Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cookin' Tuesday--Laissez les bon temps rouler

You know that aisle in the grocery store that has all kinds of cool ethnic food? Okay, admittedly, if you're from the Deep South, it's entirely possible that that particular section of your store is, like the one in my hometown, a few shelves of Goya products, some taco sauce and shells and maybe, chicken chow main in a can. Well…maybe it's not THAT bad, but it's nothing like the array of products in the "International" aisle at my local ShopRite. And I'm not even including the fact that there's an entire aisle devoted exclusively to kosher foods. I'm talking about an entire aisle, dedicated on both sides to many different varieties of Asian and Indian food. Mexican--and not just taco shells. OTHER Hispanic foods. Caribbean. There's a section of BRITISH stuff. And I think all of that is amazing because it has at times allowed me to cook any number of things without to five different specialty stores in order to make the recipe.

What ShopRite DOESN'T have--in fact, what NO stores here have--is a SOUTHERN section. I'm thinking of petitioning for one. I mean, it doesn't have to have a lot: Dale's Steak Sauce, Yellow Label Syrup, filé powder, maybe some Grapico. Just the basics, ya know? This thought came to me as I was scouring the store today, attempting to find the ingredients to make jambalaya. Most of it was easy. Some of it they flat out didn't have. And by "some of it", I mean the damn filé powder. It's entirely possible that there WAS some somewhere in that huge store, but I sure as hell couldn't find it and the one person I asked looked at me like I was speaking Alien. If you don't know, filé powder is used as a thickening agent in jambalaya and gumbo and all kinds of Louisiana-type dishes. It's made from ground sassafras leaves. Which meant that I had to then go in search of a SUBSTITUTE thickening agent. Which CAN be cornstarch dissolved in water, but for something as spicy as jambalaya I think that dilutes the flavor. So that meant a second search for a legit Cajun/Creole thickener which means okra and of COURSE, they didn't have fresh so I had to go on some kind of Indiana Jones-quest for the frozen (they also had CANNED, the thought of which makes me vomit). Anyway, the recipe I had looked over--I wasn't really going to USE it. Just get started with it, which is often how I roll when cooking, rather than baking--called for the powder and chicken and Andouille sausage (which, randomly, the totally had right in there with the Italian sausage). I also put in shrimp and okra. Because…New Jersey. And it's Mardi Gras, y'all. You HAVE to have something fun and New Orleans-y (or pancakes). It's like a LAW.


Everything and the Kitchen Sink New Jersey Mardi Gras Jambalaya

About 1 lb of chicken breast cut into 1 inch chunks
About 1 lb of peeled, raw shrimp
About 3/4 lb of Andouille sausage cut into circles
One package of frozen okra
1 onion chopped
1 green bell pepper chopped
3-4 stalks of celery chopped
One large can of crushed tomatoes (I used the 1 lb, 12 oz size)
2 cups of chicken broth or stock (I use low sodium organic)
Creole seasoning
Cayenne pepper
Tabasco sauce
Worcestershire sauce
garlic (I used the jarred, already diced, because I'm lazy, but about 2-3 cloves)
cooking oil (I used peanut oil)
2 cups of Minute Rice (You could use "real" rice.)

--Sprinkle chicken with Cajun seasoning. Heat 1-2 Tbs of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Cook chicken through and remove from pot. Cook sausage rounds the same way and remove.
--Add celery, onion, bell pepper and garlic to empty pot and sauté until tender, stirring regularly.
--Add can of crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, Cayenne, Tabasco and Worcestershire. All of the spices and sauces can be added as to your personal taste. Stir. Add shrimp and okra and about half a cup of water. Stir. Cook for about 10 minutes or until shrimp starts to turn pink.
--Add Minute Rice and chicken broth (I said two cups of each, but really you could do less or more depending on how much rice you want in it. I used Minute Rice, because it was quicker and it's easy to measure how much liquid because it's always in equal parts with the amount of rice). Turn up the heat and bring the entire mixture to a boil. Immediately remove entire pot from heat and let it sit for about ten minutes.

This should serve 10-12 people if they are average-portion eaters. The shrimp/chicken/sausage/okra part is flexible according to tastes and allergies. You could also leave the meat out altogether and have a vegetarian dish, especially if you subbed in zucchini for your meat. If you don't want the okra you can use about a Tbs of filé powder if you can find it.

Great served with crusty French bread and a green salad. Tastes even better the next day after the flavors have melded!

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