Coast Cooking

Try making a pot of Cuban Jambalaya

Saffron is the most expensive spice available.
Saffron is the most expensive spice available. SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD

Jambalaya is a go-to recipe for people on a budget and for people who are feeding a crowd.

It is inexpensive, hearty and delicious.

Typically, jambalaya has a vegetable base, what we call the trinity, of onion, celery and bell pepper.

The meat

The meat component can be ham or sausage, perhaps a few pieces of chicken, and added last of all to the pot, seafood.

What makes this recipe so good is that the rice is stirred into the base, stock is added and the rice picks up the combined flavors. It is a one-pot special perfect for leftovers, too.

There are a few tips that will help you make sure the jambalaya you make for your family is good.

Take your time

First, take your time. This recipe does not require you to hover over the stove, but if you rush through each step, your results will be less-rewarding.

When sautéing the vegetables, make sure to do it low and slow. The end result should be caramelized, brown and delicious. Think of the difference between a raw onion and a dark brown caramelized onion, that’s the flavor range possible and you want the most flavor out of each ingredient.

Do the same thing with the sausage or ham. Cook in a little oil or butter, and make sure each piece is golden brown. If you really want to make the best jambalaya possible, make your own chicken stock.

If you are going to add shrimp or fish, sauté it in a little butter, but don’t overdo it. Add the seafood at the very last, nothing is worse that overcooked seafood of any type.

The fun part

Now to the fun part. There are quite a few things that you can add that are not traditional. Use sushi or Italian arboreal rice and the results will be creamy and delicious. Add jalapeno peppers and lots of garlic to make a super fortified version. Use two kinds of sausage, a good smoked sausage and Polish, or use ham and bacon for a real difference.

Perhaps one of the most interesting jambalaya ideas came from my friend Frank Westovich. He retired from the Coast Guard and told me that on many of the boats they stopped coming out of Cuba they found pots of what looked like jambalaya, but was made with yellow rice. They began to call it Cuban jambalaya.

True yellow rice is made with saffron, the most expensive spice used in modern cooking. Owing to its expense, many people substitute turmeric, which will impart a yellow color, but lacks the sublime flavor of saffron. As always, do what you can afford.

I like the idea of Cuban jambalaya, and there is a basic recipe provided below. If you want to take it a step further, garnish the jambalaya with hearty black beans.

Cuban Jambalaya

1 chopped onion

1 chopped bell pepper

2/3 cup chopped celery

4-5 cloves chopped garlic

1 cup sliced sausage or ham

1 cup jasmine rice or 1 package prepared yellow rice

2 cups homemade chicken stock

1 pinch saffron

1 pound large shrimp

Salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes

Olive oil as needed

If you are using saffron, place it in 2 cups of warm chicken stock and let it steep. Sauté the sausage or ham in oil until well browned, remove and set aside. Add the shrimp to the same pan, season liberally, and cook for 2 minutes, remove and set aside. In the same pan, sauté the chopped onions in a little oil, along with a pinch of red pepper flakes for 5 minutes, add the bell peppers and celery and cook 5 more minutes. Add the rice to the vegetables and stir until well coated. Add the sausage or ham and the saffron stock (just stock if you are using the packaged yellow rice), cover with a tight fitting lid and turn the heat to low. Cook for 20-25 minutes without removing the lid. Add the shrimp, toss well.