“Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and filé gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m going to see ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gayo,
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou”
-The Carpenters, Jambalaya
This weekend the 28th cajun music and food festival is being held in Lake Charles, Louisiana and jambalaya, gumbo, cracklins and many more Cajun dishes are on offer.
I first started researching recipes for jambalaya after watching the vintage (1987) classic film, The Big Easy. I won’t say it’s a brilliant film, but it’s interesting both in terms of the history and context (it’s set in Louisiana in the eighties); and also in terms of its theme (when is police corruption true corruption, and when is it ‘justifiable playing of the game’). The soundtrack includes some gorgeous cajun music, and in the clip below you hear Dennis Quaid performing Closer to You, a song he wrote himself. The two main protagonists of the film are Remy (policeman employing some ‘creative’ approaches to catching baddies) and Anne (goodie-goodie district attorney tasked with stamping out corruption) and in the clip below Anne has been kidnapped by Remy’s uncle and brought to a party where his family is celebrating her own lost case against corruption….
Jambalaya is an African dish which acquired a French or Spanish (‘jamba’ meaning ham and ‘paella’ meaning rice) influence when made in the carribean and American south. The French/New Orleans dish is part of Creole cuisine, while the Louisiana version is Cajun. The creole jambalaya uses tomato whereas the Cajun version does not. See my post on the difference between Cajun and Creole cooking for more information.
Traditionally jambalaya is made outdoors in the massive black iron pots which were used for boiling sugar cane syrup. These pots are so big the stirring has to be done with small oars or canoe paddles. So, from that you can deduce that you can make it in large quantities, ahead of time, and so it’s ideal for parties.
This is an adapted recipe which, in addition to the ham also includes prawns and sausage in the base of rice. The way I make it, cooking the rice separately and using Basmati, it’s more of a jambalaya pilaf! If you want to make it in the traditional style which is heavier and gloopier, fry in a big pot all the non-rice ingredients first, add the rice and continue to fry for a couple of minutes, then add the liquid, cover, and simmer for about twenty minutes more, adding liquid if it seems needed.
Recipe for Saucy version of jambalaya
- 3 cups (720 ml) – the important point here is that it is twice the amount of the rice – water
- 1 knob of butter (approx 10g)
- 1½ cups (10½ oz, 300g) of basmati rice – Tilda or Badshah is the best most easily available. For more about basmati and why it’s so special go here.
- 2 beef stock cubes
- olive oil to fry
- 450g big fat juicy peeled prawns
- 225g/8 oz block of crumbed ham which you cut into cubes
- 450g/1 lb Toulouse smoked sausage or herby sausages
- 1 red onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 red pepper, roughly chopped
- 2 fat cloves garlic crushed with 1 teaspoon smoked salt
- about 15 grinds of Indonesian long black pepper
- 1 tsp good quality (go here to find out more) dark soy sauce
- about 1 tbsp fresh thyme
- Boil water.
2. Put butter in a casserole dish and melt.
3. Add rice, stir to cover with the melted butter (this helps to keep the grains separate).
4. Measure out one cup of boiling water, dissolve the stock cubes in it.
5. Add the stock and the rest of the water.
6. Put the lid on the pan and either put in the bottom right aga oven for 15 minutes, or turn down the heat of the hob and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, resisting the temptation to fiddle with it! You don’t want to damage the delicate grains, the starch will be released and it will become sticky and stodgy. Also, if you take the lid off to look steam will escape, water will be lost, the temperature will drop and you will extend the cooking time.
7. Meanwhile fry first the onion, then a couple of minutes later add the sausage, then the pepper and garlic, and the prawns. Fry for about five minutes stirring all the time.
8. Towards the end of the whole process add the ham, the thyme and the soy sauce.
9. By now it will be time to go back to the rice. If you notice any liquid in the rice when you tip the saucepan it probably needs a couple of minutes longer.
10. Once finished you can cover with a tea towel for a two or three minutes and then fluff up with a fork.
11. If it needs to be kept warm for more time then put the lid back on otherwise it will dry out, but the sooner it’s eaten the better.
Closer To You, from The Big Easy