One of my favorite things while traveling is hunting for great food. A chef friend told me Gonzales is jambalaya country and if you believe what the water tower says, Gonzales is the jambalaya capital of the world. I’m happy to announce that I have found some delicious jambalaya at The Jambalaya Shoppe.
My research revealed this little gem and I was pretty certain that I was in for a treat as these restaurants are popping up around south Louisiana. We opted for a bucket of chicken and sausage jambalaya and since the weather was nice, we ate at one of the two picnic tables in the parking lot.
I do have to admit that this is the second restaurant in the region I have eaten at over the past couple of days that wasn’t spicy. I love spicy food, and we don’t have many options for fire eating in Shreveport. I’ve always been told I have to go south for sinteringly hot cuisine–maybe this is reserved for New Orleans. Regardless, I happened upon a gem.
The original location is not much more than a shack–typically a good sign when you are searching for deliciousness. That standard holds true in this case. The sausage was delightfully scabbed, and the morsels of chicken were plenty. And the flavor profile? It held a subtle complexity that I will explore again this evening. I was ravenous at lunch and didn’t thoughtfully enjoy this delight, but I’ll savor it tonight.
My only complaint is that it needed heat. Naturally, I added Tabasco, but I would have appreciated more heat. Make that two complaints–we do not have a Jambalaya Shoppe here in Shreveport. I hope my second complaint is properly addressed soon.
I’ve been a fan of spicy cajun food my entire adult life. I began teaching myself to cook sixteen years ago and have enjoyed trying to make cajun dishes that were palatable. It is no coincidence that I started my cooking journey a week after I met my wife.
I’m sure it’s a typical story. I met Heather 12/11/2007. The following weekend she invited me over for dinner. Man, was I stoked! I love food. I can’t believe I met a woman who could cook.
I showed up for dinner at the appointed time and was surprised that we were eating Hamburger Helper. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with Hamburger Helper, but on a first meal at home you put your best foot forward. That night I decided that I was going to learn how to cook. The following weekend I began my foray.
That first meal was one I made one or two times prior. We had spaghetti with homemade sauce. It was quite tasty as I watched a friend make it numerous times. This friend was a good cook, but he never let me get any hands on experience. I watched him intently for two years as I was surfing his couch.
When I first started cooking, say the first five years, not all meals were as tasty as that spaghetti. I worked until midnight and the first year or two, I would go to Albertsons after work and make pot roast, pork chops, even chicken fried steak. I’d normally eat around four am and it was common for me to crank out some meal complete with mashed potatoes and gravy. Many of these meals were disappointments, and occasionally were downright inedible. Today, I rarely make something that embarrasses me to feed to my dogs. If I get distracted the dogs may have some awful treat to enjoy.
My culinary skills have vastly improved over the past three years. I have many friends who are professional chefs and they are always happy to give me cooking tips. I like to tell people that I’m finally becoming an adequate cook.
Today, I had to make jambalaya for a catering event. I’ve made it before, but I haven’t been happy with previous efforts. There is money on the line here so I have to make sure it is acceptable.
I looked through recipes and decided I could adapt this one. I made several changes and I hope you are happy with this endeavor. I hope you try it and tell me what you think.
I just remembered that I forgot bay leaves. I intended to add maybe seven to the pot. Remember that this recipe is for 50. You can use some fancy math like division to reduce the amount. I’d do it for you except I’m lazy.
Here’s the ingredient list:
5 pounds pork loin
15 pounds bone in chicken thighs (after deboning you will have around ten pounds of meat)
5 pounds sausage
3/4 pound bacon
2 large onions
3 bell peppers
1 bunch celery
3 heaping tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons white pepper
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp chili powder (I used New Mexico Hatch chili powder I ordered online)
1 tsp dried basil
2 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp dry thyme
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
10 cups rice
21 cups water
6-8 ounces chicken base
Add all dry ingredients in a bowl to add later.
Trim pork loin and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Marinate in soy sauce, mustard powder, and white pepper. I didn’t use a lot of any of these ingredients, just enough to coat. Marinate in refrigerator for two hours.
Place chicken thighs on baking sheets. Cover liberally with Tony Chachere’s cajun seasoning. Roast at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Remove chicken from oven and let cool. Meanwhile, chop vegetables. Since you have the knife out, chop smoked sausage into 1/4″ rounds.
Down Home is one of my favorite sausages. They manufacture it in Stonewall, LA, which is maybe fifteen minutes from where I live. I couldn’t find a website for the company, but I included a link to a radio station I used to work at where they give the down low on the Down Home. No, I have not received any plugola. If they gave me free sausage, there would be plugola, but I would tell you about it. Somehow, I don’t think it’s plugola unless it’s a secret, though.
Last thing to cut up is to cut up the bacon. Cut that into small pieces. Once cut, toss the bacon into a heated pot to render. Once partially rendered, throw in the marinated pork loin. After it is browned it is time to put the sausage in.
I was watching some cooking show a couple of years ago where this old man was cooking a monster pot of jambalaya outside. He kept saying that you want to cook the sausage so it is scabbed up. He’s right, you want scabby sausage. I was unable to do it this time because of the sheer volume, but when I have a manageable batch, I cook the sausage so it is nice and scabby.
Before you blow scabby chunks, let me explain. This old cajun may or may not have gotten all technical on us, but he was describing the maillard reaction. Chemistry stuff happens to the meat when you brown it. Think of a really nice crust on a steak. That crust is the scab this old coot was describing.
When you have a scabbed up pot of sausage, you want to add the vegetables and saute until soft and the onion is translucent. I wait until this moment to add the chicken. Remember that chicken? Well, we forgot to debone it. So, before you burn up a pot of meat, be sure to have deboned the chicken prior to firing up the stove. After it’s deboned, I spread it back onto a baking sheet, apply some more Tony Cachere’s, and let it crisp up some at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Now that we are back on track, don’t add the chicken until the vegetables are sauteed. This way, you can avoid tearing up the meat from over stirring and whatnot.
This is the moment to add your dry spices and Worcestershire sauce.
I add the base to the water and stir until well mixed. Then it’s time to add the rice and base-infused water.
Simmer the conglomeration of meat and rice for around 50 minutes while occasionally stirring. It is actually desirable to have the food stick to the bottom of the pan to get some crusty bits. Remember? Maillard reaction?
Once the water is absorbed, it’s time to eat. Enjoy.