Christmas Jambalaya: A Family Tradition

For weeks, I have been deliberating back and forth about what recipe to share as my first official post of 2015. The holidays, of which now include Russian Christmas for me, have come and gone in the usual flash and flurry. The calendar page turns and January reappears, reminding us to set intentions and goals for which to strive, as we chip away on projects at home and focus on the self. January’s re-emergence on the calendar definitively signals a return to normalcy as it pertains to healthy and mindful eating. I, however, won’t be honoring that last sentiment just yet, so I can play a bit of catch up.

Last year around this time, I baked the Rosemary & Toasted-Caraway Shortbread cookies, which became a holiday sensation and staple (at least on a more micro-level and amongst my families). I replicated those again for Russian Christmas, along with a more Russian take on the classic deviled egg. And as eclectic and mouthwatering as the flavors were in the deviled eggs, I gave this jambalaya recipe the nod as I thought it would be more relevant to the masses and to my current audience.

As I have touched upon in the past, the consumption of food on the paternal side of my family is best likened to a competitive sport, rather than an appreciation of food as a culinary art. Vehement carnivores dominate the family landscape, leaving less room to craft lighter, more vegetarian-centric fare. One summer, my cousin downed 14 popovers in a single sitting, an event which I think most accurately portrays what flows through my paternal gene pool. Nonetheless, this provides me with an opportunity to enjoy meat-dense dishes.

For whatever reason many years ago, my dad started cooking this jambalaya recipe on Christmas Eve and it has invariably become an essential building block in the lead-up to Christmas morning. I have to hand it to him: it’s golden. This Christmas jambalaya is chalk full of some of the rich meats I crave: andouille sausage, chicken thighs, applewood-smoked bacon, and tasso ham. My dad throws in some shrimp into the mix because we felt this recipe was completely lacking in protein (flash a smile or utter a laugh). The shrimp additive gives this one-pot dish some pizazz and almost conjures up the feel of a spicy surf and turf. We omitted the other fully-cooked sausage: linguiça. Christmas red and greens shine through in the red and green bell peppers, while the uncooked rice simmers comfortably in a dense bed of exquisite meats, shrimp, spices, and a touch of other vegetables. I, for one, like the fact that you don’t have to boil a pot of water and wait for the rice to cook before adding to the pot. “A watched pot never boils”, which is precisely the reason why my pots take so long to boil. It’s like that idiom was made for me.

The jambalaya emerges from the oven well-seasoned, but not overly so. The rice adds some airiness to an otherwise dense dish. This is by far one of my favorite meat dishes of the year. And while one of my resolutions is to limit my meat consumption in 2015, I dare say I won’t be depriving myself of indulgences such as this one. It’s simply too good not to try.

Props to my dad for regaling us year after year with this jambalaya. I truly do revere the time I spent with my dad’s family down in the Carolinas and I am equally thankful that they brought this recipe to my attention.

Chicken, Shrimp, & Sausage Jambalaya
Recipe adapted from the March 2011 issue of Bon Appétit
Yields 10 servings

12 oz. applewood-smoked bacon, diced
1 1/2 pounds smoked fully cooked sausage (such as linguiça), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-in. thick semi-circles
1 lb. andouille sausages, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-in. cubes
1/2 lb. tasso or smoked ham (such as Black Forest), cut into 1/2-in. cubes
1 1/2 lbs. onions, chopped (4-5 cups)
2 large celery stalks, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
6 large skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 – 1 1/2 in. pieces
2 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 tbsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. (or more) cayenne pepper
3 10-ounce cans diced tomatoes and green chiles
2 1/2 cups beef broth
3 cups (19 to 20 ounces) long-grain white rice
8 green onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
Fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350°F. Cook bacon in very large pot over medium-high heat until brown but not yet crisp, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes. Add smoked sausage, andouille, and tasso. Sauté until meats start to brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Add onions, celery, and bell peppers. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes. Mix in chicken. Cook until outside of chicken turns white, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes. Mix in paprika, thyme, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Cook 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes with chiles and broth; stir to blend well. Add more cayenne, if desired. Mix in rice.

Bring jambalaya to boil. Cover pot. Place in oven and bake until rice is tender and liquids are absorbed, 45 to 48 minutes. Uncover pot. Mix chopped green onions into jambalaya; sprinkle jambalaya with chopped parsley and serve.

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