Memories of Spring Break — Chicken Jambalaya

In my senior year of college, I took a road trip for spring break down to Baton Rouge, LA to visit a friend who was in graduate school at LSU with a fraternity brother named Rick.  John (our friend at LSU) was very keen on showing us the local culture and we went to New Orleans for a night where we were introduced to Po Boys and Jambalaya.  John also hosted a crawfish boil in his tiny two-bedroom apartment.  We drank Abita beer and sucked the heads of crawfish until we were nearly ill.  It was a great time.

All too soon after that trip, I found myself graduated and living in Baltimore, MD.  One weekend I got a hankering for some of those Creole and Cajun tastes that I remembered from my trip to Louisiana.  I was pretty poor in those days, making less than twenty thousand dollars a year; going out for dinner was pretty much not an option.  I turned to the cookbooks we had in the house looking for a recipe.  I was surprised to find that the Joy of Cooking left me hanging.  I found one in the last cookbook I looked at which I expected to be the least likely to have a recipe.  It was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.

Admittedly, the recipe was not really a good representation of the dish, but it got me started.  Over the years, I’ve developed the following recipe and technique through trial and error.  My jambalaya does not include shrimp, but you could easily add them near the end of the cooking time.

Jambalaya

1 onion, chopped finely
1 green pepper, chopped finely
3 celery stalks, chopped finely
2 boneless chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise into cutlets
3-5 links smoked Andouille sausage
3 tbsp. kosher salt (divided)
1 tbsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. thyme (divided)
1 tbsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. white pepper (adjust to taste)
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
1 large (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup white rice

Combine all the spices into a mixing bowl, reserving 1 tbsp. each of kosher salt and thyme.  Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise in half, do this by laying them flat on the cutting board and cutting into the side of the breast.  Add the chicken to the bowl and rub liberally with the spice mixture.

Heat olive oil and butter in a large stockpot on medium to high heat. When the oil and butter starts to sizzle, add the chicken breasts.  Let them stick to the bottom of the pan and do not be afraid to let them get nice and black.  You want them to blacken and to leave a crust on the bottom of the pan when you remove them.  Once both sides are blackened, remove the chicken and set it aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onions, celery and green peppers.  You may find that you need to add more oil to the mixture.  Use your best judgment.  Add any remaining spices from the mixing bowl as well as 1 tbsp. of kosher salt to the pot.  Sauté the trinity (onion, pepper, and celery) until the onions are translucent and the celery is softened.

Add tomatoes, stock, and remaining tbsp. of thyme to the pot and bring up to a simmer.  Scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any blackened bits remaining.  Your tomato, onion, celery, pepper mixture should start to turn slightly brown rust colored at this point.  Simmer this mixture for about 15-20 minutes so that flavors become incorporated.

Meanwhile slice the chicken and Andouille sausage into bite sized pieces but keep them separate.  Add the chicken back into the pot and simmer for another 20 minutes.  Add 1 cup of white rice and stir occasionally to ensure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot.  Add the Andouille to the pot and simmer an additional 20 minutes or until the rice is tender.

Serve with French bread and a hearty beer if you are so inclined.

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