Sunday, February 27, 2005

Shrimp Jambalaya

Jambalaya is one of the most versatile dishes in Southern cuisine. Jambalaya is pronounced jum-buh-LIE-uh or jahm-buh-LIE-yah.

The origin of the name is uncertain, but as with many dish names, there are a few good guesses along with a bit of folklore. Most believe the name came from the Spanish word for ham, jamón, a prime ingredient in the first jambalayas of the eighteenth century. John Mariani in "The Dictionary of American Food and Drink" offers a more colorful origin of the name: A gentleman stopped by a New Orleans inn late one night to find nothing left for him to dine upon. The owner thereupon told the cook, whose name was Jean, to "mix some things together" --balayez, in the dialect of Louisiana -- so the grateful guest pronounced the dish of odds-and-ends wonderful and named it "Jean Balayez." The first reference to the word in print was in 1872, and "The Picayune's Creole Cook Book" (1900) calls it a "Spanish-Creole dish.

Rice has been an important crop in the South for several hundred years. Rice production in the South began in North Carolina in the late 1600s, with great success. By the late 1800s, after a series of problems from labor to weather, the Southern Atlantic states production faltered. Rice production in Louisiana began late in 1889. Louisiana is now one of the major producing states, along with Arkansas, California, and Texas.

The following excerpt from "Bill Neal's Southern Cooking" sums up Louisiana's success in the production of rice and its creation of Jambalaya: "In Louisiana, rice achieved its American culinary apotheosis. In a great variety of jambalayas, it became the central element around which a number of complex combinations were arranged. Rice was no longer a bland foil for setting off exotic flavors but the featured item absorbing, reacting with, and defining other ingredients."

Jambalaya is a rice dish where the rice is cooked with a meat or seafood and vegetable mixture. Jambalaya is prepared with just about any meat, including chicken, sausage, pork, gator, rabbit, beef, or seafood. Often several different meats are used in the same jambalaya. You can also use left over meat and gravy from a roast or rice and gravy. The meat is browned, the vegetables are sautéed, then rice, water and stock are added and cooked until the rice is done.

Jambalaya may have had its origin in paella. Jambalaya; it is easy to make and tastes great. I have read about cooking jambalaya in an automatic rice cooker. The rice cooker automatically cuts off when the rice is done, so you never burn the rice and the jambalaya is always cooked just right. I like anything I can put on autopilot and get on with the next dish on the menu.

Shrimp Jambalaya

  • 1 1/2 lb shrimp
  • 1/2 stick butter (not margarine)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2-3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4-1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/4-1/2 cup green onion tops, chopped
  • 1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. roux
  • 1 14-oz can diced stewed tomatoes, or
  • 1 10-oz can Rotel tomatoes/green chilies
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp. cajun seasoning mix (homemade, Chachere's or Zatarain's)
Sauté shrimp
  1. Peel the shrimp and remove the vein. Cut the shrimp in halves or thirds. Buy the smaller shrimp; they're cheaper and I cut them up any way.
  2. Sauté the shrimp in the butter just long enough until they are firm. Use a heavy walled cast iron or aluminum pot. Shrimp have a delicate flavor, hence I prefer to use butter and not margarine.
  3. Remove the shrimp from the pot and set aside.
Sauté vegetables
  1. Sauté all the vegetables together until the onions are clear.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes or Rotel. Use Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies if the want the dish to have a hot flavor.
  3. Add the Worcestershire sauce, roux and seasoning. The small amount of roux adds a bit of body to the flavor.
  4. Simmer for 5-10 minutes or so.
Mix and cook the jambalaya
  1. Mix the shrimp, uncooked rice and water into the vegetable mixture.
  2. Make sure there is enough liquid to cover the mixture. If necessary add water.
  3. Add the mixture to the rice cooker and cook until the rice is done.
  4. Cook the dish on the stove until the rice is soft, but not mushy. Make sure you do it in a heavy walled aluminum or cast iron pot, or else you are sure to burn the rice at the bottom. Keep the lid on the pot, especially once the mixture comes to a boil, and do not stir the pot.
Serving 4

Jambalaya is moist and best served and eaten right after it is finished cooking. Upon sitting, the rice absorbs the moisture and jambalaya becomes more dry.

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