July 25, 2017

Jambalaya is a staple of Louisiana cooking, but it’s just as important for Austin culinary arts students to master. The hearty combination of meat, vegetable and rice makes an exceptionally satisfying meal that’s perfect for gathering groups of family or friends. Once you know the techniques that go into preparing jambalaya, you’ll be ready to put your own spin on this classic dish.

An array of fresh tastes

The key to making an exceptional pot of jambalaya is finding the perfect combination of flavors and textures. At the heart of most recipes is the “holy trinity,” or the three key ingredients of Cajun and Creole cuisine: bell peppers, onions and celery. Creole versions generally also include tomatoes, chicken, a cooked sausage such as andouille, seafood like shrimp, rice and scallions.

Meanwhile, tomatoes are not commonly included in Cajun food, and many other aspects of the ingredients and preparation can differ from cook to cook. For instance, the directions provided by Bon Appetit call for smoked ham instead of chicken. By working with what you have readily available, adjusting ratios with care and improvising a little, you may discover an exciting new approach to this beloved stew.

Add ingredients gradually

One of the most important factors in achieving the full potential of your jambalaya is taking into account the cooking times of the various elements. Tossing everything into the pot simultaneously will result in overcooking the seafood and hurt the dish’s overall taste. Serious Eats suggested a method that leaves adding the shrimp and scallions until the end of the process and uses the oven to avoid burning the rice along the way.

Warm vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat before adding boneless and skinless chicken thighs seasoned with salt and pepper. Cook for about six minutes on either side, until browned. Then, set the chicken aside to cool for a few minutes before cutting into chunks.

Slice sausage into thin pieces and throw into the Dutch oven for three minutes. Reduce heat and stir in onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Scrape browned bits from the bottom as you cook the vegetables for about eight minutes.

Add tomato paste and, after a minute, black pepper, thyme, oregano, cayenne, garlic powder and hot sauce. Then, throw in a mixture of tomato sauce and chicken stock, plus crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and the chunks of chicken. Heat to a simmer before adding rice and covering.

Move the mixture into an oven set to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Mix in the shrimp and scallions and place back in the oven for another five minutes. Allow to rest, covered, for 15 minutes before serving.

Jambalaya is a dish that invites experimentation and personalization. Culinary academy students should try out a basic approach and then rework their recipe to fit their own tastes and techniques.