London - Feb. 11, 2011 - If you like Jambalaya, you'll love this Aussie spin on the Louisiana classic. Much like the melting pot that formed the beloved culture of the south, the dish itself is a unique combination of influences all mixed into a single pot.
The true origin of Jambalaya is unconfirmed and somewhat contested. Some say its roots are Spanish, others say French, and still others point to Africa and the Caribbean. Regardless of history, I think we can see a shade of all of these influences to varying degrees. In the early 17th century, Creole and Cajun cooks preparing meals for church events and fairs often cooked Jambalaya in large, cast iron pots over an open fire. Rice, vegetables, spices and stock were added to meat and/or seafood in numerous combinations, some with tomato (Creole) and others with a spicy brown roux (Cajun).
Since its modest beginnings, Jambalaya has been brought to the world stage by chefs like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. I love the impact that the Internet has had on opening the world's doors to unique and native cuisines that were limited to us when we solely relied on books and television for research and discovery.
The version presented below is easy to make and wonderfully delicious. It remains true to its roots, but is unique with the addition of fresh lime juice, cilantro and hot green chilli peppers. The crucial element is the smoked Spanish chorizo, so it is essential to choose an authentic one from your local market or gourmet food purveyor. You really want the chorizo to render its fat tinged with that vibrant orange that comes from the paprika, because without it you run the risk of serving up a bland dish.
If you prefer to tone down the heat a little, omit the green chilli garnish. The dish is best served with icy cold beer or a chilled, slightly sweet wine like Gewurztraminer or Riesling. Enjoy!
Jambalaya (serves 4)
500g raw tiger prawns, shelled and de-veined
2 tbsp olive oil
1 hot chorizo sausage, sliced (authentic Spanish is best)
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion cut into 1cm dice
1 green pepper cut into 1 cm dice
4 inner celery stalks with leaves, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
6 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
250g long-grain rice
500ml chicken stock or broth
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
2 spring onions thinly sliced on an angle
2 long green chilli peppers, sliced
2 limes cut into cheeks or wedges
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed stock pot over high heat. Partially cook the chorizo and chicken, stirring for 2-3 minutes to render the paprika-laden oil. Remove with slotted spoon and set on paper towels, leaving residual oil in the pan.
Add remaining oil, onion, pepper, celery and garlic. Reduce heat to medium and stir for five minutes or until vegetables soften. Stir in tomato paste, thyme and bay. Add rice, stock, chorizo and chicken. Season with cayenne, bring to a simmer, then cover and cook on medium for 15-18 minutes or until rice is almost cooked.
Stir in the prawns, cover and simmer for 3-4 additional minutes until just cooked.
Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve topped with spring onion, green chilli, cilantro and lime.
Tip: Cut the limes into "cheeks" instead of wedges. You’ll extract more juice that way, and they make for a nicer presentation (see photo).
(Recipe adapted from Ben O'Donague, Australian chef and cookbook author.)