Sunday, January 26, 2014

Creole Jambalaya

I thought jambalaya would be the perfect comfort food to make last week on a snowy winter's night. In fact, it's an ideal meal to make throughout the winter months; it's a filling one pot meal that really sticks to your bones. For inspiration and guidance I referred to Howard Mitcham's Creole Gumbo and All that Jazz and Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, two holy grails when it comes to Louisiana cooking.

According to Mitcham's Creole Gumbo, and John D. Folse's The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine, the now famous Creole-Cajun stew is a close cousin to Spanish paella. In the early 18th century, Spanish settlers brought paella to New Orleans, but since traditional Spanish ingredients for the dish- such as clams, mussels and saffron- were not available, the recipe was adapted using indigenous ingredients. Oysters and crawfish replaced clams and mussels, and saffron, an expensive and difficult commodity to come by in the New World, was often substituted with tomatoes. Jambalaya was also influenced by Africans living in Louisiana, who called their rice 'yaya.' The French later named the dish 'Jambon a la Yaya' (meaning ham with rice), which was later shortened to simply, 'jambalaya'. 

Though many variations and methods of the dish exist, jambalaya was traditionally made by adding rice to leftovers or other odds and ends that happened to be lying around the kitchen in order to stretch them as long as possible. Many poor Cajun families likely ate jambalaya several times a week out of necessity, particularly during the Depression. Later, it was popularized outside of Louisiana by the hit Hank William's song, Jambalaya and has since become a celebrated classic. Though the list of ingredients looks long, making this dish as it is intended- using leftover chicken and a few stray slices of deli ham etc.- cut down on its intimidation factor and make it more practical. For more Louisiana dishes see here.

Adapted from Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz, by Howard Mitcham and Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, by Paul Prudhomme

Serves 8 to 10

2 (16 ounce) cans beef broth, plus more as needed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound Andouille sausage, cut into 1/2-inch rings (see notes below)
1/2 pound smoked ham, diced
4 tablespoons flour
2 medium white onions, finely chopped
2 to 3 large scallions (white and green parts), chopped
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped celery
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28 ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried or fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1/2 pound cooked chicken, diced
2 pounds shrimp, peeled (reserve the shells for another use, such as seafood stock)
2 cups long grain white rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring the beef broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Cover, remove from heat, and set aside. 

Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the sausage and ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly browned. Stir in the flour. Add the onions, scallions, green pepper, celery, and a pinch of salt, and cook until the vegetables are soft and almost translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Stir in the chopped tomatoes along with any juices that have accumulated on the cutting board. Add the bay leaf and stir in the thyme, cumin, cloves, allspice, and cayenne. Add the hot beef broth to the pot and stir to incorporate. Add the shrimp and chicken. Stir in the rice and season to taste with salt and pepper. There should be enough liquid in the pot to just cover the ingredients. Add more broth or water, as necessary.

Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook the rice at a low simmer, occasionally stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot until done, 30 to 35 minutes. Jambalaya should be moist, but not soupy. Taste to adjust seasonings and serve with a cold beer or glass of full-bodied red wine. 

  • If you can't find Andouille sausage at your local butcher or market, substitute it with another smoked pork sausage, such as kielbasa. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Carbonnades à la Flamande

Carbonnades à la flamande, or simply, carbonnade, is a classic Belgian stew made from beef and onions braised in beer. It is a close cousin to the red wine-based French boeuf bourguignon minus the carrots and mushrooms, though you could certainly add them if you wanted to break with tradition. The stew is traditionally flavored with a little brown sugar and a splash of apple cider vinegar or mustard, which further compliment its unique sweet and sour flavor.

I first made this dish when I spotted it flipping through Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' a number of years ago. It's a great winter dish, especially when there's a polar vortex upon us! I find it's a nice break from the more common red wine-based stews and braises that are typical throughout the season. Traditionally, the type of beer used most likely depended on the region in which the dish was cooked. Keeping that in mind, I've never been too obsessive over which beer to use. Over the years I've used different varieties, but I most commonly use a dark Belgian-style ale. Try a few types of Belgian beers and see what you prefer (don't judge, but I've even used Miller Highlife in a pinch, and though it wasn't as rich or dark as an Abbey-style beer, it still tasted great. However, a darker, slightly bitter-sour tasting beer is ideal). 

As with most braises, low and slow is key. I made this stew first thing in the morning and reheated it for dinner later in the day. It tastes even better a day or two after cooking, making it a great guest-friendly meal to be prepared in advance. Serve carbonnade with some crusty bread, potatoes or buttered noodles, and of course, a Belgian-style beer (or a full bodied red, if you prefer)!

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child, Bertholle, Beck  

Serves 6

2 to 3 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil, plus more as needed
4 slices (about 4 ounces) thick-cut bacon, diced
3 pounds chuck roast, cut into 2-inch by 4-inch slices, about 1/2-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
All-purpose four, as needed
1 1/2 pounds yellow onions (about 5 medium), sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint (2 cups) dark Abbey-style Belgian beer
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 sprigs flat leaf parsley
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 275°F. 

Bring the beef broth to a simmer in a small saucepan, shut off the heat, and cover the pot to keep warm. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the bacon, stirring occasionally, until it has begun to brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a large plate or casserole dish. Set aside. 

Thoroughly dry the cut beef with paper towels (to ensure good browning) and generously season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, toss the beef with just enough flour to lightly coat. Add another tablespoon of olive oil or vegetable oil to the pot. Quickly saute the beef in small batches over medium heat until it is nicely browned on both sides. Transfer the meat to the plate or casserole dish with the bacon. Continue sauteing in the same manner until all the beef is browned, adding more olive oil or vegetable oil as necessary. Set aside.

Add the onions to the pot and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are  caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. 

Pour in half of the beer and using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring the beer to a simmer and allow it to reduce, about 4 minutes. Return the beef and bacon back to the pot along with any juices that have accumulated. Stir in the brown sugar. Pour in the remaining beer and enough warmed beef stock to almost cover the meat. To make the bouquet garni (herb bundle), tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf together using butcher's twine (for ease in removing later) and add to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight fitting lid, and place it in the oven for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is very tender when pierced with a fork. 

When the stew is done, transfer it to the stovetop. Use a spoon to skim off any fat that has risen to the surface and discard. Make a beurre manie (a thickening agent of butter and flour): combine the butter and flour in a small bowl and blend until smooth using a fork. Stir the beurre manie and vinegar into the stew and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni and discard. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve. Garnish each plate with chopped parsley. Serve carbonnade with some crusty bread, potatoes or buttered egg noodles, and of course, a Belgian-style beer (or a full bodied red, if you prefer).

Alternatively, let the stew cool, cover, and refrigerate. To reheat, bring to a simmer on the stovetop, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot, reduce heat slightly, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes prior to serving.