by John Ore
With spring officially here, we’ve reached the two final installments of this series of favorite casserole recipes (with crockery recommendations) from The Awl and The Hairpin. But before you go full fair-weather grill-out, a recipe for jambalaya.
One of my first post-collegiate single-guy attempts at “cooking” — outside of warming a can of Goya black beans in a saucepan — was for a Mardi Gras-themed party in the mid-90s. I’d gone to my first Jazz Fest in 1993 with some friends/co-workers (synonymous in those days for me), and I listened to a lot of Dash Rip Rock and The Radiators. The next year, a creole-themed party emerged as the perfect delivery vehicle for copious amounts of booze in advance of Lent.
Everyone was responsible for bringing a dish, so I chose jambalaya for our potluck gathering, mostly because it seemed exotic while still containing familiar ingredients. It didn’t require making a complex roux like gumbo, yet it still felt a little grown up to bring it to a party. I was probably still wearing a baseball cap, though.
Since the Internet existed only in William Gibson books back then, I got a recipe from a co-worker’s mother from Louisiana. Like, transcribed over the phone onto a 3×5 note card. Authentic! Turns out, it was a hit. Along with the jambalaya and aforementioned gumbo, we managed to come up with fresh mudbugs. As that day progressed into evening, it devolved as would befit a bunch of 20-somethings with too much booze at a Mardi Gras-themed party. We did the most platonic body shots you could ever imagine — ooooh, the crook of the arm! SEXXXY — which was, sadly, what passed for intimacy with a woman at that point in my career. But the recipe endures!
I’ve added a bit of a paella/Spanish touch to the original recipe, mostly because I’m all growns up and pretentious and live in Brooklyn and wanted to use lamb merguez. Feel free to use andouille or shrimp or whatever moves you. Unlike stovetop versions, this jambalaya is baked in the oven, therefore it qualifies as a bona fide casserole.
Spanish Jambalaya Casserole
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup butter
~1 pound fully cooked lamb merguez sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
~1 ½ fully cooked chicken breasts, coarsely chopped or shredded
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups uncooked Spanish rice
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Frank’s Red Hot or Sriracha sauce (to taste)
1 tablespoon browning sauce
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
In a large skillet, brown the sausage lightly. The merquez that I was using from Brooklyn Cured had a spicy zing to it that lent itself naturally to the jambalaya motif, to the point that you could ease up on the Frank’s or Sriracha. But heat to taste. Remove the sausage to paper towels to drain, reserve about a teaspoon of the drippings, then slice into ½ inch pieces.
Separately, saute some chicken breasts over a little oil in a skillet, browning them lightly as well. Slice/shred these into irregular chunks and set aside.
In yet another large skillet, saute the onions, green peppers, celery and garlic in butter until tender and slightly browned. Place in a shallow baking dish or casserole with the sausage and chicken, then stir in the remaining ingredients, including the merguez drippings, minus the chicken stock. Once mixed, add the chicken stock to saturate the whole thing. As we’ve already learned, the rice will cook during the casseroling-in-the-oven process, which is a really handy and cool way to cook rice dishes.
Cover and bake at 375 for 45–50 minutes or until the rice is tender, stirring a couple of times throughout to ensure the rice is cooked to your liking. Serve in bowls or on paper plates, add hot sauce to taste, sprinkle with some chopped parsley, and crack open a nice Abita SOS.
Body shots optional (but recommended).
John Ore doesn’t want to tell you what he did to get Mardi Gras beads.