The origins of the word “jambalaya” are often debated. Many believe it comes from the combination of “jambon” (French for ham), the phrase “a la” (French for the style of), and “ya” (a West African word for rice)—jamon-a-la-ya.
Another theory draws on the influence of the Spanish settlers in New Orleans. Ham in Spanish is “jamon,” and jambalaya greatly resembles Spain’s iconic rice dish, paella.
We may never know its true origin but we do know a few things for certain. Jambalaya always has some sort of ham and rice. The “holy trinity” of seasoning vegetables-onion, celery and green bell pepper (I used red as I prefer it, so not so authentic) is mandatory. Other than that, whether it includes shrimp, sausage, oysters, crab, chicken or any combination thereof, is the cooks prerogative. I believe a homemade stock gives this dish a layer of flavor that takes it over the top. I will tell you how to make it using the trimmings of the ingredients you will be using to make the dish and it only takes 15-20 minutes. Worth it! Really don’t have time? Use a good quality commercial fish or seafood stock or bottled clam juice, available at any grocery.
This recipe feeds four but you can easily increase the quantities accordingly. Think of it as a stew, you don’t need exact measurements except for the ratio of rice to liquid (usually 1c rice to 2c liquid for long grain). Here it goes.
Recipe Serves 4
3 scallions, sliced, trimmings reserved
2 stalks celery, sliced thin, trimmings reserved
1 small yellow onion, cut in small dice, trimmings reserved
1 lb. jumbo or large shrimp, preferably wild caught, peel and devein, reserve shells
2 T unsalted butter
1 small red or green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, cut in small dice (I prefer red)
¼ lb. ham, cut in small dice
½ lb. Andouille sausage (can substitute smoked kielbasa or Spanish chorizo), cut in half lengthwise and cut ¼-inch thick or leave in rounds if it is thin
1 ½ T tomato paste
1 dried bay leaf
1 t fresh thyme
1/8 t cayenne pepper
1/8 t chili powder
1/8 t ground allspice
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 c long-grain rice
½ t sweet paprika
Hot sauce for serving, if desired
1. In a 4 quart heavy saucepan, combine the trimmings of the scallions, celery, onion with the shrimp shells. Add 4c of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain and reserve liquid.
2. Melt the butter in a large heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat. Add the celery, onion, and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the ham and sausage and cook until fat is rendered and they begin to brown. If a large amount of fat results, drain off all but 1-2 T.
4. Add the tomato paste and cook until it is a shade darker, about 3 minutes. Stir in the bay leaf, thyme, cayenne, chili powder and allspice. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Stir in rice and 2 ½ c of the reserved stock. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to maintain a slow simmer. Cook undisturbed for 20-25 minutes. Check the rice for doneness in several places. If not completely cooked, continue cooking, covered until done. Add a little additional stock if necessary.
6. Uncover and add the shrimp. Cook just until shrimp is pink (they will continue to cook while resting). Remove from the heat. Sprinkle with the paprika and the sliced scallions. Fluff with a fork.
7. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to marry. Serve and pass the hot sauce, if desired.
Not complicated yet a big payoff, this dish gives your taste buds a Mardi Gras party you won’t want to miss. February 12th is “Fat Tuesday” so why not have a New Orleans themed dinner and make this highly flavorful and most satisfying dish. You will be impressed as will your family and guests. Make it your own by adding the ingredients that best suit you. It is satisfying, delicious and a winner every time.
We always like to hear your modifications. How did your recipe go down?