There are some people who, when they find out your profession, need to ask you the ‘favorite’ question. When I used to tell people I was an actor that question always was, “who’s your favorite actor?” Now that I more commonly answer that question by telling people I am chef I thought I had heard the last of the ‘favorite’ question. But, alas, I was wrong. One of the first times I identified myself as a cook instead of an actor, the almost immediate response was, “Really? What’s your favorite ingredient?”
It’s not that I am against favorites. Favorites are fine. They’re good even. But I was totally caught off guard by the ‘favorite ingredient’ question. Which why I was surprised that I had an answer.
I shrugged and I told him, “probably rice.”
He seemed shocked. “Rice? Not truffles or saffron or a particular hot sauce? Why rice?”
And I told him. I said that I loved rice’s versatility and affordability. Think about it. Every major culinary culture has their own signature rice dish. Italy makes risotto, China makes fried rice, Spain makes Paella, Thailand even makes mango sticky rice as a dessert! The list goes on and on and on… And, of course, New Orleans has jambalaya.
I make jambalaya throughout the year, but I always make a point to have it on Mardi Gras. Rice cooked in onions, garlic and bell pepper with shredded chicken, andoullie sausage, and shrimp is just plain decadent. And it is always a hit. I served this to my father in law once, and after inconspicuously finishing his third helping, simply told me, “yeah, you could make that again.”
I’ve always loved the Mardi Gras holiday. It is just such a cool idea for a holiday. I have yet to go to New Orleans on Mardi Gras, but I desperately want to some day.
This is a hard dish to pair with wine because it is a little spicy and has so much flavor. Perhaps a Riesling or a rose Syrah. I also think a good pale ale or IPA would pair nicely as well. Of course you could just go full out Mardi Gras and make yourself a couple of Hurricanes.
Follow it up with our Bread Pudding with a Rum Butter Sauce and you’ll be eating just like they will be in the Bayou.
Since jambalaya is kind of a ‘leftovers’ meal, it can be made with a veriety of ingredients. I have tried to account for how to alter the recipe depending on what you find in your fridge or on sale at the grocery store.
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or bone-in thighs)
½ pound andouille sausage (chorizo, linguica, or other spicy sausage may be substituted)
salt and pepper to taste
5 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 ½ cups white rice, uncooked
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ cup dry white wine
About 2 ½ cups chicken broth
1 pound shrimp, deveined and shelled
2 Tbsp fresh parsley (dried basil or parsley may be substituted)
red pepper flakes to taste, optional
- Heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a large deep pan or skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.
- Lay the chicken breasts and/or thighs in the pan and cook until golden, about 4 minutes per side.
- If there is room add the sausage to the pan. Cook the sausage through if raw. If pre-cooked, lightly brown sausage. This may be done after cooking the chicken if there is not enough room in the pan or skillet.
- Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the chicken and sausage to a plate. Cut sausages in half lengthwise and then into ¼ inch pieces.
- If needed, add the remaining 3 tbsp oil to the pan or skillet and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and 1/2 tsp salt; cook, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the skillet, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. You may also add the optional red pepper flakes for a rounder taste
- Add the rice and cook until the edges turn translucent, about 3 minutes.
- Add wine and cook until absorbed.
- Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer for 1 minute for flavors to develop, stirring constantly.
- Add chicken broth; bring to a simmer. Nestle the chicken back into the rice. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Stir the shrimp and sausage into the rice and continue to cook, covered, over low heat for 2 more minutes. Add extra broth, if needed.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and let stand, covered, until the shrimp are fully cooked and the rice is tender, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, shred the chicken using two forks. Stir the parsley and shredded chicken into the rice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Stale dense bread such as leftover bagels or beer bread works best but any bread will do. This is my go to dessert when I have a bunch of leftover bagels that are too stale to eat, the best are cinnamon raison bagels.
4-5 stale bagels or 6-7 slices of regular bread
4 cups milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
1 stick butter
- Spray or butter up a 9×13 inch pan and pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. (Every thing for the bread pudding can be put together an refrigerated up to 12 hours before baking)
- Tear up bread in large pieces and place in greased baking dish. (you may need a knife if the bread is particularly stale)
- In a bowl, combine egg, milk, sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. Mix until eggs are beat and sugar has dissolved.
- Pour liquid mixture over bread pieces. If the bread is quite stale let the mixture sit for an hour or so to soften up the bread.
- Just before baking sprinkle 1 tablespoon (or more if you’d like) on the top of the soaked bread and cut the stick of butter into several pats, place the pats of butter all over the top.
- Bake for 1 hour.
- It should be huge and puffy when removed from oven. It will shrink immediately out of the oven. Let stand for 20 minutes.
- Cut, drizzle with butter rum sauce (recipe to follow) and serve.
Butter Rum Sauce
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon rum
1/4 cup milk
- Melt butter in a small sauce pan.
- Add powdered sugar and rum, stir quickly with a whisk.
- When the sauce becomes thick add milk and stir some more.
- Let cook for 5 minutes, remove from heat and let sit before serving.