Southerners rave and boast about their shrimp and grits. Together with their jambalayas, gumbos and éttoufées, they are all the hallmarks of Creole cuisine, traditional dishes personifying the very essence of New Orleans cuisine. All have colorful heritages, a touch of Creole influences and some disparities, which gets them oftentimes confused, unless of course you’re from N’Oleans and they’ve been your childhood staple.
Jambalaya – is a distant relative of the Spanish Paella, the origins come from the Provençal word “jambalaia”which literally means a mish mash of ingredients, or some believe it’s derived from the French word “jambon” which means ham. It’s not dissimilar to paella, since it also includes meats, shellfish, rice and seasonings. It’s amazing that a dish that is so fragmented by the hodgepodge of ingredients, can become so cohesive. Broken into two categories, each rendition is equally spectacular.
Creole Jambalaya – This variation originates from the French Quarter, an area defined by its European origins and a recreation of the paella. Due to the scarcity of saffron, tomatoes became a close substitute for the color they impart. As time lapsed, the French and Caribbean influence gave way to the typical flavorings associated with Jambalaya today.
Cajun Jambalaya – The low laying swampy areas yield a spicier and smokier Jambalaya. The ingredients come from the abundant wildlife in the bayous, where alligator, duck, boar even turtle become participants showcasing this hearty and robust dish. The further away you get from N’Oleans the less tomato is added, hence Cajun jambalaya contains no tomatoes and the color is derived from the brown bits at the bottom of the pan after browning the meats and from all the other seasonings.
Étouffée – is a thick seafood stew, typically with shrimp or crawfish and piled over rice, its origins more Cajun and Creole. Contrasting with the dark roux added to gumbo, étouffée is thickened with a blond, caramel-like roux imparting a unique flavor. Étouffée, means “smothered” in French and in the South it’s a rich, gravy-like stew mounded over rice.
Gumbo – is considered the most popular dish out of Louisiana and it’s soupier in consistency. There are many varieties of gumbo to come out of the crescent city and all are loaded with proteins and veggies, but the rice isn’t incorporated in the cooking, it’s served alongside. Choctaw spice called filé powder is added, or a dark thick roux is made to thicken it. Often okra is an ingredient, together with some ground sassafras powder served on the table.
Each jambalaya dish varies depending on the culinary gangster preparing it. This take is robust by sautéing the “holy trinity” (the name given for the mirepoix version in the South consisting of onion, green bell pepper and celery) in the drippings where the Andouille sausage has cooked. Andouille is the ever-popular sausage consumed in vast quantities in the South. Although Kielbasa can be used, try to use andouille, it’s the traditional ingredient in jambalaya and gumbo, as it has more paprika, clove and garlic than Kielbasa, which is a Polish and therefore not authentic.
1 LB of andouille sausage sliced into rounds
2 cups of rotisserie chicken – shredded
2 TBSP olive oil
2 cups of sweet onion – chopped finely
1 cupped of celery – chopped finely
1 each red and green bell peppers – diced finely
4 garlic cloves – minced
1 bay leaf
1 TBSP Creole or Cajun seasoning
1 jalapeño – seeds removed and chopped finely
1 TSP each of dried oregano and dried thyme
2 (12 oz) cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes – drained
3 cups of low sodium chicken broth
2 cups of uncooked long grain rice
1 LB of medium sized raw shrimp – deveined. Peeled and tails left on
Chopped green onion (garnish)
Lemon wedges (garnish)
Chopped parsley (garnish)
In a large Dutch oven, heat up 2 TBSP of canola oil and sauté the andouille to brown them on each side. Set aside when done on some paper towels, blotting as much of the oil possible. In the same oil with the sausage drippings, add the “trinity”, celery, onion, peppers and garlic, along with the jalapeño and sauté till transparent – about 5-6 minutes. Add the rice, the creole or Cajun spice and the dried herbs and toast it for a few minutes.
Incorporate the tomatoes and the stock and cook for about 20 minutes. Return the sausage to the pot along with the shredded chicken and the raw shrimp. Close the lid and allow the shrimp to become cooked by the heat, they will cook in about 2 minutes. Stir everything together and serve on individual plates with chopped green onion, chopped parsley and lemon wedges.
Oil needs to be used to make the roux, don’t use butter, as it will burn.
1 LB of medium raw shrimp – tails left on
¼ cup of vegetable oil
¼ cup of flour (heaping)
1 green bell pepper – diced
4 garlic cloves – minced
1 medium sweet onion – diced
1 celery stalk – diced
1 small jalapeño – cut in half, seeds removed and chopped finely
1 pint of seafood stock – (most specialty grocery stores carry seafood stock)
1 14 oz can of diced fire roasted tomatoes – undrained
1 TBSP of Creole or Cajun seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 TSP dried thyme
1 TBSP sweet smoked paprika
1-2 TBSP sweet butter
2-3 TSP Louisiana hot sauce (adjust this to personal taste)
Chopped green scallions
Cooked white rice
Place the chopped onion, celery, bell pepper and jalapeño in a bowl. Heat up the seafood stock.
Make the roux. Heat up the oil in a Dutch large Dutch oven for about 2-3 minutes. The heat should be medium, so the roux will not burn as it cooks. Add the flour and whisk constantly. Switch to a wooden spatula, as it will be easier to stir once the flour and oil have mixed. You have to keep stirring well and continuously for about 20 minutes, as the roux will take time to develop a golden-brown color. Ensure you don’t have the heat too high or the roux will burn.
Turn the heat to low and add the trinity and the garlic. Veggies will sizzle, and the roux will turn a little darker in color – that is ok. Cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the seafood stock, tomatoes, bay leaf, Cajun or Creole seasoning, thyme and a pinch of salt (go easy on the salt as the seasonings already have it) and the Louisiana hot sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to med/low and cook for about 15-20 minutes. If the sauce it too thick, add a bit more stock. Add the shrimp and cook until they have turned pink, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the butter, mix well, check the seasonings and serve in individual bowls with some
Serve over rice with a sprinkle of scallions and the hot sauce on the side.