Somewhere in the awkward mess that we all agree to call my life, I decided I was meant to be Southern. I don’t have a drop of Southern blood in my veins, but ya’ll I want to be Southern. When I was younger, it wasn’t about the food*, or the hospitality. And as terrible as this sounds, I loved the idea of sitting on a pre-Civil War plantation fanning myself someone else fanning me while sitting on the porch drinking sweet tea.
You guys, I want to be Scarlett O’Hara. I will always and forever want to be Scarlett. I will never ever be Melanie.
I've been infatuated with Gone With the Wind since fourth grade. My love of GWTW has existed longer than my love of Harry Potter. Also, my goal of becoming Southern is much more attainable than becoming a wizard. What I'm saying is I've been slighlty obsessed. I went to Margarent Mitchell's house. I've walked around holding a hula hoop around my hips to see if I could handle wearing hoop skirts.
Since reading GWTW, my obsession with all things south of the Mason Dixon line has grown tenfold.
For most of my life, I so very badly wanted to go to New Orleans. I’d been to Atlanta, and it was definitely NOT the charming beacon of the South I expected** so my expectations for NOLA were low. I figured the food would be good, but it was post-Katrina (2006). I figured I would wander around the city eating amazing food and looking at homes that were built over 100 years ago.
I did neither.
Maybe I set my standards too high. Maybe New Orleans wasn’t back on its feet. Maybe the conference I was attending should have let us eat a meal outside of the hotel because banquet food is gross no matter where you are. Maybe I drank too much at night, and my taste buds weren’t awake after two hours of sleep. Really, who’s to say?
To this day, the best Cajun*** food I have had has been found outside of New Orleans. Take for example, my mom’s jambalaya. Until last year, she had never been to New Orleans, but she has been making this for years. I do believe she adapted it from none other than Paul Prudhomme, so it has some authenticity. If you’ve ever had jambalaya down South, you may notice that her’s is fairly loose, more like a soup. That’s how we like it, but if you like it thicker, cook the rice in the jambalaya. If you’ve only ordered jambalaya at a restaurant above the Mason Dixon line, chances are it was served over pasta. That is wrong. If my mom finds out you served her jambalaya over pasta she will hunt you down. Don’t risk it. Serve it over rice.
With a beer? Be still my heart. Ya'll go make this, and amaze people with your Southern charm and hospitatly.
*It is now. Have you ever seen a Southern party without a ton of delicious, calories laden, butter covered food? No.
**I'm still optimistic about Charleston and Savannah
***I know Cajun food and Southern food are technically different, but I think all Cajun food is southern, but not all Southern food is Cajun. Not right? Tough luck. I needed this thing to somehow tie together.
Jambalaya Recipe (printable)
Inspired by several recipes from Paul Prudhomme
This recipe is very adaptable. Don’t like shrimp? Leave it out and add more chicken and sausage. Don’t eat pork? Use chicken andouille and leave out the ham. If you want this thicker, you can double all of the proteins and/or cook the rice in the jambalaya. Your call, but I think its perfect as is.
Final note, if you use a pork andouille, brown it first, see how much fat it renders, then add more fat if needed. If you use chicken andouille you will need to use the bacon fat or olive oil.
1 tablespoon bacon fat or olive oil (optional, see note above)
8 ounces andouille sausage, sliced 1/4” thick.
8 ounces tasso ham or ham steak, cubed 1/2”
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
12 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 cups diced onion
3 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
6 cups diced celery
4 cups diced bell peppers (green is traditional, but we usually use a mix of red, green and yellow)
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2 14 ounce cans chicken stock
1 recipe Cajun Spice Mix (see below)
1 tablespoon liquid smoke (only needed if using ham steak. Not so much for tasso)
1 cup dry rice, cooked according to package instructions or added to jambalaya
Heat a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the bacon fat and allow to melt. Brown the andouille sausage and remove to a bowl. Brown the ham and remove. Add the chicken to the dutch oven and cook until it is cooked thru. Add all of the vegetables and cook until softened, 7-10 minutes. Return the andouille and ham to the pot. Add all of the seasoning mix and cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the stock and tomatoes. If you are using the liquid smoke, add it now.
Reduce the heat so the jambalaya is at a gentle simmer. Taste for seasonings. Add more cayenne, salt, and pepper as needed. (If you’re cooking the rice in the jambalaya, add it now.) Cook for 15 minutes. Add the the shrimp and turn off the heat. Allow to sit, covered for 10 minutes or until the shrimp and rice are cooked.
To serve, spoon 1/2 cup cooked rice into the bottom of a large bowl and ladle the jambalaya on top.
Cajun Spice Mix
1 teaspoon cayenne (add more if you like it hotter, but check your andouille first)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1 teaspoon dried oregano