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New Orleans-Style Jambalaya

New Orleans-Style Jambalaya

Let full-bodied jambalaya get you in the mood for Mardi Gras.

By Kathy Oberman

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Cajuns, who descend from French Canadians, found their way to the Louisiana bayou generations ago. There, they developed a distinctive cuisine while finding a peaceful home.

Today, New Orleans is the proud epicenter of Cajun and Creole cooking. The city traditionally celebrates Mardi Gras, and still needs all the support we can provide. A good start is to mark the festive holiday.

Both Cajun and Creole food share ingredients and some cooking methods, although they are also different from each other.

Cajun food is thought of as being very spicy, hot food! But this is a myth. Authentic Cajun food is distinguished by a delightful, deeply flavored medley of herbs and spices. Recent commercial variations on Cajun cuisine ratcheted up the spice quotient so that some original recipes have become five-alarm experiences.

One Jambalaya or Another
There are two distinct forms of Jambalaya: red and brown. Red is prepared with tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste; brown with a rich, dark stock, which usually is chicken stock.

Red or brown, jambalaya is typically a combination of chicken, seafood such as shrimp or crabmeat, and Andouille sausage or ham. Jambalaya also can be made with spicy sausage, duck, white fish, smoked ham, or even alligator.

The heavenly spice and herb medley that flavors this stew is a combination of salt, black pepper, white pepper, thyme, cayenne pepper, oregano and bay leaves. When these are combined with what is known as the "Trinity" (garlic, onion, and green bell pepper), you have an amazing base for jambalaya.

Long-grain white rice is the component that makes this a one-dish meal, perfect for any occasion, especially large parties. Because jambalaya can be made relatively quickly on the stovetop or held in a crock pot, it's welcome at large, casual buffet parties.

Make That Jambalaya
To make this full-bodied dish, you will need a large sauté pan to brown the chicken or duck and then the sausage and a large pot to make the stew.

Begin by browing the poultry and sausage and removing them from the pan. Next, sauté the garlic, onions, and bell pepper in olive oil. While the "Trinity" is cooking, stir in the tomato paste and allow the mixture to simmer until the paste turns a deep mahogany color. Deglaze the pot with the chicken stock and stir until smooth.

Add the Cajun seasonings, browned poultry and sausage, and rice. Allow the jambalaya to simmer for about 25 minutes so that the rice absorbs the liquid. If you add seafood, take care not to overcook it, or it will toughen.

If you prefer a five-alarm experience, increase the cayenne pepper or douse the stew with Tabasco sauce -- another Louisiana native. A sprinkling of hot red pepper flakes or your favorite hot sauce will also do the trick.

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