Not just because it’s Mardi Gras time—when all Cajun and Creole foods come into high fashion—but also because it’s so darn cold: Jambalaya is precisely the dish you want for dinner this week. Hearty, tomato-y, with complex flavors and a kick of spice, jambalaya fills the belly and sparks the imagination.
Instead of using the traditional long-grain white rice that forms the basis of a good jambalaya recipe, I figured I’d hack my favorite rice dish—risotto—with all the other jambalaya ingredients. I started by adding celery and red bell pepper to the onion base (this “Holy Trinity” of Cajun/Creole cooking—celery, onion and pepper—forms the basis of most recipes, just as “mirepoix”—celery, carrot, onion—underpins French cooking). I used dried herbs and spices to create a Cajun flavor, and filled out the recipe with andouille sausage and shrimp.
This jambalaya-risotto mashup turned out just the way I’d hoped. You can adjust the amount of cayenne to add heat, or offer a bottle of hot sauce at the table so everyone can spice it up as they’d like. I’m thinking a cold beer (Abita, if you’re being authentic) is the perfect accompaniment.
Note: A big thanks to the folks at Findlay Market for naming me and Cincinnati downtown-ophile Bob Schwartz as Queen and King of Mardi Gras. In spite of the icky weather, lots of people turned out, and it was a great time.
1 andouille sausage (uncooked), cut into slices
12 fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for serving
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
salt & pepper
Place the stock in a saucepan and keep at a gentle simmer while you’re cooking. In a heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat, add the olive oil; when it’s warm, add the sliced andouille sausage. Cook until the sausage is well browned; remove from pan. Add the diced onion, pepper, celery and a generous pinch of salt, and sauté, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil; cook until you see a white spot in the middle of the grains, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it’s almost cooked off. Add the bay leaf to the pan. Begin adding the chicken stock about 3/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the stock is absorbed; when you scrape a spoon across the bottom of the pan, it will leave a path. You want the risotto to be “thirsty” before adding more stock. When you've added about half the stock, stir in the oregano, thyme, paprika and cayenne.
The process of cooking, stirring and adding broth will take about 20 to 30 minutes, give or take. After about 20 minutes, begin tasting the risotto to see if it’s done. You want the dish to be creamy, with grains of rice that are firm but tender. If the rice has a bit of crunch when you sample it, keep stirring and adding broth. Cooking it too long will result in a mushy texture; don’t worry if you take it too far, as the risotto will still be tasty. With a bit of practice, you’ll get the perfect degree of doneness.
With the last addition of the stock, add the shrimp and chopped tomatoes; cook until the shrimp are pink and opaque, about 4 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Season the risotto to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Top each serving with a dusting of Parmesan and chopped parsley.