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Jambalaya is a popular creole dish found all over the American South in a dizzying array of variations. Most Southern cooks agree that jambalaya can be made from essentially anything in the kitchen as long as it contains rice, vegetables, meat, and creole spices. Like paella, risotto, and other rice dishes, jambalaya involves sauteeing vegetables and then adding rice and a cooking stock before simmering the mixture together. Jambalaya also goes deliciously with gumbo, another popular creole dish.
The term creole refers to people living in the Southern United States and Caribbean who are of mixed European and black ancestry. Most creoles are also Cajun, meaning that they have absorbed a mixture of African American and French culture. Creole culture also has a rich culinary tradition, founded on the “holy trinity” of spices: tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Like many other creole foods, jambalaya probably has its roots in French cuisine: the strongest suggestion for the origin of the word is that it comes from jambalaia, a French dish that is remarkably similar.
To make jambalaya for a large party, start by browning two pounds of meat in a heavy saucepan. Popular choices are spicy Southern sausages, chicken, ham, or seafood, or a combination. Many grocery stores will special order Southern style sausages for you, and the unique flavor is well worth it. Sprinkle the meat with salt, black pepper, and red pepper while it cooks, and then set it aside while you concentrate on the rest of the dish.
Pick a heavy stockpot to saute chopped garlic to taste (three-six cloves), a diced onion, four chopped sticks of celery, and one diced bell pepper until the onion starts to turn transparent. Then add 15 ounces of tomato paste, and stir the mixture so that the sugars in the tomato paste start to caramelize, but not to burn. When the mixture turns a rich brown color, deglaze the pan with two cups of high quality chicken stock and mix everything together very thoroughly.
Add four large peeled and diced tomatoes and two to three tablespoons of a creole spice mix. If you prefer to make your own spice mix, use two teaspoons cayenne, two teaspoons black pepper, one teaspoon white pepper, one teaspoon oregano, and one half teaspoon thyme. Cook this mixture on low to medium heat for approximately 10 minutes and check the seasoning, adjusting if necessary. Then add the browned meat, six more cups of chicken stock, and four cups of washed and soaked white rice. Cook uncovered for approximately 10 minutes, until the mixture has reached a thick consistency and is ready to serve.
This jambalaya can easily serve 10 guests as a main dish, and a much larger number if it is offered in tandem with a variety of other creole dishes. If the recipe is too large to handle, it can easily be sized down for a small number of diners. If all the jambalaya is not eaten at the end of the evening, it can be stored under refrigeration for several days.
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