Cooking Louisiana  -  Jambalaya

Cajun Jambalaya

The Jambalaya is probably one of the trickiest dishes to do the old way. Many people cook everything as they normally would and then finish it in the oven or in a rice cooker. I’m going to attempt to explain the old method as best I can. Keep in mind that this is how I was shown by a long time Jambalaya cook. My father would not eat a fluffy, or, a real sticky Jambalaya. Thanks Albert!

First let’s cover what the outcome should be. We’re looking for a rice consistency that is not too fluffy and not too sticky; it should be right in between. Picture dipping a big spoonful out of the pot and the rice stays together. Now you should be able to knock small spoonful's off without it sticking (like glue) together. If I had to make a choice on which side of “right” I had to live with, it would be the fluffy end. Let me also say that if the dish comes out too sticky, the rice was overcooked.

I use long grain rice; to me it just works better than short grain.

Let’s do a Shrimp Jambalaya

1-1/2 to 2 lbs of small shrimp (40-50 count or smaller) peeled & washed (save about a cup of the peelings)

3-4 onions chopped
4 stalks celery chopped
1 bell pepper chopped

In a black iron pot add a little oil and sauté the onions. Kick up the heat a little and get them to brown some. Lower the fire a little and throw in the celery and bell pepper. Continue to cook this down as described in the Trinity Cooked Down article.

While this is cooking boil the shrimp shells in about 2 cups of water for about 15 minutes. Strain and reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid.

5 med. Cloves of garlic minced

Once the trinity is almost cooked down add the garlic and stir. Cook until the trinity is cooked down then add the shrimp stock and the following seasonings. Keep in mind the following amounts are rough, and, are only a start.

1/2 tsp. Creole seasoning (for this dish I like Old Bay seasoning)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. Louisiana hot sauce
1 or 2 bay leaves

Stir this in well cook for a minute or so and taste it. You're looking for a little too salty and peppery taste. The reason being is you have to have enough seasoning for the shrimp and the rice as they will absorb it.

Now get a 4 cup measure and add 3 cups of water to it. This is all the water you're going to use for the dish (maybe). I'll explain "maybe" a little later.

JambalayaAdd the shrimp and enough water (from the cup) to cover the shrimp.

Bring to a boil (bubble) and cook until the shrimp turn completely red stirring often. Why don't I add the rice? Because shrimp will give off water as they cook. I don't need any surprises.

Taste it again. You want it a tiny bit salty and a tiny bit more peppered than you would normally like. And I mean a TINY bit!!!!!

1-1/4 cups rice.

Add the rice and enough water from the cup to cover everything about 1/4". Stir very well, turn the fire up to med-high and get it boiling. Stir the pot using a spatula and be sure to completely scrape the bottom. Lower the fire until you get a decent bubble in the boil, not too hard a boil. Cover the pot. Here's why you just want a "decent" boil. The water temperature stays up and the bottom of the pot doesn't burn.

Remember this one point, don't let it stop boiling until the rice is done. If you do, you're finished. Why?Rice has to cook completely from start to finish. You can't cook it half way, stop, then start again. That means if it quits boiling at any time during the cooking process you've screwed it up.  Just about every time you taste a jambalaya and the rice is sticky that's what happened. 

Every few minutes stir the pot scraping the bottom and re-cover.

Keep the water level just barely at the top of the food. Here's the "maybe". If you need to add water (read carefully) microwave it until it is boiling (you can do it in a pot to on the stove too) then add it. DO NOT ADD COLD WATER. 

I'm going to assume that you can look at rice and tell if it's done. If you can't, just taste it to see if it's crunchy or not. Once you cook several jambalayas you'll be able to look at it and tell.

Keep up the stir, scrape and cover routine until the rice is done and taste it. Add whatever seasoning you need, stir it one more time, lower the fire to med-low and let it sit uncovered for about 5 minutes. Stir it completely again and check the consistency of the rice.Jambalaya

It should act like this. 

Keep this in mind. Once the rice is done, it's done. If you quit boiling it, it won't cook any more. It will only be more or less moist as a dish (the consistency). 

I know you've done a lot of reading here but I owe it to you to explain as best I can how this is done. As you have learned, it comes down to the physics of how rice cooks. Strange huh?