The hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day aren’t all that the month of February has to offer: February also has Mardis Gras! If you’re unfamiliar with Mardis Gras, never fear, it’s Wikipedia to the rescue:
The terms “Mardi Gras”…”Mardi Gras season”, and “Carnival season”,…in English, refer to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after Epiphany and ending on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” (in ethnic English tradition, Shrove Tuesday), referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc.
Fat Tuesday + Mardi Gras festivities = Cajun food. 🙂
Not that Cajun food is only for Mardi Gras — it is tasty year ’round — but I like to use Fat Tuesday as a reason to turn on the Zydeco music, put on some colorful beads, and cook up something Cajun-style!
The past couple of years, I’ve cooked up a big ol’ batch of gumbo, but this year, I wanted to try something a bit different. I came across a recipe for jambalaya that intrigued me, so I decided to give it a go.
Jambalaya is kind of a Cajun take on Spanish paella — it’s a deliciously jumbled mixture of three different meats (typically, there is a sausage, a sea food, and another meat) simmered with the Cajun holy trinity of onion, celery, and bell pepper. Served over rice, it is a deliciously rich-tasting stew that can actually be made with light, healthy ingredients.
According to Wikipedia:
Jambalaya originated in the Caribbean Islands. The Spanish culture mixed with the native foods created what is known as Jambalaya. Jambalaya is traditionally made in three parts, with meats and vegetables, and is completed by adding stock and rice. It is also a close cousin to the saffron colored paella found in Spanish culture. There are two primary methods of making jambalaya.
The first and most common is Creole jambalaya (also called “red jambalaya”). First, meat is added to the trinity of celery, peppers, and onions; the meat is usually chicken and sausage such as andouille or smoked sausage. Next vegetables and tomatoes are added to cook, followed by seafood. Rice and stock are added in equal proportions at the very end.
The second style, more characteristic of southwestern and south-central Louisiana, is Cajun jambalaya, which contains no tomatoes (the idea being the farther away from New Orleans one gets, the less common tomatoes are in dishes).
Inspired by the recipe for Forgotten Jambalaya at the Taste of Home website, I borrowed the large slow cooker from my in-laws (they were more than happy to loan it to me, as I promised to share some of the jambalaya with them) and got to chopping, slicing, and dicing.
Although this is basically a simple dish, there is a lot of chopping and dicing because of all the yummy, nutritious fresh vegetables that go into it. If the prep time is an issue for you, you can save some time by using fresh frozen or fresh pre-chopped vegetables for some or all of the vegetables. Me, I just turned on the TV in my kitchen to an entertaining show and chopped away. 🙂
While browning the chicken and sausage is optional, I find that it gives a richer flavor.
This smells — and tastes — so yummy, you’ll find yourself singing about being down on the bayou! 😉
Slow Cooker Jambalaya (Makes 8 to 9 servings — jambalaya is meant to be shared!)
- 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, UNDRAINED (I used tomatoes seasoned with basil, oregano, and garlic)
- 2 cups beef or chicken stock (I used beef, which gave it a richer flavor — also, stock is less in sodium than even reduced-sodium broth)
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste (I used paste seasoned with basil, oregano, and garlic)
- 2 medium green peppers, chopped
- 1 medium to large onion, chopped
- 3 – 4 celery ribs, chopped
- Minced garlic to taste (equivalent of 5 or 6 cloves)
- Dried parsley flakes to taste (a tablespoon or so — just eyeball it)
- Dried basil to taste (I just sprinkled it all across the surface of the jambalaya)
- Dried oregano to taste (I just sprinkled it all across the surface of the jamabalaya)
- Sprinkling of cayenne pepper (1/2 teaspoon or so)
- 1 or 2 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning (I used Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning)
- Several splashes of hot pepper sauce
- Splash or two of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 to 1 1/4 pound boneless skinless chicken breast or strips, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 package (13 – 14 ounces) turkey smoked sausage, halved and cut into 1/4-inch slices (reduced-fat beef smoked sausage would work, also)
- 1/2 pound uncooked small to medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I found uncooked shrimp already cleaned and peeled in the freezer section of my grocery)
- Cooked rice (for serving) (I used brown rice, ‘though white rice is more traditional)
- Line a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker with a Crock Pot liner (you can skip this step, but it surely does make clean-up easier).
- Combine tomatoes, broth, and tomato paste in slow cooker.
- Lightly spray or season with oil a non-stick skillet. Heat over medium-high heat and sear chicken in skillet. Put chicken and any accumulated juices into slow cooker.
- If need be, add a bit more oil or spray to the non-stick skillet and brown smoked sausage. Put sausage and any accumulated juices into the slow cooker.
- Add the chopped onion, celery, and bell pepper into the slow cooker.
- Add in seasonings and stir.
- Cover and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours. (NOTE: If your vegetables aren’t getting tender enough to suit you, turn it on to high for an hour or two, then return to low.)
- Stir in frozen shrimp. Cover and cook for another 15 to 30 minutes, until shrimp are light pink.
- Serve in a bowl over a scoop of rice.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.