July 27, 2005

Recipe file: Chicken and Shrimp Jambalaya

This is yet another America's Test Kitchen recipe, and it's rapidly become a favorite at our house. Unlike many restaurant jambalayas, this one is not at all soupy. Instead, it's a nice melange of sausage, chicken, shrimp, and deeply flavored rice. The combination of meat, shrimp, aromatic vegetables, tomatoes, chicken stock, clam juice, fresh herbs, and (of course) cayenne pepper makes a dish in which, miraculously, the many very strong flavors don't overpower the more delicate ones. As a lifelong northerner, I have no idea whether this is even remotely authentic (I suspect not), but it's so delicious that I don't care.

We haven't felt the need to change much with this recipe, since it's wonderful prepared exactly as directed, but we have made a few minor alterations. The biggest change we make, because I'm not a fan of pork sausages, is to use chicken Andouille sausage instead of pork. When this recipe was featured on the TV show, a big deal was made out of pork being the necessary foundation for jambalaya. Although I'm sure that's true for tradition and authenticity, we have not been at all disappointed with our results: the chicken Andouille is still very spicy and flavorful, but it lacks the fatty heaviness of pork sausage.

Another small change we've made because we like a little extra kick is to double the amount of cayenne pepper the recipe calls for from 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon. This gets the heat level just right for me, though Doc Dregs would probably prefer the dish to be even spicier. The spiciness of the sausage you use, as well as your personal taste, will affect the amount of cayenne. You may have to experiment to find out what you like best.

Another change we made once when we had no clam juice in the house was to substitute an additional cup of chicken broth (really our homemade chicken stock) for the clam juice. The jambalaya was still very good, so feel free to do this if clam juice isn't handy. But it's even better with the clam juice, which makes the whole dish taste more "seafoody," and really brings out the best in the shrimp.

The recipe calls for the aromatics (the "trinity" of onion, celery, and red pepper, plus garlic) to be chopped pretty finely in a food processor. Since we have a food processor, we haven't tried doing this any other way -- but be warned that getting the veggies chopped small enough without an automated chopping thingy of some sort will be a lot of work. Probably still worth it, though!

One nice thing about this recipe is that all of the cooking is done in a single pot, which makes cleanup a bit easier. Be warned that this is not a quick dinner, however: there is lots of prep, and a cooking time of about 40-45 minutes.

Finally, don't skimp on the fresh thyme and parsley. They really do make a difference. The parsely, in particular, as the last ingredient to be added, adds a lovely fresh "green" flavor to the dish. I like to add a bit more than the recipe calls for.

Posted by at July 27, 2005 11:19 AM