Jambalaya: New Orleans Forgotten

October 27, 2009

(New Orleans food is) delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.
~Mark Twain

GW “Bushism” as an inspirational speaker? Is this reality or an eerie subconscious image? George Bush is now pawning himself off as America’s Top $19 Motivational Orator (and that offer goes for an entire office). It is Halloween season so this must be the black cat’s meow…adorned in a costume with a cheesy bright plaid jacket and bad shoes. Speak to us, oh wise one—but, someday please become acquainted with your cradle language, Mr. Bush.

It seems almost decades ago that former President Bush delivered a prime time address to the nation from Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans over two weeks after cruel Katrina churned the city and displaced a million people. He had just emerged from another of his lengthy cowboy role-playing-woodcutting sojourns at the Crawford ranch only to do a flyby peek out of a speeding Air Force One portal over the ravaged region.

On that evening in the French Quarter, displaying his usual feigned braggadocio, Bush arrogantly strode to a podium in Jackson Square to assure the people: “We will do what it takes.” Really John Wayne? To put it mildly, his speech was born of pretense and wholly lacked his promised action—what he did do was little to nothing. He flat dropped the ball and those less silver spooned than he were cruelly forgotten and left to suffer. Perhaps his legacy will suffer a similar fate.

The Big Easy, The Crescent City, The City That Care Forgot. Not quite like the more homogenous English settlements on the Massachusetts and Chesapeake Bays on the Atlantic side, New Orleans served as a cornucopian cultural gateway, where peoples from France, Spain and Africa melded disparate customs and cuisines. New Orleans has garnered and guarded its own special ways…ensuring that English was not the prevailing language, that Protestantism was scorned, public education unheralded, and democratic government untried. All the while its distinctive cuisine has reigned supreme.

A word on the word. Much like its city of origin, the word jambalaya has mysterious roots. Some suggest that it evolves from the French jambon (ham) coupled with a la (in the style of) while others assert that jambalaya comes from the Provençal word jambalaia, meaning a “mixture” or “blend” and also connoting a pilau (pilaf) of rice.

JAMBALAYA

2 t sea salt
2 t white pepper
2 t dry mustard
2 t gumbo filé
2 t cumin
2 t black pepper
2 t dried thyme

4 chicken leg thigh quarters
3 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil or duck fat

3/4 lb tasso or high quality smoked ham, diced into 1/4″ cubes
3/4 lb andouille sausage, cut into 1/4″ slices

1 C red bell peppers, chopped
1 C green or yellow peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 C celery, chopped
1 1/2 C yellow onion, peeled and chopped
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced

6 sprigs thyme, stemmed and finely minced
3 bay leaves
1 C canned San Marzano tomatoes, chopped with juice
1 T tomato paste
1/3 C dry white wine
1 t red pepper sauce
1/4 t hot pepper flakes

2 C long grain rice
4 C chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Green onions, chopped (for garnish)

Combine seasoning mix ingredients (first 7 items) in a small bowl, then rub over chicken. Retain any which is not used for later. In a large heavy Dutch oven, heat butter and olive oil or duck fat over medium high heat. Add chicken pieces and sauté until brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove, set aside and tent. Add the tasso and andouille, and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the peppers, onions and celery and sauté until the onions begin to soften and become translucent; then add leftover seasoning mix and garlic and cook several minutes more. Do not brown.

Now, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, chicken stock, red pepper sauce, pepper flakes, bay leaves and thyme along with the tasso and andouille sausage. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and continue to cook until flavors are completely blended, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice until well coated. Reduce heat and simmer for about 8-10 minutes. Add the stock and chicken, bring the mixture to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, over medium low heat until the rice is cooked al dente, about 15-20 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve garnished with green onions.

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