When travelling, one of my favourite activities is to immerse myself in the local food culture. That translates to trying the most interesting and exotic menu items as well as exploring grocery stores, markets and ‘hole-in-the-wall’ food shops. I am fascinated to find different ingredients, tools and inspiration to bring back home with me. Who am I kidding? I do this in Winnipeg too! Recently, I’ve reacquainted myself with a Mexican/South American grocery store a few blocks away from work. It is called El Izalco and offers all sorts of Mexican delights such as bags of dried epazote, fresh corn tortillas and homemade tamales, a variety of fresh salsas and sauces, more dried beans than anyone could ever need, as well as South American candies and sugary treats. The last time I was there I picked up some pickerel, mushroom and onion empañadas – unusual but delicious! My best tale comes from the store owner – she was explaining her fresh, homemade mango-haberñero salsa. She suggested it was like a ghost. It hits you right away as very hot and then *poof* the heat is gone. Like a ghost.
Near the end of the summer, we travelled to Kenora, Ontario for Eric to participate in the North West International Rowing Association Regatta. This was the 111th Annual regatta with historic trophies for each event culminating to the aggregate trophy, the Lipton Cup donated back in 1914 by Sir Thomas Lipton (of Lipton Tea fame). Just down the road from our hotel was a quaint little butcher shop named Good Things Inc. On my first visit, I spotted packages of fresh Andouille sausage – a staple in Cajun cuisine but rarely seen in Winnipeg shops! We picked some up on our way back to Winnipeg, popped it in the freezer and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward 5 weeks and I came across the package of spicy pork sausage. Immediately, I grab it along with a small bag of assorted seafood (or sea critters as my dad likes to call them!) and refer to my standard bible of standards – the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. Within moments I find a mouth-watering jambalaya recipe and quickly evaluate the ingredients list to see what is missing. For those unfamiliar with Cook’s Illustrated, it is a bimonthly magazine that scientifically analyzes recipes. They determine which components define the perfect dish – flakiness of crust, height of meringue, tanginess of curd – and test minute variations on a recipe ultimately establishing the best ratio of ingredients, techniques and time-saving suggestions. Their perfect pie crust includes a bit of vodka – the flavourless liquid evaporates without toughening the dough. Their ‘why this recipe works’ section for each recipe is most interesting as they provide some historic background on the dish or rationale for honing the recipe.
This recipe was perfect for the Andouille – now the question is when are we returning to Kenora?!?
Chicken and Shrimp Jambalaya
Why this recipe works:
Done right, jambalaya is a one-pot meal with a standout combination of sweetness, spice and smoke, but when poorly executed, it’s a thin-flavoured imposter with gummy rice, overcooked shrimp, and tough, dry chicken. To keep the chicken moist, we skipped the white meat and used just chicken thighs. We stuck with classic andouille sausage, which contributed spice and smoke. A food processor made short work of chopping the bell pepper, onion, celery and garlic, and the small, even pieces sautéed more quickly than when hand-chopped. Simmering the rice in a combination of chicken broth, clam juice, and tomato juice boosted its flavour, and reducing the amount of liquid kept it from being gummy and heavy. Adding the raw shrimp to the pot just five minutes before the rice was finished left them perfectly tender. Our finished jambalaya was smoky and sweet, spicy and savoury, with each element perfectly cooked.
- 1½ pounds bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
- salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 8 oz. andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch chunks (or crumbled, if in delicate casings)
- 1 rib celery, cut into quarters
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and quartered
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1½ cups long-grain white rice
- ½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained (¼ cup of juice reserved)
- 1 cup bottled clam juice
- 1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lb. shrimp (31-40 per lb.), peeled and deveined (I substituted ½ lb of shrimp for assorted seafood)
- 2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
- Combine the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chopped fine, about six 1-second pulses, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Be careful not to over-process.
- Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the pot, skin-side down, and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, turn the chicken and cook until golden brown on the opposite side, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Lower the heat to medium and add the andouille. Cook, stirring often, until browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate using a slotted spoon, and set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and add the chopped vegetables to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 4 minutes. Add the rice, salt, thyme and cayenne; cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is coated with the fat, about 1 minute. Add the diced tomatoes, reserved tomato juice, clam juice, chicken broth, bay leaves and cooked sausage to the pot. Stir to combine. Remove the skin from the chicken pieces and place the chicken on the rice so that the side the skin was just removed from is now facing down. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Stir once, keeping the chicken in the same general position, and continue to simmer until the chicken is no longer pink inside, about 10 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate or cutting board and set aside. Scatter the shrimp over the rice, cover, and continue to cook until the rice is fully tender and the shrimp are opaque and cooked through, about 5 minutes more.
- While the shrimp are cooking, shred the chicken into thin strands. Once the shrimp are finished cooking, discard the bay leaves, stir in the chicken and parsley, and serve immediately.