With winter falling away behind us (or, at least most of us), I’m definitely in the mood for some celebration. And it really should be no surprise to learn that a food centric holiday like Fat Tuesday is right up my alley. A big pot of jambalaya with a side of King Cake sounds like a perfectly reasonable way to spend the afternoon, yes?
I thought so.
A side note about King Cake—totally unrelated to the recipe here. I used to work for a company that decided to fix its tremendous office culture challenges with monthly office parties. Departments were
forced volunteered to pick a month and arrange festivities for a day, from lunch to door prizes to bonding activities and contests. As painfully, hilariously and accurately depicted in “Office Space,” these parties were awkward and uncomfortable, and almost always scheduled in proximity to a budget-critical deadline (which made taking time away from projects to shuffle around the cafeteria all the more painful). (One party actually had the CEO’s secretary taking attendance. Kind of a “1984″ situation: “You will attend, and you WILL have fun! Or else!”)
Anyhoo, the party in the month of Mardi Gras that year was hosted by one of the hipper departments, so, at least it was a given that it wouldn’t be a disaster. Oh, it was still awkward, and some definite Mardi-Gras weirdness surfaced from seemingly normalish people (even without alcohol), but all around, not bad.
Towards the end of the alloted party time, I went back to get a slice of King Cake.
King Cake is a sweet, festive pastry, distinctively decorated in purple, green and gold, then draped with beads, that I always associate with good times and pleasant memories. But not this time. I walked into party central to find a wall-length counter positively littered with King Cake corpses. The hosts had bought about a dozen or so large King Cakes—far too many, bless their hearts—which were delivered in pizza boxes and lined up along the wall. The leftover cakes were demolished, smooshed, smeared and mangled, as greedy hands had torn off pieces without regard. The concept of cutlery had been totally lost to the revelers. Icing, filling, crumbs, everywhere. Box after box of purple, green and yellow wreckage. Like the victims of a bakery shooting squad.
Oh, God, I can still see it when I close my eyes.
It was a horrible sight for a foodie to witness. If I had taken a picture, I’d submit it to CakeWrecks.com.
And since then, I haven’t been able to look at King Cakes with the same affection. Oh, I’ll eat a slice of King Cake for Mardi Gras, sure, but my eyelid develops a tic. Is it too late to sue for emotional distress? What’s the statute of limitations on King Cake trauma?
The end. Now back to regular programming.
Jambalaya starts with the Creole Trinity: onions, peppers and celery. Lots of celery. No self-respecting NOLA dish would dare show its face at the table without it. Rex would not approve.
Chicken, sausages and shrimp go together like peas and carrots. Believe it, it’s true. Do you want to healthy it up? I’m all for that. You’re already good with the chicken and shrimp and veggies. But … IMHO … spicy andouille sausage is non-negotiable. So, use smoked turkey sausage instead of regular smoked sausage or kielbasa. It’ll be fine. SoupAddict promises.
The Creole Trinity in action. If you close your eyes and breathe deeply, you can almost smell the aromatics doing their thang. Oh, Smell-o-Vision, where are you when we need you?
Use a long grain, chewy rice for best texture. The dish’s hour-long cooking time provides plenty of wiggle room to use any rice you want, even this awesome 45-minute Texmati. Don’t add the rice until it’s cooking time coincides with the end of the one hour. Why not add the rice with the stock, you ask? One word: mush. Not all rices turn out mushy over a long cooking time, but unless you understand the nature of the rice you’ve selected, why take the chance? Don’t overcook it, and you’ll be fine. Mushy rice on Fat Tuesday? No way.
Isn’t it beautiful?
This dish goes perfectly with cornbread. And I totally won’t tell if you wash it down with a classic Mardi Gras Hurricane.
Fat Tuesday Jambalaya
Yield: Makes 6 generous servings
1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into rough 1/2 pieces
1/2 lb. andouille sausage cut into thin slices or removed from casing and crumbled
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (homemade recipe here), divided
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup of water
2 teaspoons fish sauce (optional)
2 cups rice
2 bay leaves
8 oz. smoked sausage (fully cooked) sliced into 1/4″ half moons
1/2 teaspoon thyme or one large sprig fresh thyme, leaves removed, stem discarded
Place oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chicken and andouille sausage and cook until browned. Remove meat to a bowl.
Add butter to the pot and scrap up any brown bits that formed while cooking the meat. Add all the veggies (onions, peppers, celery) and saute until softened, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle Creole seasonings over vegetables and stir to combine.
Add chicken stock, water, fish sauce and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a good simmer. Add the reserved meat and the smoked sausage and cover the pot. You want to cook the jambalaya for a total of an hour from this point.
Check the package directions on your rice, and, calculating backwards from an hour, add the rice to the simmering jambalaya to coincide with the completion of cooking time. Cover. Check the jambalaya frequently, stirring only minimally, and add water a little at a time if the mixture seems too clumpy or pasty. It should not be soupy, but it should also not be a sticky ball of stuff. Add the shrimp 10 minutes before the end of cooking. After the shrimp have pinked up and turned opaque, turn off the heat and allow the jambalaya to rest for 10-15 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper or more Creole seasonings, if necessary. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
This dish can be made ahead and refrigerated. Reheat, adding liquid if necessary. Makes great leftovers and work-week lunches.