Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jambon a la ya-ya

In Louisiana, we use pork in everything (and that's a good thing!). According to John Folse, the word Jambalaya comes from the colloquialism "Jambon a la ya-ya", "Jambon" being French for pork and "Ya-ya" from an African Bantu word for rice. Jambalaya is derived from the Spanish dish paella. There are two basic styles of jambalaya, Cajun and Creole. If you travel the Louisiana countryside, you are not likely to find tomatoes, bell pepper, or celery in the jambalaya. The Cajuns call this "brown" jambalaya. Cajun jambalaya is generally made with chicken or pork with sausage and onions. In New Orleans, jambalaya almost always contains seafood, onion, bell pepper, celery (known as "The Trinity") and tomatoes. This is known as Creole, or "red", jambalaya. Creole jambalaya often has shrimp or crawfish instead of chicken. The debate over whether red or brown jambalaya is "real" jambalaya rages on. I generally prefer the Cajun style, but am perfectly happy with either one.

This weekend I pulled out my 5 gallon cast iron kettle to make a pork and sausage jambalya (aka "brown") for the extended family. It has taken me several years to master the technique to produce a good brown jambalaya. Cooking in a kettle presents its own challenges, in addition to learning to moderate the 200,000 btu propane burner that I use with it. I always get compliments on my jambalaya, but being the perfectionist that I am, I usually expect more from myself. This weekend was as close as I have come to perfection.
Let me describe how I did it:


8 lbs Boston Butt, cut into golfball size pieces
3.5 lbs smoked pork sausage, cut into 1/2" slices
3 lbs Vidalia Onions, diced (or other sweet onion, such as Texas Sweet)
6 lbs long grain rice (extra long if you can find it)
4 quarts of chicken stock
2 quarts of water
1 bell pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 cup Italian parsely, chopped
1/2 cup Bacon grease
(Creole Seasonings) Black Pepper, Kosher Salt, Cayenne pepper, Chili pepper, Granulated garlic, Oregano, Thyme, and Paprika to taste.

Heat cast iron pot over high heat until smoking. Add bacon grease and stir quickly with a metal paddle to coat the sides of the pot. Add the Boston Butt and use the paddle to spread the meat ot in the pot. The meat will stick. Wait until it releases (about 2-3 minutes) then use the paddle to turn the meat. At this point, the meat will start giving off a good amount of liquid. Add the sausage. Stir frequently, but not constantly, speading the meat ot each time. The idea is to cook off the liquid, render the fat, and brown the meat and sausage without burning the whole works. As the liquid reduces, you have to reduce the temperature to prevent burning.

As the meat gets brown, a "fond" develops on the sides of the pot. This is all of the porky goodness that sticks to the sides of the pot. Do not burn the fond. When the meat is thoroughly browned, turn off the fire and remove the meat to a large bowl using a skimmer leaving the rendered pork fat and bacon grease. Set the bowl aside.

Turn the fire back up to medium and add the onions. Use the paddle to stir vigorously. As the onions start to sweat, the fond will break free and dissolve into a brownish liquid. This is a good sign. Moderate the fire as needed to cook the onions down. The onions are done when the onions and fond have an almost caramel-like appearance. Add the meat back in and toss with the paddle.

Add all remaining ingredients except rice. Season the pot fairly heavily. Taste the meat, veg, stock mix, remembering that 6 lbs of rice will soak up a lot of it. Once you are satisfied, increase the heat to bring the pot to a boil. Use the paddle to scrape the sides of the pot to ensure that all of the fond has been released. Reduce the heat to low and put a lid on it. After 20 minutes, turn the heat back up to high for 60 seconds and then turn it off. Do not lift the lid. Allow the pot to rest covered for 20-30 minutes.

Remove the cover and gently fluff the rice with the paddle. Serve with hot sauce and crusty french bread.