As Mardi Gras approaches, thoughts turn to beads, then to breasts, and then to jambalya. Yes, sometimes I wonder about my thought processes too.
A few of my friends fondly recall a trip to New Orleans for the festival back when they were in college.
â€œI had so many strings of beads round my neck I got a rash.â€
â€œGod bless string bikinis.â€
It is the middle of winter here in NYC. A mild winter so far to be sure, but not exactly string bikini weather. Nevertheless, the guy who runs the bodega on my block has been excited about the possibilities of Mardi Gras for weeks now. As well as selling flowers, milk, chocolate, lottery tickets and cigarettes, he stocks strings of shiny beads in every possible color combination, next to a sign that reads â€œPlease note, we are a shop. If you take off your shirt we will not give you free beads. But we will be happy.â€
Beads, breasts, and now, jambalaya:
Jambalaya (serves 4 – 6)
This is an easy version of the Louisiana classic. My first shortcut is to use shop bought stock â€“ though if you want to make your own, poach a chicken in hot water with an onion, carrot, bay leaf and a few peppercorns. Use the meat from this chicken and strain the water to make the stock. Â My second is to use Old Bay seasoning, a spice mix that includes celery seed, mustard, pepper, bay, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace cardamom, cinnamon and paprika.8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken breasts 1 medium onion 1 green pepper 1 red pepper 4 stalks of celery 2 cloves garlic 1 lb andoui sausage 2 cups chicken stock (store bought) 1 tin chopped tomatoes (14oz) 1 cup long grain rice 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning â€“ Olive oil Salt and pepper Optional â€“ 3 shrimp per person Â
- Chop the chicken into bite sized pieces. Season well with salt and pepper, then fry (ideally in a Dutch oven style pot) until golden â€“ about 5 minutes
- Meanwhile, dice the peppers, the onion and celery, and slice the sausage into bite sized disks
- Tip the vegetables and sausage into the pot and cook for 3 â€“ 4 minutes until the onion starts to brown and the sausage colors
- Grate in the garlic, and add the rice, turning in the oil to coat (you might need to add a splash more oil). Add a scant tsp of Old Bay seasoning, a little more salt and pepper, the stock and the tomatoes
- Simmer everything for 5 minutes
- Clamp on a tightly fitting lid â€“ if your lid isnâ€™t, layer foil under it. Turn off the heat and let everything sit for 30 mins, by which time, most of the liquid should have been absorbed and the rice should be close to cooked
- If youâ€™re using shrimp, make sure theyâ€™re cleaned and de-veined, then lay them over the top of the rice with a little drop of olive oil on each one. Season well. Clamp the lid back on and put the pan on a very low heat for 5 mins until the shrimp are pink and cooked through.
- If youâ€™re not using the shrimp, put the rice on a very low heat for 5 mins to finish the rice and keep everything hot