Spicy!! Just the way I like it. Here’s an incredibly delectable Shrimp & Crawfish Jambalaya.
Going back to my youth, this is another delicious cajun/creole recipe I learned while living in the bayous of Louisiana. I do love cajun/creole cuisine. It’s so flavorful and there really isn’t any other cuisine like it in the world. While spicy, it’s not about the heat. It’s also rustic but refined. You have the influences of French, African, Spanish, Native American Indian and Caribbean cuisines and techniques combining to form this amazingly wonderful cuisine. The unique combination of cultures has created a cuisine that has been, is and will be enjoyed for generations. Given my kids grew up on daddy making cajun cuisine, it’s one of their favorite foods, as well and I’m sure they will introduce their children to the flavors of Louisiana.
I’ve already shown you how to make seafood gumbo, chicken gumbo, smoked pork and sausage gumbo, rabbit in sauce piquant, crawfish pie and crawfish étouffée. So, today the focus is on jambalaya – another one of the foods for which Louisiana is renowned. Yet, where did this dish originate? Given its such a spicy dish, was it in Africa or the Caribbean? Some people will tell you it did, indeed, originate in the Caribbean Islands with Spanish and African influences. There is a slight French style to it, as well and various cookbook authors and many people in New Orleans will tell you jambalya comes from the French jambon (“ham”,) and an African word for rice, given variously as “ya,” “aya” or “yaya”. Some have even gone further to trace it’s origin to Provence where its meaning is mish-mash. It’s also similar to paella which was brought to Louisiana by the Spanish explorers. Some even ascribe the dish to the native American Indian living in Louisiana. My favorite basis for the origin of jambalaya is the story that late one night a traveler arrived at a New Orleans Inn long after dinner had been served and wanted something to eat. The inn’s cook, a man named Jean, was told to “balayez,” or “throw something together” to feed the man. The results were delicious and the guest pronounced the resulting hodge-podge dish as “Jean balayez.” Over time, the name later evolved to “Jambalaya.” Cute story, eh?
As with most one-pot Louisiana dishes, there are as many recipes for jambalaya as there are stars in the sky. It’s a popular dish because 1) it is inexpensive, 2) absolutely delicious, 3) not very difficult to make, and 4) it can be adjusted to include whatever you may have on hand, including any type of game caught that day. Of course, the way I catch most of my food is by suburban hunting at one of the various markets nearby.
Now, to confuse things a little further, there are 2 different kinds of jambalaya. Although the ingredients are essentially the same the manner of cooking differs. You have creole jambalaya (typically found in New Orleans where creole culture is more prevalent) and cajun jambalaya (typically found in the rural areas of Louisiana). Creole jambalaya aka “red jambalaya,” includes tomatoes; whereas, cajun jambalaya does not and generally has a brown color. The cooking technique differs, as well. With creole jambalaya the meat (typically chicken and/or andouille sausage) is cooked in the pot first along with the Holy Trinity. Once cooked, the tomatoes, stock and rice are added to the pot. The entire pot is then brought to a boil, covered, and cooked until the rice has absorbed all of the stock. The resulting dish has a red color from the tomatoes. On the other hand, with cajun jambalaya the meat is cooked in the pot and allowed to brown and caramelize. Once the meat has caramelized, the Holy Trinity is cooked next, followed by the the stock and finally the rice is added. When the stock is added the sucs (fond) in the pot is deglazed into the broth which gives cajun jambalaya its brown color. Cajun jambalaya generally has a deeper, richer flavor than Creole jambalaya due to caramelization of the meat.
This dish is more of a creole jambalaya. Because it involves seafood as opposed to the more traditional chicken, local game and sausage, the seafood is added at the end. The result is a wonderful dish that everyone will love. The rice is incredibly flavorful and the shrimp very tasty and tender. You owe it to yourself to try this dish. Your family and guests will love you for it. It will serve 4-6 main dishes or 8 -10 appetizers. This is what we did.
- 2 lbs shrimp (35 – 40 count), peeled and deveined
- 8 oz. pre-cooked and peeled crawfish tails
- 1-1/5 tsp sea salt
- 1-1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper *
- 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 8 oz. tomato sauce
- 2 cups green onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups onion, small dice
- 1/2 cup green bell pepper, small dice
- 2 Tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1/4 cup parsley, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups seafood stock (chicken stock may be substituted) **
- 1 cup uncooked white rice
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
First things first, combine 1-1/2 tsp sea salt, 1-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper and 1 tsp black pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle the spice blend over the shrimp.
Now, using your hands, work the seasoning into the shrimp.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Next melt the butter in a large pot over high heat.
When fully melted, add the tomato sauce.
Because this is cooked over high heat, things can get a little tricky so pay attention. If you don’t pay attention, you will scorch the butter and tomato sauce. You are going to constantly stir the tomato sauce until it attains a very rich, dark color and the butter very clearly separates out into large reddish pools like the following:
This will take roughly 8 – 10 minutes depending upon your stove. Using tomato sauce, as opposed to fresh tomatoes, and cooking it down in this fashion results in an incredible depth of flavor for your jambalaya. You will really be surprised by this cooking technique.
Once you get to this stage, add the onions,
Cook over high heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Now add the seafood stock
Bring to a boil stirring the rice once or twice. Now, add the sea salt,
and black pepper
Reduce heat to a slow simmer. Now you have a decision to make. Traditionally, jambalaya is cooked stove top. Given the nature of this recipe you run a serious risk of scalding/burning the rice to the bottom of the pot. I’ve done it and it ruins the dish. If you want to do it the traditional manner then simmer the mixture over low heat for 15 minutes keeping the lid in place and no peaky. I opt for another method that works as well, if not better. Once you have covered the pot, move it to a preheated 350 F oven. Cook it in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes. By cooking it in the oven you get uniform heat surrounding the pot so it’s virtually impossible to burn the rice. Although you can, it takes an intentional effort on your part. We assume that is not your desire. After 15 – 20 minutes, remove the pot from the oven (or stove top if you chose that method). The rice will not be fully cooked but will be al dente. Now, add the seasoned shrimp
and crawfish tails.
cover the pot and place in a warm place for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to marry, the shrimp to cook and the rice to get tender. After 10 minutes, remove lid, stir again, remove the bay leaves, serve & enjoy. We’re sure you will.
NOTES: For those of you curious about cooking the shrimp, the residual heat from the rice mixture will cook the shrimp. The shrimp will be incredibly tender and not overcooked. If you are leery of this method, or for some reason the shrimp has not cooked or the rice is not tender, put it back in the 350 oven for roughly 5 minutes. Anything more than 5 minutes in a 350 F oven will overcook the shrimp.
I must warn you, this dish is very piquant, i.e. spicy, spicy, spicy. It aint for the faint of heart. Baby Lady is my little El Paso chilehead. I am always amazed when I make cajun/creole cuisine when she complains about the heat level. She eats really hot Mexican food and salsas – more than I can tolerate. Nevertheless, there is something about cayenne pepper that she cannot take. If you don’t want this dish spicy, simply reduce the cayenne pepper to 3/4 tsp (or 1/2 tsp if you really can’t take the heat) and omit the white pepper. You can always serve a bottle of pepper vinegar or hot sauce on the side for those who like it extra spicy.
**Seafood stock is important to this recipe inasmuch as it adds tremendous depth of flavor. If you don’t have seafood stock, use the shrimp shells and water and make a very basic shrimp stock. Another option is to make dashi, a very simple, Japanese seafood broth made from dried bonito flakes. It takes less than 7 minutes total to make. So, when you don’t have time to make a seafood stock or a shrimp stock, make dashi -recipe found here in the notes). Just don’t use water unless you have absolutely no other choice.