Friday, November 11, 2011

First post....and Jambalaya

OK, before I get started, let me just say how hard it was thinking up a good name for this thing. Every time I thought I had something clever (Eater’s Digest, Garden of Eatin’, Let Them Eat Steak, etc…), a quick google search revealed that I am not as original or clever as maybe I’d like to believe. It got to the point to where I just wanted something so that I could start writing, so this is where I’m at: Meal Talk. Kind of like Real Talk, but for Meals. Or something.
So anyway, the way I’m envisioning this is that I shall upload my experiences with various meals that I’ve had, usually ones that I have prepared. It will probably be photo heavy, which will probably be helpful to anyone wishing to re-create what I made. My goal for this site is to combine two things I love to do (cooking and writing) and interact with other people doing the same thing so that I may get (and hopefully give) new ideas to/from others. So here it goes, let’s start this thing off with one of the few things I know I cook well: jambalaya.
First, a little about the dish. From what I understand, the origin of the word itself is someone hazy. Some people think it derives from the word “jambalaia” in a French dialect, which means “mish mash.” Others think it’s a combination of the Spanish “jambon” and “paella,” the popular Spanish rice dish. Whatever the case, the dish, like most every Louisiana dish, is influenced by a combination of cultures present in Louisiana. It started with the Spanish in New Orleans trying to re-create the paella they were used to eating back home, but many of the necessary spices were not present in South Louisiana (I’m guessing this was pre-Rouse’s). The dish is indeed somewhat similar to paella, but it is oh so different. The inclusion of the Cajun Trinity, andouille sausage, and cajun spices separates this dish from anything else.
The jambalaya I made in this example is a pork and sausage one, but there are many different versions. Some people do chicken and sausage, some people add shrimp, some add tomatoes, some don’t, etc… There really is no one right way to do it, and the dish typically varies across regions in South Louisiana. In New Orleans, it is popular to add tomatoes and/or tomato paste to the jambalaya, giving it a red tint. This is called “Creole, African, or Red” jambalaya. In Cajun country outside of New Orleans (in Acadiana, down the bayou, etc…) a “Cajun style” jambalaya is more popular. This kind does typically use tomatoes or anything derived from tomatoes. It’s a more rustic version, often made in a cast iron pot, and when done correctly has a nice brown color.
The jambalaya I made is a Cajun pork and sausage gumbo. 
The first thing you gotta do is make your stock. Chicken stock is popular, but pork stock adds great flavor as well. To make the pork stock, I took the pork necks, rubbed them in salt and pepper, tossed them in a tiny bit of canola oil, and put them on my cast iron skillet. I laid a few fresh thyme sprigs on top. I roasted those for about an hour or so at 450. It came out looking like this. 
Then, I separated the meat from the bone
There was actually more meat, but I couldn’t stop myself from popping that stuff in my mouth. I’m only human.
Then I took the bones, threw it in a large pot along with an onion chopped in half, a few celery stalks broke in half, some carrots, thyme, salt/pepper, and a head of garlic chopped in half. I also deglazed the cast iron skillet with a bit of red wine (I was drinking some already, so why not) and threw all those drippings in the pot too. Then I covered with cold water and let it simmer for a few hours.
While that’s going on, you gotta make what those of us from South Louisiana call the “Cajun Trinity.” As a heavily Catholic area, the people are very familiar with the Holy Triny: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Cajun cooking, however, the Trinity is something very different but almost as important: Onion, Bell Pepper, and Celery. You simply do not make a Cajun dish without the Trinity. I also like to add garlic and maybe a jalapeno to it. Then I season it with some Cajun seasoning (basically red pepper, white pepper, black pepper, salt, paprika, maybe chili). Toss that up real good.
I then put a lid on the container and let it sit in the fridge for a bit. I feel like it lets all the flavors mix and whatnot. Maybe it doesn’t do anything, but I like to think it does.
Anyway, after your stock is done, take your cast iron pot and your uncooked chopped pork. Heat up some oil hot hot hot in the cast iron pot and throw in the uncoooked pork. DONT STIR IT AROUND. You want to get the pork to stick to the pot. That sticky stuff (commonly called gree mee) is important, as it’s going to eventually dictate the color of your jambalaya. If you don’t do this part right, you’re not going to get that beautiful brown color at the end (and yes, that’s a bone on the top. I just cooked it a bit so that I could give it to my dog)
Once you’re sure that the pork is stuck to the pan, flip the pork over and do the same thing again. You want to really get the porks good and crusty, as well as create as much of that gree mee as possible. Once you’re done with that, throw in a big ladle full of pork stock to deglaze.
Let that stuff just cook there until all the pork stock evaporates. In French, this is called au sec, which means “until dry.” Once that’s done, remove the pork cubes and throw in your chopped andouille (it’s a type of cajun sausage…you can use any “normal” smoked sausage if you don’t have access to andouille). I like to cut them in both moons and moons; no real reason, just a personal preference. Anyway, do to it the exact same thing you did to the porks. After you’re done with that and got a lot of gree mee, add in your Trinity and cook real good. 
After it’s all soft, throw in a bit more pork stock and let that cook down a bit.Then throw in your rice. I think this was about 3 cups. Let that cook for a few minutes.
Then add your pork stock. You want about a 1.5:1 ratio of pork stock to rice, maybe even a little less, depending on how watery your mixture already is.
Then, bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. DO NOT STIR. Put a lid on the pot and let it cook like that for at LEAST 10, maybe 15 minutes. When you DO take the lid off, you need to TURN, NOT STIR, the rice.
You don’t want to break up the grains. After you turn, put the lid back on and cook for another 20 minutes or so. You may turn it one or two more times, but resist the temptation to do it too much.
After about 45 minutes, your rice should “pop out” and look like this:
So there we go. Anyone reading this should be able to cook a wonderful, authentic jambalaya. I hope this is helpful and let me know if you have any questions.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to the blogging world. I love jambalaya, but never have made it. After reading your post I think I may have to give it try.