When it comes to jambalaya, “I believe in a few universal truths,” said Poppy Tooker in Fine Cooking. First, the dish shouldn’t be confused with gumbo: Gumbo is “a stewy soup” usually served over rice, while jambalaya is more like a hearty pilaf. Also, you can’t make jambalaya without onions, peppers, celery, and ham (preferably Cajun tasso). The French word for “ham” is essentially right there in the name.
You can add most anything you like, and also debate among yourselves whether the Creole or Cajun version is better. Cajun (or brown) jambalaya traces its origins to the relatively impoverished French-Canadian settlers of southern Louisiana. It’s tomato-free and gets its color from aggressive browning of its meats and vegetables. Creole (or red) jambalaya, like the one below, is colored by tomatoes, a favored ingredient of New Orleans’s early French and Spanish settlers. Whatever way you make it, a jambalaya needs to be “deeply flavorful, wonderfully comforting, and plentiful enough to feed a crowd.”
Recipe of the week
Creole-style shrimp jambalaya
- 6 scallions
- 3 celery stalks
- 1 onion
- 2 lb large shrimp, preferably wild-caught
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- ¼ lb ham, preferably tasso, cut into ¼-inch dice
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 dried bay leaf
- ½ tsp chopped fresh thyme
- ¼ tsp cayenne
- 1⁄8 tsp chile powder
- 1⁄8 tsp ground allspice
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 2 cups long-grain white rice
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- Hot sauce, preferably Crystal (optional)
Thinly slice the scallions and finely chop the celery and onion, then set aside. In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, cover the vegetable trimmings with 5½ cups of water; bring to a boil. Add shrimp. Boil until cooked, 3 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and let sit for 3 minutes. Strain through a sieve set over a large glass measuring cup. You will need 4½ cups of stock, so add water if necessary. When shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel and devein them. Discard the shells and vegetable trimmings.
In a 5- to 6-quart pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the chopped celery, onion, and pepper and cook, stirring often, until softened, 7 minutes. Add ham and reserved shrimp and cook, stirring often, until excess moisture evaporates and ham and vegetables begin to brown, 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until a shade darker, 3 minutes. Stir in bay leaf, thyme, cayenne, chile powder, allspice, cloves, and 1½ tsp kosher salt. Stir in rice. Add reserved stock and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer undisturbed, just until rice is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove pot from the heat. Sprinkle scallions and paprika over jambalaya and gently fluff in with a fork. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Add hot sauce, if you like. Serves 6.