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Enhance My Jambalaya

Below is my recipe for jambalaya. It is quite good, but does not quite measure up to the best that I've eaten in restos. Somehow it lacks the zing and snap (for lack of better descriptors) of a really first-class jambalaya. Please chime in with suggestions.

4 T. veg. oil
3/4 lb. chicken breast, diced
1/2 lb. ham, diced
1/2 lb. smoked sausage, sliced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup onion, minced
1 cup bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
14 oz. can tomatoes with juice, minced
3 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup tom. paste
1 T. Tabasco
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. salt
1 t. oregano
1 t. thyme
1/2 t. allspice
1 1/2 cups long grain rice

1. Heat 2 T. oil over medium-high heat in stock pot.

2. Add chicken and brown on all sides for 10 minutes.

3. Remove chicken from pot.

4. Add remaining 2 T. oil to pot and heat.

5. Add ham, sausage, celery, onion, green pepper and garlic; cook for 9 minutes stirring frequently.

6. Stir in tomatoes, broth, tomato paste, Tabasco, bay leaf, salt, oregano, thyme and allspice.

7. Return chicken to pot. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

8. Stir in rice. Cover. Simmer 40 minutes, stirring frequently and adding additional broth if rice begins to stick to bottom of pot.

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  1. skip the veg oil and use duck fat, schmaltz or lard or even better a combo of all. (and just one clove of garlic? I'd use closer to an entire head and toss it in at the start)

    4 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      Can duck fat be purchased in regular grocery stores? I don't recall seeing the stuff.

      Point about the garlic duly noted.

      1. re: Perilagu Khan

        I dunno, probably not, although maybe at a large Asian grocer. I like to roast duck and reserve every drop of the rendered fat so it's never been an issue for me.

        but there's a thread topic for you. I tried finding beef tallow or suet once and just got a bunch of puzzled looks.

        1. re: hill food

          Anyplace that sells "D'Artagnan products should have duck fat. If there's a Wegman's in your area I know they have it.

        2. re: Perilagu Khan

          Williams Sonoma is now selling jars of duck fat. Saw it in the last catalog they sent me.

      2. Duck fat would be insane, but are you using a touch of acid to finish this off? To my mind the only thing missing is a squeezed lemon and then taste for salt before serving. You could also replace the plain diced tomatoes w/ roasted garlic tomatoes for a little extra kick and add a few drops of hot pepper sauce for depth of flavor, not zing.

        5 Replies
        1. re: mamachef

          mama - re duck fat: insanely delicious!

          I once had a sauce (different intent) of roasted tomatoes, red bell pepper and garlic, but that WAS amazing. so good tip I imagine the char would add a nice smoky element.

          OP PK: as for the ham, can you get Tasso or as a sub smoked ham hock in the area? you say smoked sausage, but can you find Andouille or even just Chorizo? these would add complexity and you don't need much.

          1. re: hill food

            Andouille is no problem. Tasso? Dunno. I'll check on that.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              Tasso is what you need. I always try to keep a couple of pounds of it squirreled away in the freezer, on general principle.

              Here's the butchers shop I usually buy it from, and they'll ship it...

          2. re: mamachef

            A squeeze of lemon sounds like just the thing.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              Um, no they don't use any acid but tomatoes. If you want to go authentic, but by all means, go by what tastes good to you.

          3. a teaspoon or two of fish sauce or anchovy paste, and/or sub out 1/2 cup of coffee for the chicken stock

            5 Replies
            1. re: weezycom

              Coffee, eh? Interesting. Have you actually done this?

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                I've made a variety of Louisiana dishes that have tomatoes & ham/sausgae in them, and putting in a little coffee can give a nice depth of flavor. Sort of like adding cocoa powder to chile -- you may not specifically taste the ingredient, it just gives a little extra richness of flavor to the whole pot.

                1. re: weezycom

                  I could see that, doesn't red-eye gravy incorporate coffee?

                  1. re: hill food

                    That's where I got the original idea to do it. And if you make chicory coffee, even better!

                    1. re: weezycom

                      chicory coffee would be a nice twist (and kick) this is OT, but using finely ground coffee on steak (think steak au poivre, I guess au cafe in this case) is another good use.

            2. IMO you'll get the zing you need from cayenne and/or crushed red pepper (I know you have Tabasco) and Worcestershire sauce. My favorite new seasoning blend of the moment is Mrs. Dash's line...the Onion & Herb blend would enhance the dish alot. I added some (well, I've been adding it to everything lately) to my okra gumbo and it was perfect. Also, I know you have ham and sausage in the dish but 1/2 teaspoon of salt doesn't seem like enough to season all the food you have cooking together.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Cherylptw

                I imagine you're right about the salt. This is one of the rare recipes in my index that err on the side of caution when it comes to salt.

                Worcestershire sounds good, and I'll check into Mrs. Dash.

              2. A few ideas:

                -swap out some of that oil for butter, which will definitely amp up the flavor
                -swap in bone-in, skin-on dark meat chicken for the boneless, skinless breast. You can remove the skin and bones just before serving. The bones and skin will enrich the flavor.
                -add some wine or beer in place of the chicken broth. If you're not morally opposed, you could also add a little chicken bullion (or Better Than Bullion) to dial up the umami
                -a light splash of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce also kicks up the flavor
                -add another bay leaf
                -use fresh herbs over dried, and use more of them
                -what about parsley? is that heresy?
                -in addition to the fresh, use some dried garlic and onion, which add another layer of flavor
                -probably not traditional for jambalaya, but you could lightly toast the rice by adding it in step 5.
                -no shrimp?
                -Emeril seasons his with "creole" seasoning, which includes paprika. Try it?

                Most importantly:
                If you slightly change your method, you can get much more flavor out of that tomato paste than you do with just adding it in with the wet ingredients. Try adding the tomato paste separately at the end of step 5 (scrape the rest of the ingredients in the pot to one side). Sauté the tomato paste until it turns a nice, deep, dark reddish-brown color. Then perhaps deglaze with a little white wine or beer before adding the tomatoes.

                3 Replies
                1. re: ChristinaMason

                  I've got a thing about shellfish; hence no shrimp. And I'm not crazy about the texture of dark meat chicken. I like your other suggestions, though.

                  1. re: ChristinaMason

                    Oh yes, she's right about the bone in chicken, don't use breasts, too lean. You need thighs or legs, I only use thighs. Don't worry that you don't "like" dark meat, this is no sissy dish!! You take the chicken out after it's done, and shred the meat and add back to the dish. Breast meat is way too bland for this.

                    But, fresh herbs get drowned out in this dish, since the rice makes it rather bland, you need the OOMPH of dried spices. No parsley, this ain't no frou-frou dish!!

                    But other than that, good call, CM!!

                    1. re: Phurstluv

                      Seems to me given the strong flavors of the other ingredients that the savor of the meat itself is not uppermost.

                  2. Can you get your hands on any seafood to tuck in there? Also, ditto on using lard instead of vegetable oil, and tasso instead of regular ham. And I put Old Bay seasoning in my jambalaya (another poster pointed out the use of a paprika based spice mix, and this is the one I use).

                    1. Your only "heat" is tabasco sauce. I know that Paul Prudhomme's recipes all usually call for cayenne, black and white peppers and tabasco - all have a different kind of heat - so maybe you could add/sub some different kinds of hot. I second other comments about using different fat - how about bacon or fatback? and also second the suggestion to brown your tomato paste before using. Last suggestion would be to put your herbs and peppers in with the veggies as they soften.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: sarahNC

                        I'm all in favor of heat and peppers.

                        Mo' hotta, mo' betta'.

                        1. re: sarahNC

                          Agreed Sarah. I use Prudhomme's jambalay arecipe and his combination of herbs and different ground peppers hit your taste buds on all sorts of different levels. In as much as I love Tabasco, it is too one dimensional for the variety of ingredients in a jambayala--it only provides heat.

                        2. In your step 5 I'd brown the pork and remove, then cook the veggies until very soft, 20 minutes or more. That's just the way we do it, and not sure it'd change the flavor much.
                          We do use Worchestershire sauce and Emeril's Blast in ours.
                          Friend from Houma says that parboiled rice is essential, but this affects texture more than flavor. Of course he puts no tomatoes in his, and it's delicious, but we always cook the creole style.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: AreBe

                            +1 on brownig the Andoullie and Tasso before adding the trinity.
                            More garlic for sure.
                            Allspice seems odd to me.
                            Garnish with a lot of finely sliced scallions.
                            The stirring sounds like it would yield a creamy Jambalaya.

                            1. re: chefj

                              Yes, yes, and yes.

                              I brown the andouille in the chicken schmaltz, before the trinity.
                              No allspice. Too Afrikans.
                              Scallions are an excellent garnish.
                              No stirring, it's not risotto.

                          2. Alright, here's the reengineered recipe. See what you think.

                            4 T. butter
                            ¾ lb. chicken breast, diced
                            ½ lb. ham (preferably Tasso), diced
                            ½ lb. andouille sliced
                            1 cup celery, diced
                            1 cup onion, minced
                            1 cup bell pepper, diced
                            2 cloves garlic, minced
                            14 oz. can tomatoes with juice, minced
                            1 ½ cups chicken broth
                            1 ½ cups dry, white wine
                            ¼ cup tomato paste
                            1 T. Tabasco
                            ½ t. Worcestershire sauce
                            1 T. Italian parsley, minced
                            ½ T. hot paprika
                            ¼ cup scallions, minced
                            2 bay leaves
                            1 t. salt
                            1 t. oregano
                            1 t. thyme
                            ½ t. allspice
                            1 ½ cups long grain rice
                            Lemon juice to taste

                            1. Heat 2 T. butter over medium-high heat in stock pot.

                            2. Add chicken, ham and andouille. Brown 10 minutes and remove from pot.

                            3. Add remaining butter to pot and melt.

                            4. Add browned meats, celery, onion, bell pepper, garlic, parsley, paprika, bay leaves, salt, oregano, thyme and allspice; cook for 9 minutes stirring frequently.

                            5. Brown tomato paste in a small skillet and add to stock pot along with tomatoes, broth, wine, Tabasco and Worcestershire. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes.

                            6. Stir in rice, cover and simmer 40 minutes stirring frequently and adding broth if rice begins to stick.

                            7. Garnish with scallions and sprinkle with lemon juice.

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                              I'd eat that.

                              although I'd add the 'Trinity' and herbs to saute briefly and THEN add the browned meats. and add the bay with the stock as it really needs to stew out the flavor. I'd save the wine to deglaze the tomato pan (honestly browning the paste and tomatoes is a separate step I'm not familiar with. personally I'd just chuck it all in at that point) YMMV. but IME this is something that after the initial work you can just leave it on simmer for a few days (OK hours) and forget about it.

                              btw, even though I was exhorting the use of rendered animal fat, I'm fine with butter but if you feel funny I wouldn't object to a mix of butter and olive oil (canola or corn is kinda.. flat) - just watch for scorching before the stock is added , and in this case you can use the cheap olive oil - save the good stuff for a salad, cooking Cajun/Creole really isn't the time to get too nitpicky about cholesterol but given the amount you're making it really isn't all that much.

                              and if you can't find Tasso, don't sweat it, a smoked hock and some regular ham will do well for a sub.

                              it's a very forgiving dish.I've had some better than others, but can't remember a bad one.

                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                About how many people does this usually serve?

                                1. re: azturtle

                                  <edit> whoops az I thought that was PK asking me, sorry but I'll let the comment stand </edit>

                                  y'know I've never made it in that quantity (about half that and it served 2 or 3 with leftovers), and honestly I'm better at methods than quantities and usually with a basic understanding of that I just wing it as I go along (as in oh this sauce is going off the rails and needs thickening/thinning before I add anything else or that trinity is skewing too green and needs more onion etc) but hey you have 13/4 # of meats, the rice is gonna come out to about 3 cups cooked, while the vegetables will cook down in volume there's a hefty amount so... I'm just guessing 4 maybe 6 with maybe some leftover?

                                    1. re: Phurstluv

                                      yeah re-reading that I'd probably guess 6 people easy (unless you have HUGE appetites at the table). fractions were never my strong point. unfortunately geometry doesn't come up very often in cooking.

                                    2. re: azturtle

                                      It serves me. ;)

                                      Actually, myself and my wife. There might be leftovers.

                                    3. re: Perilagu Khan

                                      I feel you are on the right track. For your no seafood recipe, and as you do not care for dark fowl, HERE may be the restaurant trick you are looking for.

                                      Store purchased chicken broth is no substitute for a really great stock. The best restaurants make their own chicken stock out of backs, bones and skins of chickens along with the parts of vegetables that most people throw away. When done correctly, it contains enough gelatin to make it solidify (gel) when refrigerated. It also helps to brown the ingredients in the oven (if not saved leftover bones from a roasted bird) to get carmalization before adding the the stock. The idea is to simmer all for about 4 or more hours, refrigerate overnight, and reheat and strain, saving only the liquid for a base ingredient. Do it in big batches and freeze leftovers in small jars. It only takes about 4 oz to really add exceptional flavor to any recipe.

                                      You are going to need another chicken part other than the boneless breasts to accomplish this; there is no gelatin in any meat without bones, and the gelatin is in the back, thighs and wings of fowl. This is, I feel, what you need to incorporate into your recipe to get the restaurant flavor you are looking for.

                                      I also agree with the "Better Than Bullion" addition to any dish with a liquid base. I used to persuade all restaurants that I worked in that a jar of the paste no one stocked in stores (30 years ago) needed to be incorporated into my pay plan. ;) Simply add it at the end to taste.

                                      1. re: MartiniGenie

                                        oh yeah. I did chicken bones by accident this way once, thank god I woke up in time. ended up in an awesome reduced residue that made a phenomenal base (I'm running out of adjectives!) I chucked a picked over roast chicken skeleton in a pot and simmered it until my martinis wore off. I don't recommend that method.

                                        1. re: hill food

                                          And where were you classically trained? How long did you work in the industry?

                                          1. re: MartiniGenie

                                            HA! good one.

                                            what, reducing stock late on Friday night after a long week over a few martinis (a mighty fine line between 3 and 7 BTW) is considered unconventional?

                                      2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                        Brown the meats and put aside. Saute the vegetables WITH the salt, oregano, thyme, allspice (I assume by the amounts, you're using dried spices).

                                      3. Before you add your browned meats back into the trinity cook down, how about starting the three plus garlic out on a high flame, then turning the flame down to very low until almost all of the moisture has evaporated out of them and they are a crispy amalgamation (more than 9 mins total, maybe 15, with some babysitting). The browning will add to the flavor base. Add in the rest of the seasonings when the stuff is well browned, at which point you turn up the heat again to give the spices a quick refreshing sizzle.

                                        I agree with someone who said add a bullion or stock cube. They really do boost flavor. I never use them in any pure brothy recipes, but in a recipe like this, artificial as they may be, they add oomph.

                                        I like your squirt of lemon juice at the end. That will put the right brightness on the rich, heavy flavors.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: luckyfatima

                                          I like your browning suggestion, Aunt Fatima. ;)

                                        2. When I first read the recipe I was scratching my head "smoked sausage?" Where's the andouille. It's basically the main ingredient in every jambalaya I've ever had. Also, I've never had Jambalaya without shrimp.....where is the shrimp?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: jhopp217

                                            Andouille is in the revised version.

                                            And I don't do shellfish, which would set Cajun/Creole tongues awag, I know.

                                          2. You mosty definitely need a pinch of nutmeg in there for a more authentic taste. Try it!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. Okay, friend, I haven't even had to read all the responses, so forgive me if I'm repeating anything someone else has said.

                                              First of all, I make jambalaya regularly. No, I am not Southern. I'm a New Englander raised, now living on the Left Coast. But hear me out. I've been cooking for 30+ years. I think you know me from the What's For Dinner thread. Anyway, my Mom had made jambalaya for years, and I started out with her recipe, which had less spices, but more tomato than your recipe.

                                              Finally, after tinkering with it for 20+ years, and having a husband who LOVES anything Cajun and can't eat anything spicy or flavorful enough, I think I've found a couple of secrets.

                                              First, make sure you season your chicken parts thoroughly. And letting them sit, open air to dry out and brine for as long as you can as it will only benefit the outcome of the dish. I usually use Montreal Steak seasoning on them, but any combo of garlic, black pepper, kosher salt and red pepper flakes will help.

                                              Next, it pays to use Andouille sausage if you can find it. The extra heat and spice of them really makes the dish work. Also, then you don't have to use a lot of extra spices in the end. I only use a bay leaf after that. No need for thyme, oregano, Tabasco or allspice.

                                              My gold find was using a Mexican chipotle based tomato sauce instead of the chopped tomatoes. Again, gave the dish a nice spice and complexity without having to use other spices. I was so happy when I used this, it will forever be in my pantry. On the West coast, I use the El Pato or Herdera brands of ranchera or jalapeno sauce. In a small can.

                                              My proportions are different (no matter) but once I add the rice, I let simmer undisturbed until I think it's done. No stirring, since that will usually break up the rice grains, and result in a gummier product.

                                              Also, I have had burnt bottoms before, which actually in true NO style cooking is fought over, I forget what they call it, but as long as you don't stir it up into the rest of the mix, you'll do fine and have a delicious product. But to avoid that in the future, you can always put the pot in a 300 - 350 degree oven, and since the heat is uniform all over the pot, there are no burnt spots.

                                              Hope that helps, P.K.!!

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Phurstluv

                                                y'know I wonder if the use of allspice and nutmeg are a tip of the cap to the surprisingly high number of Eastern European immigrants that ended up in Louisiana. sorry to disagree on the amount of Bay, but I do, in NOLA you can buy it fresh quite easily and I really think it adds something (and makes airport security that much more interesting during the baggage check).

                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  I use dried bay leaves, that's why I only use one. If they were fresh, I would bump it up to two.

                                                2. re: Phurstluv

                                                  Sounds like you do a completely different TYPE of jumbleeye from mine. I would LOVE to sample it sometime inasmuch as I suspect it is divine, but it really does sound like a different animal from my basic recipe.

                                                  1. re: Phurstluv

                                                    The burnt bottom name you are searching for is "gratin" or any number of variations there-on (e.g. "gradoo"). In my experience it is more fought-over in Acadiana than in NOLA but I have not made a formal study. Older recipes often directed the whole thing be cooked in the oven.

                                                  2. I always cook in rendered pork fat instead of butter. Fry up a few slices of bacon. Cook a smoked ham hock in a slow cooker for 6 hours with water use that instead of chicken broth cube it and use it instead of ham. If you can get pepper mash where you are from add it when you add the stock. We dilute the ham hock stock a little to adjust the salt content. My Acadian friend swears about using rendered chicken fat. Just throw some skin in water and heat it till all the water is gone and it's rendered.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: oiboy

                                                      HEY oiboy! that's MY heart you're after! (heh) OK look, I'll off one of the BILs I already have and you could after an appropriate period of time be my new brother-in-law.(hmm which one...I kinda like 'em both)

                                                      but I'd eat that. or make that.

                                                      just not on a regular basis, but then how often does one make Jambalaya (or Gumbo or Etouffee) anyway?

                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                        I like the smokiness the ham hock broth adds to the Jambalaya.

                                                    2. The key is using top-quality ingredients. Mail order andouille and tasso ham from Louisiana. One source is Jacob's in La Place -- http://www.cajunsausage.com/ . (Shipping costs more than the products but it's worthwhile.) You also need to use rice with more body; most people in Louisiana use Uncle Ben's or similar type.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: kittyfood

                                                        this is the brand Cook's Illustrated recommends as well.