

A few weeks ago, while the chefs lived yet another one of my dreams (all you can shop! At Target!), Tiffany Derry made jambalaya using a packaged seasoning blend. Tom Colicchio was offended by such a thing and as my love for Tom knows no bounds, when my cousin suggested we make jambalaya for dinner last week, I resolved to make it with my own spices.

Given that I have absolutely no experience with Louisiana cooking, I turned to the master of the bayou: Emeril Lagasse.  He offered a Creole “Bayou Blast” seasoning at the end of his Cajun jambalaya recipe* that I planned to appropriate, which included paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, oregano and thyme. Then I went to the grocery store, promptly forgot that the Bayou Blast seasoning was a separate recipe from the jambalaya recipe, and ended up accidently buying Cajun seasoning in a green tin that looks suspiciously like what Tiffany used.

Alas, my jambalaya will never be considered up to par in the eyes of my beloved Tom.

But thankfully, it was considered pretty awesome by my family. Proof that the adage “too many cooks spoil the broth” may be a wee bit outdated, halfway through the cooking process my cousin, aunt and I began dumping spices and hot sauces into the jambalaya with reckless abandon, creating a knock-your-socks-off end result that was smoky, tangy, spicy and HOT. I bet Emeril at least would approve.

*Emeril used a Creole seasoning to make a Cajun jambalaya, which to me, sounds like the two words are interchangeable. But based on my research, they aren’t, and refer to two different subcultures within Louisiana. Creole people were descendants of the French and Spanish colonizers of the Louisiana region, while the Cajuns were descendants of Acadians, members of a French colony founded in what is now Canada in the 1630s. After the British ousted the Acadians in 1755, they migrated and resettled in the Louisiana region.

Creole and Cajun cuisine differs slightly: according to About.com (where I get all my info these days), Cajun cuisine is big on hearty seafood stews, like jambalaya and etouffee, while Creole cuisine relies more on rich sauces, like in shrimp creole or grillades and grits. Like I said, I’ve never been to the area, so I have no idea how much stock people put in this distinction nowadays. Hmmm…research trip anyone?

Also, this recipe comes just in time for Mardi Gras on Tuesday, March 8. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Cajun Jambalaya
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

– 12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails removed

– 4 ounces chicken, diced

– 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (I added Emeril’s recipe below just in case, though we of course used a prepackaged blend)

– 2 tablespoons olive oil

– 1/2 cup chopped onion

– 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

– 1/2 cup chopped celery

– 3 tablespoons chopped garlic

– 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

– 3 bay leaves

– 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

– 1 tablespoon hot sauce (we used Tabasco)

– 1 teaspoon ketchup

– 1/2 teaspoon paprika

– 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

– 3/4 cup rice

– 3 cups chicken stock (we forgot to buy some, so we used 1 cup beef stock and two cups water)

– 8 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced

– salt and pepper, to taste

1) Toss the shrimp and chicken with the Creole seasoning in a medium bowl.

2) In a large saucepan, heat the oil on high and add the onions, celery and peppers. Saute for 3 minutes and then add the tomatoes, garlic, Worcestershire and hot sauces, bay leaves, paprika and cayenne.

3) Stir in rice and add broth/water. Simmer on medium until rice absorbs most of the liquid and becomes tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3) Add the shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage. Simmer until the meat is cooked, about 10 minutes. Stir in the ketchup and add salt and pepper as necessary. Serve with chopped parsley if desired.

Emeril’s ‘Bayou Blast’ Creole Seasoning
Yield: 2/3 cup

– 2-1/2 tablespoons paprika

– 2 tablespoons salt

– 2 tablespoons garlic powder

– 1 tablespoon black pepper

– 1 tablespoon onion powder

– 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

– 1 tablespoon dried oregano

– 1 tablespoon dried thyme

1) Mix all of the spices well.

[print recipe in PDF form]

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