Please teach me to make jambalaya
October 5, 2014 2:17 AM   Subscribe

For the sake of argument, pretend I know nothing beyond that I'm supposed to use rice and the holy trinity and that I possess above average cooking skills and have the proper equipment.

I'm really just trying to get a fresh look at this dish (I usually make the creole version with tomatoes and shrimp). The versions I make are ok but never as good as the cajun or creole versions I eat at restaurants. Typical problems I encounter are too dry or too sticky rice, lack of depth of flavor or making it too spicy for Mrs Primate and Messrs Primates Jr. Also, now that I've moved back to Holland, there is nary an Andouille to be found. I'm asking here because my cook books and the interwebs provide a terrible signal-to-noise ratio on how to prepare this dish. Thanks!
posted by digitalprimate to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried Alain Bernard on the Albert Cuyp? He's an excellent French butcher, and probably your best bet for Andouille.
posted by daveje at 4:58 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've always used this recipe, with excellent results. I only use one can of tomato paste, though. But browning the tomato paste with the sautéed vegetables adds a lot of depth of flavor.
If you're really worried about the rice sticking you can throw it in a medium-hot (350 Farenheit) oven and bake it off after you add it --- will take a bit longer this way but it's less likely to stick.

Not being able to get andouille will affect the flavor, though --- I might add some smokey bacon or something to make up for it. Or smoked ham if you can get that.
posted by Diablevert at 5:52 AM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think I make a damn good jambalaya. I modify this recipe:

My first secret is to just let it sit and cook until it's at the desired consistency. Ignore what the Internet says about cook times, as they will vary by your pot and your recipe. The cook time on my recipe is way off, it says 35 minutes but really it's at least 45 minutes (+ 15 minutes per additional 4 servings if you choose to scale up, which it does well). The trick is to just let it cook for however long it needs to reach your desired consistency. I like it a little wet so you might have to cook for longer. Regardless, don't be a slave to the clock - let it sit until it's at the moistness you like. Once you’ve experimented with cook times you can get a feel for how long your particular (pot + recipe) combo takes.

The second secret is: as it sits and cooks (and it will sit, and sit, and sit...) taste it and adjust seasoning as necessary. If your jambalaya tastes flat, there are four underappreciated things that are likely candidates for what you’re missing: salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic. Worcestershire sauce is severely underappreciated - it gives a hearty base flavor that is hard to detect unless you're looking for it, but without enough Worcestershire the whole dish seems flat - spicy but without flavor. I usually quadruple the amount of Worcestershire sauce at the beginning, and then add a significant amount more to taste. Garlic has a similar role - you won't taste much garlic in Jambalaya, but it provides a taste base that makes everything else better. So experiment with adding more garlic, maybe 1.5-2 times as much to start. Then when everything is cooking, feel free to taste and add salt and pepper as you like. Jambalaya is a bold dish, don’t hesitate to add plenty. If you end up using the recipe I linked to, I usually add a little more cayenne, creole seasoning, and hot sauce to taste, but it’s less likely that you’re adding too little of those because everyone thinks of the spicy stuff first. Start by adding more of the less-spicy, more base flavors, and you’ll get a flavorful batch that isn’t too spicy.

While we’re at it, there’s also a chance that you don’t have enough onions and celery. I assume that any recipe you have would have those (and bell peppers) in enough supply, but onions and celery also impart some of those important base flavors so make sure you have plenty of those.

Finally, I used to make my Jambalaya too spicy for my wife. I realized that a spiciness level that is perfect for a single taste is too much for a while bowl, because spices tend to stick around on your tongue and become cumulative. So I would under-spice it by just a little bit. Cayanne, creole seasoning, and hot sauce are pretty easy to stir in after the fact, and as long as you have some of them in the dish while it’s cooking they are are fine to just add on to the finished dish. So feel free to under-spice and add some to just your bowl.
posted by Tehhund at 6:04 AM on October 5, 2014 [13 favorites]

Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen was my first and only cajun cookbook. His jambalaya was the best I'd ever tasted, better than any of the cajun restaurants that sprung up in the 1980s, and a little better than my New Orleans born and raised mama's. The recipes have many ingredients and time consuming steps. They're worth it.

I can often improve a recipe. Anything I did to Chef Paul's came out second best.

The book sold very well. Maybe you can find it a library. If not, it's at Amazon.
posted by Homer42 at 6:11 AM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Following up on something Homer42 said: I love finding ways to make recipes faster and cut out time-consuming steps. I can't think of any way to cut out time-consuming steps or otherwise speed up Jambalaya that wouldn't compromise the recipe.
posted by Tehhund at 6:31 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've had decent jambalaya when I used linguica instead of andouille. Linguica is nominally portuguese, so probably more available in Holland than Andoille.

I don't know what you're seeing in your recipes, but as far as I know, it goes something like this:

Slice and brown your sausage. Remove sausage, retain fat, or at least a couple tablespoons to coat hth bottom of your pot. Add your chopped trinity and garlic and cook until fragrant, maybe a little brown, though you add any garlic last, since it'll cook up the fastest. Add your tomatoes, stock/liquid, bay leaves and spices and start stewing. Cook your rice in this liquid until it's a bit short of being done. Add your sausage and shrimp and cook the shrimp to completion. The idea is to time this so the rice finishes at the same time as the shrimp. Shrimp and sausage will tend to surface during the simmer, so stir them under so they can cook and add flavor.

If you're doing chicken along with sausage and shrimp, you can either cook it with the sausage and add it later, or cook it at the and, alongside the shrimp. If you do the latter, make sure you've got it in small dice, and make sure it cooks through. If whatever you cook up front isn't giving off fat, you'll have to add a tablespoon or two of oil to brown your veggies.

Your spices will include dried herbs, onion powder probably, and then the heat. You can add heat later, but it's awfully hard to subtract it, so I would stick with paprika (sweet will just add color, smokey would be great here, and spicy should be added in moderation so you don't nuke the sensitive palates in the house), and a pinch of cayenne, just a pinch at this stage. You can add heat on a per-serving basis with pepper sauce (e.g. tabasco) if your family can't take all the heat you want.

Also, if you want to make this a day ahead ahead, don't hesitate. The flavors will marry in the fridge overnight, and it'll taste fantastic this way or as leftovers.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:35 AM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Re the andouille issue, for some reason my mom always subbed in kielbasa (despite the fact that I grew up in Cajun country, don't know if it was obscure family tradition or it was cheaper at the supermarket or what). So there's no reason you couldn't just go with a sausage of that ilk that's local to you. I mean, Louisiana sausagemaking came from Europe. It's silly to think that you can't reverse engineer a sort of fusion-ish European jambalaya.

Re all the rest of the problems, those are things that plague my jambalayas as well, so I'm at a loss.

Nthing that you want a flavorful, not "spicy" result, and that stuff like Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves (at least two or three, and leave them in until the dish hits the table), garlic, sauteeing your onions down a little more, browning the tomato paste, etc. is probably the missing piece in terms of flavor. Most Cajun food isn't actually that spicy.
posted by Sara C. at 10:17 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Brown your sausage WAY more than you think you should at the start of Sunburnt's instructions. Then when you put your veggies in, they will loosen and incorporate all the nearly-burnt bits at the bottom of your cast-iron pot (you are using cast iron, right?) which will be full of flavor. I also put my rice in before my chicken stock so it can get that initial hit of flavor.

We don't use Worcestershire or tomatoes.

Finally, after I'm satisfied with the doneness of the rice, I take the pot off the heat, give it a good stir, and put the lid back on to let it rest for five minutes. I don't know why, but magic happens in those five minutes.
posted by Night_owl at 11:46 AM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Like Night_owl, I add my rice towards the end of the trinity sauté, before adding stock and tomatoes. It gives the grains a less sticky, more pilaf-like consistency. You're using a long grained rice like a basmati, right?
posted by mumkin at 1:16 PM on October 5, 2014

Hmm, I forgot about that, but I have heard of getting the rice at the end of the saute' which gets the oil into the rice grains. It might prevent them from sticking, it might fry up their husks just a tiny bit, I dunno. It might help with the sticky rice issue either way.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:53 PM on October 5, 2014

Response by poster: Also don't do this.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:23 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

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