Cooking at Home: Chicken & Andouille Jambalaya!

A few weeks ago, I was humbled and also pleased when one of Chicago’s best charcuterie bloggers tried my andouille recipe, and I have to say his andouille was gorgeous. That made me feel proud as well, even though it was all Mark’s handiwork. In his post about the andouille project, he remarked that after first trying the sausage in andouille jambalaya, he felt the jambalaya was holding the sausage back a bit. With sausage that beautiful it’s easy to imagine it being best on its own, and in fact straight away sliced off the link is one of the best ways to enjoy andouille. At the same time, I vowed to share some of my jambalaya tricks because as such an unbelievably simple dish, jambalaya is really, really hard to pull off. I seriously spent years messing with recipes before I got one that I felt sang the way you’d expect such a famous dish to sing. Truth be told, it’s much more of a formula than a recipe, but I’m going to try to share the ins and outs of making great jambalaya at home.

This will mark the inaugural post in a new series called Cooking at Home, which will travel alongside and compliment the Anatomy of a Dish series. Cooking at home from ingredients you’ve procured yourself is rewarding, fun, and hopefully delicious. It’s also one of the best ways to be sure of what’s going into your food. As much as I hope you dine out and support good restaurants often, I hope you’ll cook at home just as often, with family and friends or whomever makes good company. Cooking at Home will be dishes we rarely offer at the restaurant but have deep roots in Southern cooking, or sometimes dishes we do offer at the restaurant but which are easy to make at home. Anatomy of a Dish will continue being the series where I relate the background, inspirations, ingredient sources, techniques, and recipes for dishes offered on our seasonal menu. They’ll usually be possible to cook at home as well, but will generally require a greater time commitment and more advanced technique.

On to Jambalaya. Please do not try making jambalaya without a well seasoned, heavy cast iron kettle with a fitting lid. I use Cajun Cast Iron 9 quart dutch ovens at the restaurant, and if you’ve seen us cook at events you’ve seen them live in action. They are cost effective, durable, and give you the even heat distribution necessary to cook a large amount of pilaf evenly. If you are lucky enough to afford Staub or Le Creuset enamel cookware, good for you, your presentation will be far fancier than mine and worthy of a well-appointed table.

A Cajun Cast Iron 9-qt dutch oven

This recipe will fill a 9-qt dutch oven nearly to the brim, so you can cut it in half or even better, throw a jambalaya party! First off, a few notes about ingredients:

*If you’re ambitious enough to make your own andouille, absolutely do so. My recipe is here. If you’re not so ambitious I can’t blame you, and the best andouille I have yet to try (besides my own of course 😉 is Jacob’s Andouille from LaPlace, Louisiana. They sell mail order or you can use its procurement as an excuse to take a trip south and visit New Orleans.

*Since you’ll be making a pilaf, your rice is paramount. I favor popcorn rice, but you should feel free to use any good long grain or medium grain rice. Your best sources for popcorn rice:

Falcon Rice Mill http://falconrice.com/

Campbell Farms http://www.campbellfarms.com/

If you want to go the convenient route, Riceland rice from Producer’s Rice Mill in Little Rock, Arkansas is decent, and available at most local groceries. Please remember in these hard times – friends don’t let friends eat imported rice. At least not when we’re making a home grown dish. Want jasmine rice for your tom kha or basmati for your briyani? Absolutely! Please buy American rice when you can. An important point here though – Falcon Rice and Campbell Farms will both get you very fresh rice, which will require less water than your standard kiln-killed imported or mass-market rice. This recipe is for fairly fresh new crop rice. If you are using standard-issue industrial or imported rice, increase the liquid to 3 quarts from 2-1/2.

*If you want a great jambalaya, you want a great chicken. The Butcher and Larder stocks Gunthorp Farm chickens, which are fantastic and what we use at the restaurant. The Bell & Evans chickens at Treasure Island and Whole Foods are good, and I’ve also seen good chickens at Lincoln Quality Meat Market and Paulina Market.

*Make sure your spices are of decent quality and reasonably fresh. The Spice House sells the best of the best at a couple of Chicago locations and by mail order, but McCormick spices you’ll find at most grocery stores are not bad if the store turns its inventory over at a reasonable rate. Always grind your pepper fresh. We grind our Tellicherry peppercorns fresh twice a day.

Without further adieu, here’s the recipe. It’s much simpler than it seems at first glance. Read it a few times, get your ingredients together, read it again, and then dive in.

  • 1 fresh chicken, 3-1/2 to 4 pounds
  • 2 pounds andouille
  • 1-1/2 pounds yellow onion, diced 1/2″
  • 1/2# green bell peppers, diced 1/2″
  • 3 ribs celery, split lengthwise and chopped 1/2″
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 4 Tablespoons Cajun seasoning (Spice House’s is good, or make your own with following recipe)
  • 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
  • 2-1/2 quarts chicken stock (made from chicken carcass, see instructions)
  • 2 quarts popcorn rice
  • 4 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 Tablespoons Louisiana-Style hot sauce (Crystal, Louisiana, Louisiana Gold)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 3 Tablespoons kosher salt, or more to taste

First, prep your meat. This stage can be done a couple of days in advance, just refrigerate all the components until you plan to make your final pot. Preheat oven to 350. Clean the chicken: remove all skin, cavity and tail fat, and set aside. Debone entirely. Chop meat into 2/3-1″ pieces and refrigerate until needed. Place the skin and fat into a small baking dish and place in the oven. Roast to render until skin and fat are crisped and lightly brown and all fat has rendered into a clear, yellow oil. Pour off oil and reserve until needed. The remaining crispy skin and fat can be seasoned with salt and pepper and eaten as a snack or garnish the finished jambalaya. Simply set aside and warm in the oven before serving.

Place bones in a dutch oven and into the oven. You’re looking to brown them to get nice browning flavors in your stock. Roast for an hour or so. Get as dark as you can without burning. Once well browned, remove from oven, place on stovetop, and cover the bones by an inch with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, reduce to a simmer, and keep skimmed of foam, scum, and oil that rise to the top. Once the scum production slows, you can add a coarsely chopped onion, some celery, herbs, whatever you like to flavor the stock. Simmer for at least an hour or up to eight, keeping well skimmed. Strain and reserve until needed. Refrigerate if you won’t be using it within an hour.

If using andouille in beef casings, peel off the casings. Chop andouille into 1/2-3/4″ pieces and place on a cookie sheet in the 350 degree oven. This can go in at the same time as the chicken bones. The idea is to render much fat from the andouille and brown it well to add more deep browning flavors. Brown until a deep dark rusty reddish brown. Drain off fat and reserve with the chicken fat until needed. Save andouille pieces separately.

You are now ready to make jambalaya.

Have all of your vegetables prepped, spices at the ready, and meats and stock ready to go. Place your dutch oven over high heat and add your rendered chicken and andouille fat. heat until the first hint of smoke. Pay attention, you don’t want to burn these volatile oils! At the first sight of smoke, add you onions, and stir. Maintain high heat and cook until onions sweat, and keep going, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown. You’re looking for a light amber color, not too dark, but you definitely want color. Add your green bell peppers, celery, and garlic, and continue to saute. Render the vegetables until they are done sweating and begin to brown. Reduce heat to medium. Add your Cajun seasoning and continue sauteing a few more minutes to release the oils in the spices and brown them ever so slightly, turning the heat down gradually until it’s off.

Add remaining ingredients and reserved meats and stir just a bit to combine. This is not risotto! Turn heat back on to medium high and bring to a boil. Occasionally while bringing to a boil, use a spatula to get under your mixture and turn the rice over off the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching. It is critical not to stir too much, just to make sure your meat, vegetable, and rice are evenly distributed and the rice isn’t sticking to the bottom, where it will scorch.

Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low and place the lid on the pot. You will now do your best not to disturb the jambalaya lest you break the steam cap under the lid and break up the grains of rice, which can lead to a paste instead of a fluffy pilaf. Three minutes and ten minutes after capping, briefly lift the lid and use your spatula to gently turn the bottom of the pot over to avoid sticking. After that, it’s covered until it’s done.

This is where it gets tricky. Some rices, depending on their processing methods and shelf age, will cook in twenty minutes, others longer. I’m going to err on the side of quick cooking. Twenty minutes after placing the lid on the first time, take a quick peak under. If you can see any liquid still pooling on top of the rice, replace the lid and keep cooking. If you see only a little, check again in three minutes. If there’s still all water over the rice, check again in six. Once you can’t see any more water over the rice, which is to say the rice has swollen able the surface of the cooking water so you can see no more pools or wells of water on top, replace the lid and turn off the heat. Residual heat will carry it on out.

Resist the temptation to serve the jambalaya too soon. After you’ve turned the heat off, let the jambalaya stand, covered, a full thirty minutes before uncovering and enjoying. This is the best way to ensure your rice is cooked throughout and everything is integrated, and you’ve minimized the chance that you’ll scorch it. Check seasoning and add more salt, Cajun seasoning, or pepper to each plate as needed when served. Top with lots of sliced green onion.

Jambalaya is well established as a great accompaniment to fried chicken, roast chicken, fried seafood, or on its own with some fun vegetable sides.

Well rendered and browned andouille yields cooking oil and comforting brown flavor
The vegetables during the saute, when Cajun seasoning is added
The end of your saute stage should be a rich reddish brown
After the stock, meats, and seasonings are added before boiling

 

Finished Jambalaya under a haze of steam. Mmmmmmmm!

Cajun Seasoning

  • 2 Tablespoons finely ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 Tablespoons dried basil, ground
  • 1 Tablespoons dried oregano, ground
  • 2 Tablespoons dried thyme, ground
  • 2 Tablespoons celery salt
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup Spanish paprika

Combine all ingredients thoroughly. Cover, label, and date.