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Jambalaya has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Never having lived in Africa or Louisianna, my first experience with it was in a Toronto Cajun-style restaurant as a side dish. I later got to enjoy another, Canadianized version of it in its ‘red’ form, then watched Emeril Lagasse make it on TV. A local Cajun inspired restaurant serves the brown type as a side which is distinctly different than the version I tried at an international potluck…and so on and so forth.

Though I’ve never had it in either of its ‘true’ forms, I’ve always felt that I had a good feel for what jambalaya is all about and how to make it better than the specimens I’d been exposed to. So, as is wont to happen, I made several attempts at creating this mysterious dish, going by nose, until I made it what I want it to be. Luckily a friend’s father (who ended up in Canadia as a draft dodger from the deep south) happily assisted me in fine-tuning (not to be confused with ‘authenticating’) my bastardised version while cursing my name as an appropriatrix of his culture all the way.

Here is the recipe in its current manifestation. Don’t be intimidated by all of the writing, it actually goes together in about an hour but I tend to reserve it for lazy sundays or those evenings when I feel like parking myself in the kitchen with a book:

1tsp. cumin seeds.
1tsp. coriander seeds.
2tbsp. olive oil.
1 large cooking onion.
1/2 bulb of crushed garlic, divided.
1lb. chorizo or andouille sausages (these are sometimes hard to come by in our small city so I often subsitute Italian sausages for them)
1/2 lb. mushrooms of your choice (I don’t recommend anything too fancy dancy as they’ll need to withstand some abuse of flavour.)
2 pints beer of your choice (lots of things will work in this instance but fruitier stuff is probably not a good match.)
3-4 chipotles.
1lb. uncooked shrimp of your choice.
2 cans of diced tomatoes.
2 roughly chopped red bell peppers.
1tbsp. Thyme leaves.
2tsp. Oregano leaves.

1. Heat a large pot over medium heat for about 5 minutes then toss in the crushed cumin and coriander. Continue to heat until your kitchen reeks of warmed spices. I gauge this by the day I was heating said spices and my brother-in-law came to the kitchen door but would not come in because of the stink…if your spices are smelly enough to drive family away that’s the time to add the olive oil.

2. Add the olive oil and about two seconds later add the onions and half of the garlic. Saute until translucent.

3. Add the sausage.

4. Pay attention. The next steps are not for the faint of heart. 2 pints of beer is sacrificed to the mighty jambalaya gods to bring good ju-ju to this dish. At this point you’ll need to cook the sausages over high heat until you get that brown stuff which sticks to the bottom of the pot. Keep it up high and add beer as needed to lift the brown stuff from the bottom of the pot – not too much at once, though. You want this to reduce to almost no liquid between beer additions. Continue heating and reducing and adding beer until the beer is gone.

5. Turn the heat down to medium and add the mushrooms and chipotles. Simmer about 5 minutes

6. Add the diced tomatoes.

7. Let simmer for at least 20 mins over med-high heat (or as long as you desire over a lower heat, adding water or more beer as your little heart desires – I’ve been known to let this brew over a lower heat and a few days; turning the heat off during sleepy times and starting it back up again in the morning – this leads to a distinctly different-tasting dish.)

8. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil Add herbs, peeled shrimps and the rest of the crushed garlic and allow to boil for 10 minutes.

I like to serve my jambalaya in a bowl over brown rice with a sprinkle of chopped, fresh cilantro. My jambalaya is one of the yummiest things I eat.


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