I am not Catholic. I grew up in an area where Catholics were much more prone to celebrate Ash Wednesday than they were to celebrate Mardi Gras. In fact, except for the bar celebrations, Mardi Gras is basically a non-event here. However, I grew up with family in South Louisiana. Of course, the celebration in New Orleans gets a lot of coverage, but every little town makes a HUGE deal out of Mardi Gras. I never went to a celebration, but the Mardi Gras coverage every year makes me crave Cajun food something awful. Hence, Jumbalaya. I love Jumbalaya for one simple reason – flexibility! The French root of Jumbalaya actually means mish mash. So, if you’ve got some rice, stock, protein and spices on hand, you can make Jumbalaya. The recipe here only has chicken in it. Usually, I’d also add Andouille sausage and shrimp. You can adapt the rice to protein ratio any way you want – more rice feeds a crowd a flavorful meal on a budget, more meat makes a super hearty dish that will please even the most carnivorous eater in your house. This recipe is only slightly spicy (I’d say medium if I was designating it the way salsa’s are) Reduce the amount of Cajun seasoning for a milder dish or add a little cayenne pepper to amp up the spice.
Almost all Cajun food starts with the trinity – that’s onion, bell pepper and celery – sautéed in your pan as the base. I like to add some rough chopped garlic, because it suits my tastes (or wards off unwanted vampire attacks – either way). It doesn’t really matter how uniformly it is chopped since this is going to simmer away for quite a while.
I also put diced, fresh tomatoes in with the trinity and garlic. You can use tomato paste too. Add it just before you add the stock. When the veggies start to soften, add your meat and get a little brown on it. Then stir in the stock.
Bring this to a boil. Stir in the rice. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover. Simmer until rice is cooked through and most of the liquid is absorbed. This takes about and hour (hey, I said it was flexible, not fast). You can cut the cook time down by using minute rice, but you are going to compromise some flavor and texture to do it. Serve it up with a nice, fluffy biscuit.
1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
2 pounds chicken, diced (or 1 pound chicken and 1 pound sausage)
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup brown rice
1 Tablespoon Cajun seasoning
Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic and tomatoes. Cook until vegetables are soft. Add chicken and cook for 5 minutes. Add stock. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in rice. Reduce heat to low, so that liquid is just at a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour (or until rice is done). Stir quickly after 30 minutes have passed and again after 45 minutes have passed.