Sarah Savoy

"La voix des Cajuns"--Rolling Stone

Jambalaya anywhere, anytime. But take your time! 

A lot of people have asked me over the years for advice on making jambalaya. There are as many recipes as there are Cajuns, and they all vary in so many ways. My own recipe in my cookbook is the one we use, but there are no photos to really show you step-by-step how to break it down. If you've ever spent any time with a Cajun in a kitchen, you've probably seen this, so I don't feel that clarity was sacrificed for aesthetics in the book. But for those of you who haven't ever witnessed a Cajun making jambalaya, for those of you who might not have a black pot or access to that gorgeous burgundy-colored smoked sausage we make back home, here is a way to do it using products you can find in any grocery store pretty much anywhere in the world, just using a standard enamel pot. 

Start with a heavy pot. It doesn't matter what it's made out of. If you have a black pot you are seriously very, very lucky. But I don't know many people outside of Louisiana who own one. So here's my old, beaten-up orange enameled pot. I put two tablespoons of oil in it and set it over medium heat to let it get very hot, but not smoking. 

The reason you want good chicken is, well, yeah, it tastes better, but also because you need to cook it a long time and you don't want it falling apart before it's served your purpose. 

Very important note: See that little white blob in the photo with the chicken? That's what we call grémis. It's a little speck of marrow fat that is going to brown beautifully, soaking up tons of spices. Keep that. My earliest memory is eating a grémis from the pot in which my grandmother was cooking a pot roast. It's Cajun Crack. 

Once you've got your chicken very well browned on both sides, you can remove it from the pot for a bit. Pour off the fat, and deglaze the pot with water, being very careful to scrape up all the dark brown goodness. Put the chicken back in the pot, cover it, and let it smother for about 10-15 minutes. That's strengthening your stock. Then remove the chicken again and let that juice reduce to a crusty pot bottom. Pour off the fat, deglaze again. Watch this...

Once that's very hot, I'll add chicken leg quarters seasoned with salt, black pepper, Cayenne pepper and a tiny pinch of thyme. That's it. And I'll let that brown a long time on each side, probably 10-15 minutes, only moving the pieces around with a fork. Ideally, you want some really good free-range chicken from a trusted farmer, but if you just have a cheap grocery store next door, get the best thing you can. Even if it looks sad like this chicken here, we're gonna make it work. 

See how thick it is? Let that reduce almost completely too, then it's time to add your sausage. Now just look at this sad-ass little sausage I found at the store. It smells like hot dogs and whipped cream. Gross. But it's ok! Because we're still going to make an awesome jambalaya with it. Trust me, ok?

We're gonna start by adding it to that dark base we've been working on, before it completely dries up again. Sorry for the very blurry photo there. See how a lot of fat has cooked out and it's got all that gunk stuck to the bottom? Pour off the fat, deglaze and repeat.

Here we are after the second deglazing. i'm about to do it a third time. Just keep pouring off that fat!

While I'm letting that liquid cook out again after the third deglazing, I chop my trinity. That's onions, garlic and bell peppers, unless you're from outside St. Landry or Evangeline Parish, in which case you'll use celery instead of garlic because you're more Creole than Cajun and you're also sad. 

Now we're at the point where we need to deglaze again, but instead of adding water this time, we're going to toss our veggies in there and let them do the job. 

In Port Townshend, Washington, last week I stood over the onions in the grocery store feeling completely confused and, yeah, just a little scared about the choices of onions offered. You want yellow onions. White ones are too sweet, red aren't strong enough. You really want onions that make you cry. These little ones were all I could find today, so I used 6 of them. I also added 3 green bell peppers and 4 cloves of garlic. Again, if you live in St. Landry or Evangeline Parish, you know where to get excellent smoked garlic & pork sausage. If you don't, and you don't make your own, you can use whatever, but add a lot of garlic with your veggies. 

Once our veggies are all cooked down and soft, we're going to add the long-grain white rice and let that soak up some of the juices of the pot. Then we'll put our chicken back in (you can also take the skin off, de-bone it, and pull it here if you want) and fill the pot with water about 3/4" above the rice. When it starts boiling, we'll add chopped flat leaf parsley and green onions, and check the seasoning. You want it to be pretty spicy and salty right now, because the rice will take away some of that extra saltiness and spice. 

Let it boil until almost all the water is gone, then cover and let it cook 15 min. 

Now serve it on plates or in soup plates, sprinkle it with green onions if you'd like, and let each person eating it use some extra seasoning blend or hot sauce if they want it. I like to keep my food pretty tame for the masses, then adjust in my own bowl with Crystal hot sauce or, even better, a well-minced habanero. 

The most important thing when you're making jambalaya is to take your time!! This took me 4 hours, but in that time I also weeded my garden, did three loads of laundry, folded clothes, make potato salad for tomorrow night's dinner, got some work done for my day job, and sat back with a gin & tonic and a foodie mag. So it's not like you're standing in front of the stove for very long, really. 

Enjoy, y'all!