Because New Orleans (and all of Louisiana) is such a melting pot, and because Cajun and Creole dishes often have similar roots, including French, Spanish, Italian, African, Haitian, Cuban, German, and Native American, some of the distinctions between what’s Creole food and what’s Cajun food can be hard to make. In his book My New Orleans, chef John Besh explains that Creole gumbo pays tribute to a “rich variety of cultures and ingredients, whereas Cajun gumbo evolved as the essence of peasant food, a way to feed a large number of people making the very best of whatever meager ingredients were at hand,” and John Folse’s Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine extolls Creole cuisine as a “more sophisticated cousin” to Cajun cooking. Explanations like these work perfectly when comparing elegant Creole dishes to rustic cast-iron Cajun stews, but the waters grow murkier near a pot of jambalaya.
Jambalaya comes in two basic incarnations: with tomato and without. I wanted to find a consistent distinction between Creole and Cajun versions, and I started with an assumption that Creole jambalaya would be the rich, tomato-red version with shrimp, and Cajun would be the salty brown chicken-and-pork version. I think that’s almost correct. But in the Dooky Chase Cookbook, legendary Creole chef Leah Chase’s recipe for “Creole Jambalaya” includes ham, plenty of sausage, shrimp, and NO tomato. I’ve heard it said that jambalaya was a Cajun dish of rice and whatever protein you had just caught or trapped, which makes sense, sure; but other sources claim the origins of jambalaya are in Spanish paella, which draws a straight line to jambalaya being Creole fare. So you see how the study goes, and its neverendingness.
In our house, jambalaya is a little celebration in a pot. Sometimes we use tomatoes, sometimes we don’t. Our latest discovery is that this leftover pork makes it extra awesome. Here’s a version we’ve developed for using a leftover Sunday roast:
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and sliced ½" thick
- 16 oz. sliced mushrooms (baby portabello, cremini, button, or a combination)
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 large onion, diced
- 5 stalks celery, diced finely
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 red bell pepper, diced finely
- 1 green bell pepper, diced finely
- ¼ cup minced garlic (about 5 giant cloves)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons Cajun or Creole seasoning blend, such as Tony Cachere's or Meat Magic
- few shakes Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
- 4 bay leaves
- 7 cups chicken stock
- 4 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
- 3 to 4 cups chopped or shredded leftover roast pork or chicken
- sliced green onions, for serving
- Heat a heavy-bottomed pot no smaller than 8 quarts in capacity over medium-high heat (this'll be the jambalaya pot). Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil and the sliced sausage. Saute until the sausage shrinks a little and gets brown, and there are some brown bits sticking to the pan, about 10 minutes (add a little extra oil if necessary to prevent burning). Then pour in about 3 Tablespoons of the chicken broth to deglaze, stirring up the browned bits. Turn off heat and remove sausage and juices to a bowl, setting aside.
- The mushrooms: we like to saute these in a separate step. In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat until it's foamy and starting to brown. Add all the mushrooms, all at once. Stir well to distribute the butter as evenly as possible; don't worry if some mushrooms seem coated while others seem dry, though. Mushrooms are oil hogs, but in a minute they're all going to be very juicy! Stir and cook over medium-high heat until they start to exude their own water--this will add about ½ cup of liquid to the pan. Keep stirring until they shrink to half their original volume, turn brown, and the pan is almost dry. Then sprinkle with the Worcestershire sauce and stir well until evaporated. Turn off heat and set aside.
- Back in the jambalaya pot, heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and saute, stirring often, until translucent, about 7 minutes. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon sugar and continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and sweet-smelling. When the pot is dry, add the bell peppers and garlic (the bell peppers will deglaze the pot with their natural wateryness). Stir and saute another 8 to 10 minutes, until the peppers are softened.
- Season the vegetables with salt, black pepper, cayenne, seasoning blend, and Tabasco. Add the 7 cups chicken stock, the bay leaves, and the reserved sausage, and bring to a boil over high heat. While the liquid comes to a boil, spend some time tasting and seasoning it--it's very, very important that the broth is highly seasoned, because you're about to add a lot of rice, and the rice really only gets one chance to soak up some flavor. I like to make the broth salty and spicy enough that I wouldn't want to eat it as a soup, but it's not painfully salty. Actually, what I do is season it to where I think it's overseasoned enough, then I add 1 more teaspoon of seasoning. That practice has really been working.
- When the liquid comes to a boil, stir in the rice, let it return to a low simmer, then reduce heat to very low and cover the pot. Simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Stirring the pot a couple of times during this process keeps rice from sticking to the bottom.
- Stir in the shredded roasted pork or chicken and warm through over low heat. If you like, you can heat the roasted pork in the oven or a skillet first so it's already hot when you add it to the jambalaya. Top with sliced green onions.