CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Jambalaya

Lent starts this week. That means the end of Mardi Gras, which is celebrated for about two weeks before Ash Wednesday. But not before the biggest celebration of the season — Fat Tuesday.

Among the traditions of Mardi Gras is a parade every day and a hefty dose of customary Cajun and Creole foods.

My favorite dish that’s a mainstay during the New Orleans celebration is jambalaya. I’ve tried my hand numerous times making a pot of the mash-up, which features chicken, andouille sausage, sweet bell pepper, rice and a number of other ingredients.

Mine isn’t bad, but if you’ve never had jambalaya cooked by a native Louisianan, you don’t know what your missing. I can say that as a certainty because no jambalaya I’ve eaten can compare with that made by an old friend and former co-worker, Sue Ellyn Scaletta, who hailed from the Pelican State.

Sue Ellyn, who unfortunately died a couple of years ago in a house fire at her home in Grand Forks., really knew how to make a mean pot of jambalaya.

Whenever I’ve tried my hand at the Cajun/Creole dish, my thoughts would go back to those days in the 1980s and 1990s, when we would have a potluck at the Herald. Sue Ellyn, a fiery Irish gal, always brought her jambalaya, and it always was a hit.

While I regret never getting her jambalaya recipe, here’s another that’s pretty tasty.

I think Sue Ellyn would give it a thumbs-up.

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ pound andouille sausage, 1-inch slices
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 3 boneless, skinless thighs (about 1 pound total), cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon homemade or purchased Creole seasoning (see note)
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
½ green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
1½ cups long-grain rice
1 4-ounce can tomato sauce
2½ cups homemade chicken stock or reduced-sodium broth
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large, ovenproof skillet, heat the oil and butter over high heat until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook until it starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and sprinkle the Creole seasoning over all. Continue cooking over high heat until the chicken just begins to color, about 3 minutes. Remove the meat to a plate.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Add the onion, celery, and bell pepper to the skillet and cook until they start to color, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the rice and stir to coat. Stir in the tomato sauce and stock and bring to a boil.
Return the chicken and sausage to the skillet and stir to combine. Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, stirring once, until the rice is almost tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven, let the jambalaya cool slightly and adjust seasoning to taste before serving.
Yield: Serves 6.
Note: To make Creole seasoning, combine 4 teaspoons cayenne, 1 tablespoon each coarse salt and white pepper, 2¼ teaspoons each dried thyme and freshly ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon dried sage and ¼ teaspoon each onion powder and garlic powder. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 400 calories, 30 percent of calories from fat, 13.2 grams fat (4.3 grams saturated, 5.7 grams monounsaturated), 48.3 milligrams cholesterol, 22 grams protein, 46.9 grams carbohydrates, 2.3 grams fiber, 769.7 milligrams sodium.

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