Coast Cooking

Jambalaya is only as good as its ingredients

This bowl of jambalaya has Coast shrimp and spicy sausage.
This bowl of jambalaya has Coast shrimp and spicy sausage. Special to the Sun Herald

Google jambalaya and you will read that it is a Creole dish related to several French and Spanish dishes.

Read on and you also will learn it contains meat, vegetables, smoked sausage and seafood. The vegetables are very sofrito like with a base of what Creoles call the trinity (onion, celery and bell pepper) and a fourth ingredient (garlic).

Jambalaya is one of the most economical meals you can make and it is also delicious, especially if you use a few worthwhile tips. So let’s get started.

Shopping list

The first step is to go shopping. You can get rice just about anywhere, but you can’t get the best rice just anywhere.

For that, you are going to have to go to the Ocean Springs Fresh Market or Long Beach Farmers Market. There you will find Mississippi-grown rice and rice grits (yep, that is not a misprint), and it is just delicious.

If you think the type of rice you use is not important, you are taking your first shortcut to making an inferior jambalaya.

Using rice grits, rice milled just as corn is milled to produce grits, gives a distinctly creamy texture you will love.

Fresh veggies and Conecuh sausage

While at the farmers market, see if you can score fresh vegetables and you will be another step ahead. Some markets also have a shrimp vendor, so you just might get lucky enough for one-stop shopping.

Go to a grocery store and buy Conecuh sausage. It is one of the cheapest kinds of sausage, but once fried to a crusty brown, it is delicious.

Make your own chicken stock

You also will need chicken stock and I hope you will make it yourself.

Just add 3-4 boned chicken thighs to a pot, add a large quartered onion (you do not even have to peel it), the butt end of a bunch of celery and a hot pepper or two. Cover with water and simmer for an hour. Done.

All that is left is to put these ingredients together in a meaningful way. No, you can’t just dump it all in and have at it. See the recipe for how to do it.

Jambalaya

2 cups chopped smoked sausage

1-2 cups Mississippi rice (or rice grits)

1 chopped onion

1-2 chopped bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped celery

3-4 cloves diced garlic

Homemade chicken stock

Optional red ripe tomatoes (2-3)

1 pound large wild caught Gulf shrimp

Red pepper flakes, black pepper, Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning

Add the sausage to a large, heavy bottom pot, now add a little oil and brown. Take your time and get it right. Remove the sausage and set it aside. Don’t you dare remove the fragrant drippings the sausage left behind! Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery and gently sauté for 10 minute, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the rice or grits, and two times that volume of stock. You will most likely need more stock, so keep a few cups on the stove at a low simmer (never add cold stock to a dish that is cooking). Add the tomatoes and sausage and simmer. lid on, until the rice is done, adding more stock as needed. This should take approximately 20 minutes. Season the shrimp aggressively with Tony’s. In a separate sauté pan, add a little oil and turn the heat up to smoking hot. Add the shrimp a small hand full at a time, dance them around for just 1 minute, then remove and add the next handful. When the rice is done, add the shrimp to the jambalaya, give it a good stir, then turn the heat off and let it sit for 5 minutes. Now serve in big bowls with lots of crusty French bread.

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