I’ll admit that in the days and weeks leading up to The Biggest Sunday of The Year, I was scheming and planning what Cajun-style fare to make as the Ravens unexpectedly (and somewhat unbelievably) notched their way up the Superbowl totem pole.
I’ve alluded before to the fact that I am generally more enraptured with the food indulgences that come along with the big game (because really, when else is it morally sound to scarf buttered hot wings and beer at 11am on a Sunday?), but this year my excitement for the actual clash and crash of helmets was genuine.
If it wasn’t for that pesky power-outage (seriously Beyonce?!) and the nail-biter of a second half that ensued, it would have almost been too easy — but thankfully, for my sanity and the sanity of every single person wearing black and purple, we managed to seal the deal. Superbowl 2013: nailed it!
I woke up early on Sunday morning to start on a dish that I thought was worthy of being consumed on such a momentous occasion – inspired first because the game was being played in The Big Easy, and secondly because Fat Tuesday (and Mardi Gras!) are suddenly rightthere around the corner.
One of my favorite places to visit in the States is New Orleans, and though I believe it is to be fervently avoided during the two-week Mardi Gras celebration (have you ever smelled Bourbon Street even when it isn’t stuffed with thousands of tourists guzzling technicolor hand grenades?), the cuisine alone is enough to keep me coming back.
There is *so* much more to that storied city than indulging in overly sugared cocktails, and muffulettas (from Central Grocery), fried shrimp po’ boys (at Domilise’s), and afternoon snacks of beignets and chicory coffee (from Cafe du Monde) rank up there with some of my favorite meals — ever. I love the spice and sass of the local food, and have to admit that in college, I could often be found waiting tables at our local Creole cafe (fried pickles and breakky po’boy…I still dream of thee).
Seeing as I was cooking for a crowd of twenty, I opted to try out a jambalaya that could easily be made in a large quantity and at least a few hours ahead of time. When it comes to jambalaya, there are about as many variations as there are for a family’s Sunday gravy, or chicken soup – seriously they are endless, and, from what I can gather, hotly debated. What I did know is that I wanted to make a Creole, rather than Cajun, style jambalaya, the main difference being the addition of tomatoes, which results in a reddish hued and more deeply spiced dish.
I can’t even pretend to know exactly how authentic my version ended up, but I cobbled together a few suggestions from various recipes, using a combination of roasted pulled chicken, cubed-up cured ham (nitrate free, of course), and pork chorizo (I couldn’t find the traditional ‘chaurice‘), and then riffed a bit on my own, adding pork linguica, a combination of spices, some colorful bell peppers, and a bit of green onion and finely diced fresno stirred in at the end, for a pop of color and bit of fresh flavor.
Not to toot my own horn…..but this jambalaya rocked. It’s not exactly for a weeknight; there is a fair bit of chopping, stirring, and waiting patiently for the rice to cook up just so, but it is so.super.simple, and is definitely going into my rotation of easy and relatively inexpensive meals for a crowd.
A big pot of this would be perfect after a long day spent on the slopes, and the great thing about it is that it’s versatile enough to be equally at home on a hot August night – paired up with a homemade hurricane, or a tall glass of crisp white.
(And….for the record….I’d a put a ring on that guuuuurl….. homeslice was Fierce!!)
Creole Style Chicken, Sausage, and Ham Jambalaya
Makes a whole lot – enough for 14-16 people to have a good sized scoop
Inspired by many sources, namely Fine Cooking
Making your own chicken broth is not necessary, but it will only add to the depth of flavor. If you are strapped for time, you can use boxed chicken broth, or even water for the steps listed below. It will still taste great, but if you have the time I recommend making your own.
4 bone-in skin-on chicken breasts
9 medium stalks celery, finely chopped, trimmings reserved
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped, trimmings reserved
2 cloves garlic
1 lb pork chorizo sausage
1 lb pork linguica sausage
1 lb nitrate-free ham steak, diced into 1/2″ squares
2 medium green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
2 medium orange or red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 dried bay leaves (I like California Bay Leaves)
2 large sprigs of fresh thyme (a small handful, left whole and on the sprig)
1 tsp. cayenne (plus more if you’re feeling saucy)
2 Tbsp chili powder
Fresh cracked black pepper
5 cups long-grain white rice
11 cups water
2 fresno peppers, finely diced
10 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thinly
2 Tbsp smoked paprika, divided
Hot sauce for serving, preferably Crystal (gotta find this stuff guys!)
Preheat your oven to 425F. Season the chicken breasts with kosher salt, fresh pepper, and 1 Tbsp of the smoked paprika. Place the seasoned chicken on a parchment lined baking sheet, and roast for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Once cooled, peel back and discard the skin, and shred the breasts with a fork to make bite sized bits. Place the stripped bones into a large pot with the celery and onion trimmings and the garlic, and cover with the 11 cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a vivacious simmer, letting the mixture simmer for 30 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by about a cup. Strain the liquid – you should have about 10 cups; add enough water to the strained liquid to make 10 cups if you come up short. Reserve this liquid to the side.
In a very large Dutch oven over high heat, sear the sausages on all sides until they are just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausages to the side, and let them cool slightly. In the rendered sausage fat, add the cubed ham and the onions, peppers, and celery. Stir the veggies to evenly coat them in the fat of the sausages, and add a drizzle of olive oil if the veggies look dry (my sausages relinquished plenty of fat and I did not need to add any). Cook the vegetables, stirring often, until they are just beginning to become tender, 10 minutes. Stir the tomato paste, bay leaves, chili powder, cayenne pepper, fresh thyme, and remaining 1 Tbsp of smoked paprika into the vegetable and ham mixture, and let cook for another 2 minutes.
Slice the cooked sausage into rounds about 1/4″ thick. Stir the pulled chicken and sliced sausage into the ham and veggie mixture. Pour in the raw rice, and stir well to combine all the flavors and spices. Pour the 10 cups of reserved chicken broth into the rice, and stir well; bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, and then reduce to a simmer, and cover. Cook the dish over medium-low heat, undisturbed, for 22-28 minutes, keeping an eye to make sure that the liquid does not boil off completely – you want the rice to cook up and become fluffy, but if the dish is looking dry and the rice is still undercooked, add a bit of water, 1/2 cup at a time. When the rice is perfectly cooked (and almost still al-dente – you want it to be cooked but still firm, and not mushy at all), remove the dish from the heat. Let the dish stand for 15 minutes, to let the flavors meld. Stir in the chopped fresno peppers and green onions, and serve with plenty of Crystal sauce on the side.