Friday, January 20, 2012

Soul, Spice and Beer

You know what I haven't done in a while? Write about food. Now that the mercury has dropped, taking Albany from what was a relatively mild winter into the clutches of an arctic tundra, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of warmer climates. My personal favorite warm climate—New Orleans, Louisiana. An' nuthin' remind me mo' of New Orlins' den homemade jambalaya—especially one made with beer!

I've written about the soft spot in my heart for the Big Easy, before. Amy and I spent a week down there on out honeymoon, in 2003. I've always been fascinated by Cajun and Creole cuisine and that trip solidified my interest. The first thing we did when we got back was unpack—but after that, I went and bought a beautiful, cast iron dutch oven—that and a good cast iron skillet are go-to tools in any good southern kitchen. I'm not talking about $150, Le Creuset, enamel-coated, fancy-pants cast iron—I'm talking pebbly, black as coal, heavy-duty, bad-ass cast iron. These are things could be used as a boat anchor if you needed one—they're no joke. With cast iron in hand, I set about developing and arsenal of Louisiana recipes, and at top of the list, was jambalaya. It's taken eight years, but I've finally gotten it where it needs to be.

Before I get in to the nuts and bolts of the recipe, let me give you a little background on this delectable dish. Jambalaya is, basically, rice, meat (or seafood) and veggies cooked together, in a savory stock. When the rice has absorbed all of the stock, it's done—it really couldn't be simpler. It's similar to the Spanish dish paella, minus the saffron; and some say it's the result of trying to make paella in the New World—without the aforementioned spice. Since New Orleans was controlled by the Spanish for a number of years, I'll buy that. Historically, there are two variations of jambalaya—Creole, or red jambalaya with tomatoes, and Cajun, or brown jambalaya, without tomatoes. The theory is the closer to New Orleans you get, the more that tomatoes appear in recipes. This stems from the ideas that way back when, Creoles lived in the city, where tomatoes were easily grown, while Cajuns lived, and continue to live, in the swamps and on the bayous, where tomatoes were harder to come by. I make a Creole version, because it seems to exemplify New Orleans, to me. The term creole in New Orleans was used, originally in the 18th and early 19th centuries, to differentiate those born in the new world, of French or Spanish heritage, from those born in Europe of the same background. It wouldn't be until much later that the association of African or Caribbean heritage and race would come into play. Either way, Creole jambalaya takes it's inspiration from all three cultures, French, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean—just like it's birthplace, the French Quarter of New Orleans—and that's why I like it.

This jambalaya isn't necessarily hot, but it is highly spiced so, know that going in. Let's get to it—first up the spice mix. You can use a store bought one, but if you're inclined, here's mine:

1-1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt 

1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp granulated onion
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix everything together in a small bowl. It makes about 2-1/2 tablespoons—that sounds like a lot, but it works—trust me, it'll be fine.

Onto the jambalaya itself:

1 lb boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
1 lb andouille sausage, sliced into rounds (any spicy, smoked cooked sausage will do, but andouille is traditional)
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice
1Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cups of chicken broth or stock
Beer (something malty rather than hoppy)
Hot sauce, to your liking
2 cups parboiled, converted long grain rice (it's important to use this, other rice gets too sticky)
Spice mix split into 2 and 5 tsps
Olive oil
Salt and cracked black pepper
Green onion (green part only), sliced
Parsley, chopped

Cut the chicken into bite size chunks, place into a zip top bag, add 2 tsp of spice mix, toss to coat. Put the chicken in the fridge for a few hours to soak up the spice. Just before you begin to brown the meat, pour the tomatoes into a 16 oz measuring cup, top off with the beer and Worcestershire sauce then let them hang out until your ready to add it, so everybody can get to know each other. When your ready to cook, get your burner up to medium high, add a little oil to your dutch oven or pot—cast iron or otherwise, as long as it has a tight lid. Brown the sliced sausage, until just crispy and then scoop it out onto a paper towel covered plate. In the andouille infused oil, brown the chunked chicken until cooked through and golden. Now it's the veggies turn in the pool. Turn the burner down to medium and cook them until they are softened and the onion is translucent This is the perfect time to season everything, so add a little s and p. Crank up the heat to high, put the sausage back into the pot—along with the reserved 5 teaspoons of spice mix, hot sauce, and rice. Stir it all together and let it cook for a minute or two. Add the tomato, beer and Worcestershire combination, and chicken stock, then bring to a boil. Reduce the temp to low. Cover and let everything do it's thing for 25 minutes. When it's ready to go, scoop out into bowls and top with the sliced green onion and parsley.


Now, to the beer part. Why does it always take me so long to get to the beer when I write about food—do I ramble? Don't answer that. I need something that will temper the spice in this dish. There are a lot of bold flavors in this one— veggie aromatics, savory sausage and heat and spice to contend with. I took a trip to Oliver's to see what might fit the bill. As usual, they had what I needed—a big, brute of a beer from the heart of Louisiana. Abita Brewing Company, located just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, makes Andygator. A Helles Dopplebock—from Abita's Big Beer Series—Andygator is the perfect fit for my jambalaya. At 8% it brings a great, sweet malty note, with a subtle fruitiness that tables the spice, and its subdued Perle hop profile doesn't convolute everything with an aggressive bitterness. Plus it was born on the bayou, and in its 22 oz bomber, I'll have plenty left over to drink with the jambalaya!

 Now, if you would excuse me I'm in the mood for a little Dixieland jazz—À plus tard.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the good recipe and your kind words about Andygator.

    We'd love to add you to our press release list for new products and other media advisories. What's a good email address for you for that type of communications?

    Beth Harris
    Abita Brewing Company