Pump Up the Jam(balaya) {jambalaya}

Nothing like a little Technotronic for you first thing in the morning. That song has me itching to head to Skate Inn East on Friday night for some awkward middle school socializing.

Unfortunately for you, this post isn’t dedicated to anecdotes from my tweens, rather it’s a happy tale of jokes and snacks for all to enjoy. Maybe one day I’ll bring you behind the scenes of what it was like to be flat-chested, short-haired (and permed) and rocking a Limited Too tie at the skating rink. (Hint: gender-bending and generally unfortunate.) But for now, let’s skip the 90’s and head into my early 20’s to give you some background on this recipe.

When I moved to Atlanta right out of college my first salary was $22,000. American dollars. This millennium. I had no credit cards because I had no credit and the only way I could survive living in the big city was to get creative. I decided to reach out to a couple families I had met over the previous two summers at my job out west and offer up my babysitting and tutoring skills. Perhaps I was good at both of these things or perhaps the family who took me under their wing really pitied my situation, but either way I spent 2-3 nights per week tutoring or babysitting two sweet girls in a fancy house in a fancy neighborhood.

The mom was beautiful – homecoming queen at Ole Miss beautiful. And she was originally from New Orleans. It was fun to be around their house in February with king cakes and talk of the Krewes and parties and dinners at Galatoire’s. She was also a good cook and usually had something tasty on the stove for me and the girls when I would come to babysit. One such dinner was Jambalaya – something I had never tasted before despite the fact that my family (pre-me, though) lived in New Orleans. She was kind enough to share this recipe with me for Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya from the Jr. League of New Orleans Cookbook. That sounds pretty legit to me.

I hadn’t cooked this in a while but when my Christmas present from my father arrived on the doorstep, I saw a great opportunity present itself. Let me just say, dads are the greatest, aren’t they? I opened the refrigerated box and was greeted by the “Just for him” gift basket: an array of beef jerky, pork products and rubs from our favorite place, Striplings. With the smoked sausage and ham staring at me, I knew that Jambalaya was on the horizon and with all the talk of the Saints and LSU over the past week, it was top-of-mind.

If you’re not blessed with a meat-mailing-male figure in your life, you can pick up smoked sausage from the store and the ham is optional (in my opinion). Here’s the rest of the ingredients for the jamby:

  • 1 small chicken*
  • 1 rib celery, with leaves*
  • 1 onion, halved*
  • 1 clove garlic*
  • 2 cups long grain rice
  • 1 lb. smoked sausage
  • 1 lb. ham, cubed
  • Olive oil/butter
  • 1 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 3/4 cup bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup parsley, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. tabasco

*The first four ingredients are for making chicken stock and picking a chicken for the meat. This is all laid out for you in my chicken stock post. So I’m going to skip this part and assume that you now have 2 cups of chicken stock on hand and the meat from one chicken picked and ready to go.

The chicken stock and meat part is the most demanding component of this entire recipe. From here on out it’s chop and drop for the most part. Get all your goodies prepped.

Now, let me interject here that this recipe feeds a lot of people. Many. Like I do with a lot of other recipes, I try to find a stopping point in the cooking process where I can freeze something. This recipe is similar to the goulash recipe in that I stop before I add the rice (or pasta in the other case) so I can freeze a portion of what I’m cooking for later. I don’t like freezing cooked rice or pasta but I don’t like wasting a lot of food.

So, I’m going to tell you to cook 1 cup of rice in 2 cups of stock to make enough to add to 1/2 of the chicken/sausage base. If you want to feed about 12 people, go ahead and cook 2 cups of rice in 4-5 cups of stock or water and add all of that to the meat/pepper/onion mixture. If you want to freeze some of this, pull out half of the meat mixture before you add the smaller amount of rice. Make sense? If not, leave a comment.

Let’s press on. In a large dutch oven over medium-high heat, saute the sausage and ham until lightly browned (about 5 minutes).

Once you’re browned, pull out the pork and drain off any fat that has accumulated in the pan. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil (or butter if you’re so inclined) and saute the onion, pepper and parsley until tender. About 3-4 minutes. I use red bell pepper because I think it’s prettier and green bell pepper gives me indigestion. It’s up to you.

Until

Now add in the chicken, sausage, ham, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper and tabasco.

Stir until everything is coated. At this point, I put the lid on and let everything meld together for about 10 minutes. This is also the time when I pull out half of what’s in the pot and set aside for the freezer.

Add the cooked rice to the pot and combine. Cook for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Now it’s time to eat! As with most things that come out of one pot, I serve with a salad and/or baguette if you can get your hands on a good one (harder than it should be).

When you want to serve the frozen portion, just thaw it in the fridge overnight, heat it up in a large pot and add new cooked rice and mix it all up good. You’re all set.

All you Saints fans should have this on deck for Saturday’s game. And, as a Falcon’s fan, I must say: Go Niners.

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