I am sure this will be a short explanation. Jambalaya is the opposite of gumbo. Gumbo is soup over rice, jambalaya is the soup cooked into the rice. You use the same ingredients, you just decide if you have clean plates to eat on or clean bowls.
Jambalaya does not normally involve seafood, because in the rice cooking stage due to the duration of the cooking cycle the seafood becomes tuff. Occasionally you’ll see someone’s shrimp and tomato jambalaya but I consider it more a specialty type dish. So meat is primary objective. That being said due to the cooking time with the rice again, you can see why beef for the most part would not work well unless you like boiled tuff meat.
That leaves us with the tender and more flavorful selections mostly fowl and pork. In the olden days in Louisiana being the good Catholic state that it is, the average family consisted of 7, I guess they that’s why we were so late getting TV stations here. It wasn’t unusual for families to consist of 12 to 14 though. Feeding a family to them though was never a bother as rice was cheap, and if a friend was invited to stay for supper as was very common, the serving size of the meat diminished. But there was still meat on every plate. Like gumbo the rice was your filler, your binding agent upon which everything else was just flavorings. The Cajun neighbors actually ate more bought less for 7 kids than Mom did for 2. Everyone got some meat and everyone got rice. Then you added what you had grown for flavor modifiers. Onions, garlic, tomatoes (again if you are a Yankee), you are building a meal on what you have to feed everyone some of it all. BTW a Yankee is anyone that lives north of Interstate 10.
Today the town I went to school in is the Jambalaya Capitol, and the yearly cook-offs finally got so exotic that they had to remove all the options and you now have to cook for judging with only what you are given, nothing more. I have my copy of last years rules if anyone would like to see it, /PM me and we will see what we can do about getting you a copy. (it’s a pain with the site problems right now, as well as wasted server space).
The rice…… whereas gumbo should be served with medium grain rice due to the gluten content holding the rice together, jambalaya is make with long grain rice to encourage separation. Any meal can use any rice, I assure you the little old ladies of long ago didn’t have two types of rice laying around, they got 25 or 50 lbs sacks and like flour sacks back then, that’s where the fancy bloomers came from. But today we have the ability to travel to the moon and drive Corvettes so two bags of rice is acceptable. There are also two trains of thought on rice in jambalaya, stickie and moist or separated and dry. I prefer the first although may swear by the later.
Jambalaya is the one food that although cooked in many pots, really requires cast iron in a big way to get right. Cast iron pots are willed in families here or they used to be. I have 2 each 30 gallon, I believe in the shed I have not cleaned out since Katrina, across the road. I am sure they are sitting out there all rusted which is a shame. But you don’t need a 30 gallon pot to cook, a #14 dutch oven will feed a small crowd or a whole patrol of Boy Scouts, or at home I use a #8 for nearly all my usual needs. You can use any pot, if you are skilled enough. Although I assume if you are reading this, it might be a few cooking’s away for that. You also need a canoe paddle or a shovel for the big pots where you need to turn the rice but that is a different type of jambalaya cooking. Here you’ll need a good seasoned cast iron pot with a lid. In the house I use a metal slotted spoon for my stirring.
Your next decision is…… if you want your rabbit food in your jambalaya. It’s pretty funny listening to the old men discuss what goes in a jambalaya. The purists say meat rice garlic onions and spice. The gourmets (usually the younger crowd looking for their niche) bell peppers, Mushrooms, parsley, green onions, celery, squash, tomatoes, soups, stocks, etc etc etc… It’s all in what you want. AND it’s about who you are cooking for. These discussions can get pretty heated, pretty fast, especially at competition
Your normal sides are of course French bread dripping garlic butter but unlike the potato salad used with gumbo, Jambalaya nearly always comes with slaw or the city folks do a tossed green salad now.
Lets start with basics. I was going to cook a smoked chicken gumbo for supper, but I think I will change to a pork jambalaya. Remember it’s all about impregnating that rice with flavor and of course I cheat.
Remember like gumbo there is no one definitive Jambalaya. Look at the difference in these two and I assure you any coonass would know and appreciate either.
My basic Jambalaya recipe
Meat – Normally pork, fowl, or game.
Sausage - Tasso and Andouille are nearly never used in Jambalaya, I assume because they take a long boil to do their magic. A good country smoked sausage is normal, when out of state Kielbasa is my sausage of choice.
Bacon grease – it’s about as much flavor as possible in the least amount of time.
Onions – I prefer white, but yellow will do. Sautee translucent
Garlic – Minced, to be browned or caramelized but NOT burned
Rice – here as with the gumbo it’s always the same ratio, 2 parts cool water to 1 part rice. Long grain rice water does need a splash more water, but no more.
Water – *see rice* Clear cool water, water, water………..
Salt & Pepper – Most use red pepper, New Orleans being a port town helped the Cajun acquire food stuffs but most were for trade or sale for profit, the normal Cajuns still used what they grew. Cayenne. Oh and Jalapeños is for tourists or smokers.
If you can wait till tonight, I’ll try and be more specific and add in some Q-view.
Did I mention that there is no one definitive way to cook a Jambalaya?
Edited by Foamheart - 11/23/13 at 5:10pm