by Lynn Kerrigan
My first taste of authentic jambalaya sent fire coursing down my throat—a flame that stayed bright until it reached my belly, lighting it up like a Christmas tree. No sweat. I love spicy food and HAD to have this recipe.
"You fry up some green pepper, celery, onion and garlic, then add your tomatoes for the sauce." A vendor told me in his singsong Creole drawl when I asked him for the recipe. "Then you take some broth, add your meats and seafood—whatever you're going to use, add the rice and heaps of red and white pepper, then heat through." This imprecise enactment of how to construct jambalaya wasn't what I had in mind so I consulted my cookbook collection and found as many varieties of jambalaya as flavors of ice cream. The recipe below is a conglomeration of them all.
I suspect Jambalaya grew up as a catchall soup or stew—a repository for food scraps and leftovers that tend to accumulate in every household. In order to eliminate throwing good food to the wolves, one tosses it all into a big pot, heats it up and serves it with hunks of crusty bread and plenty of cooling liquid to fan the flames. Jambalaya is neither soup nor stew—it's a cross between the two—supposedly a derivative of Spanish paella.
Most foodies believe that "jambalaya" is from the Spanish word for ham, jamon. Food folklorist, John Mariani, offers another explanation. Late one evening, a traveler stopped at a New Orleans dining establishment but it was near closing time and there was nothing left to eat. The inn's owner told his cook, Jean, to "mix some odds and ends of food together"—or in Louisiana dialect to "balayez." The hungry traveler dubbed the dish "Jean Balayez."
You may choose from a variety of meats or seafood to make your own jambalaya. When I make the dish for company, I use shrimp and ham. A less expensive version may be made with chicken and/or sausage. Or you may want to mix some of each into the pot. Whatever you choose, the "meal in a pot" will taste very complicated, very gourmet and like nothing else you've had before.
Let the fires begin.
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This page created January 2000
Copyright © 1998-2001, Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.
This page modified February 2007