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Recipe experiment: Jambalaya

I have this idea of coming up with basic cooking formulas that would let you improvise with the ingredients you have on hand. Two types of formulas actually. First, flavor profile formulas: typical ingredients, ratios, and seasonings used to evoke a particular style or ethnicity of food. Second, preparation formulas: ratios and steps to combine ingredients to get some typical dish.

So in this case, the flavor profile I was playing with was “cajun”. Cajun dishes all seem to start with or contain the triad of onion, celery, and green pepper, as well as a broad and complex array of spices and usually some form of tomato. I’ve looked up cajun recipes before, and they always seem to have a lot of spices with surprisingly little agreement between recipes about which are the most important of them. I had a jar of Penzey’s Cajun Spice, which I wanted to try out and which seemed like it would vastly simplify the process. So I thought it might shortcut to try the spice combo.

The cooking formula I was working with was basically “brown rice with stuff in it”. Rice with stuff in it is a dish that appears in a vast array of cultures and cuisines, and the variety comes with what stuff and what seasoning you add. Jambalaya is a cajun variant. Variables for this formula would include how much of each type of stuff, how much water, preparation steps, and how long it cooks.

My little balcony garden offered up onions (bulbs and greens) of indeterminate variety (started from rooting a bunch of green onions long ago), parsley (flat leaf italian), celery (thin strongly flavored stalks with big flavorful leaves, grown from the base of store-bought celery), and chard (red and white rainbow chard). This seemed like a strong start.

So I assembled the following ingredients:

  • 14 oz of sausage (ideally you’d use something like andouille, but I had some sort of Kielbasa on hand so that’s what I used) diced into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2.17 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
  • 2 onions, bulbs and greens (made about 2 cups diced bulbs, and maybe 1/4 chopped green onions from their tops)
  • 11 thin stalks celery – made about 1 1/2 cup chopped stems, maybe 1 cup chopped leaves
  • Chard – ten or eleven good-sized leaves with stems. Chopped stems came to about 3/4 cups, and several large handfuls of leaves.
  • 2 large green peppers, diced
  • 3 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp Cajun Seasoning
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 3 cups brown rice
  • 3 cups chicken broth

Ingredient prep – I lined up the following on the counter in order they’d be used:

  • Diced sausage
  • Diced chicken
  • First-round veggies: onion (bulb), celery stalks, green peppers, chard stems. Add the garlic onto this pile. This was about 5 cups of chopped veggies.
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Rice
  • Broth
  • Tomatoes
  • Second-round veggies: chopped green onion/onion tops, celery leaves, chopped parsley leaves. This was around 1.5-2 cups chopped leaves, depending on how firmly you pack them.
  • FInal container holds the cleaned chard leaves, cut into nice 1-inch strips

Steps for cooking:

  • Set instant pot to saute. Once hot, browned sausage then removed from pot.
  • Then browned the chicken in two batches, removing from pot when done. By now there was quite a bit of residue on the bottom of the pot.
  • Tossed in the container of onion, celery, chard stems, and garlic, sauteed. Used released liquid to scrape and deglaze pot. Once soft,
  • Added meat back in and added the cajun seasoning. Stirred a bit, then added in the rice and stirred until the rice was well-coated in the seasoning, fat, and juices.
  • Poured in the broth and canned tomatoes and stirred in the parsley, green onion, celery tops, then set instant pot for 22 minutes high pressure.
  • Once it finished, I let it naturally depressurize for perhaps 20 minutes, then stirred in the chard leaves so they’d wilt and cook in the residual heat.

Results: Not too spicy, per husband’s specific request, but quite a bit of flavor. The rice is a bit gooey – which can mean a bit too much cooking, or a bit too much water. Made quite a lot – 8 generous servings.

To try next time: Decrease amount of water so rice will be firmer, less sticky. There was likely quite a bit of extra water from all the veggies, even after pre-cooking some of them, and the can of tomatoes would have added water as well.


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