The following excerpt is from a cookbook I have in progress and tells of the history of Jambalaya.
A close second to Gumbo, Jambalaya is similar in that it incorporates many of the same ingredients. It is said that the name comes from a combination of French and African terms meaning ‘ham and rice’ and is thought to be a loose version of paella influenced from the Spanish and French. After the civil war, the combining of the Creoles with the Cajun population produced many versions of jambalaya. The Creole version comes from the European sector of New Orleans combining rice with tomatoes, ham or chicken, seafood and spices while the Cajun dish uses the lower rural foods of rice, wild meats and shellfish.
However, thanks to my neighbor David Newell, I learned a twist in its origin. According to an essay by Andrew Sigal, the first mention of Jambalaya in English print appears to be from Mobile AL. Submitted from Mobile to the American Agriculturalist journal in May 1849 is a mention of ‘Hopping Johnny’ with Jambalaya in parentheses. Later in 1878, the Ladies of the St. Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Mobile published ‘The Gulf City Cook Book’, which features a recipe titled ‘Jam Bolaya’. The recipe contains oysters and chicken giblets along with the familiar tomatoes and rice.
Today, we use the familiar ingredients of ham and poultry along with a variety of others like beef, smoked meats, sausage and every kind of seafood imaginable. Jambalaya makes great use of ingredients everyone has on hand and many times made from leftovers. In gumbo and étouffée, we cook separately the rice but in jambalaya, we cook the rice slowly into the meat mixture creating a great all-in-one-pot meal.
Many cooks prefer using a cast iron pot when making this dish. Any heavy pot will do as long as it has a tight fitting lid. The secret is not letting the rice scorch or burn. Once you add the rice, do not stir. Use a spatula to turn the rice over scooping from the bottom if needed and do this only a few times during the final process to incorporate all ingredients. The rice grains must remain intact or you’ll end up with a pot of goo.
Now on to today’s recipe –
Creole Ham Jambalaya
6 to 8 servings
1 pound lean pork, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons butter
3 medium onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 or 3 ribs of celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
few spring of parsley
1 cup chopped ham
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cloves
salt and pepper (black & red) to taste
6 pork sausages
1 cup peeled & seeded tomatoes, chopped
3 cups beef stock
1 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the pork, onions, green pepper, celery, garlic and parsley. Sauté until mixture is light brown. Stir in the chopped ham, chili powder, ground cloves, salt and black pepper taste as well as a generous amount of cayenne pepper.
Cut the sausages into 1-inch sections and add to the pan. Cook over moderate heat for about 10 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, rice and cook another 10 minutes stirring only the first few minutes. Add a little water if needed to keep from sticking on the bottom.
Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until rice is tender about 25 minutes. Add additional stock if needed but avoid stirring. Serve very hot with scallions on top and with crusty French bread.
Other readings : Jambalaya on the Bayou by Ned Hemard, New Orleans Bar Association