Saturday, November 6, 2010

Big Fun on the (Jersey) Bayou

While “jambalaya” can refer to a Hank Williams song, or to a famous racehorse, today’s recipe offering has nothing to do with either country music or, thankfully, horse flesh. Instead, it's my version of the classic Louisiana dish whose origins date back to the 1700's. (This is according to the web site of the annual Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales, Louisiana.) If you haven’t yet been fortunate enough to become familiar with jambalaya, it’s a delicious mixture of meats (usually a fish and either poultry or red meat), combined with vegetables and heavily seasoned rice. Depending on what part of Louisiana the version you’re eating originated in, it may or may not include tomatoes.

The Catfish and Sausage Jambalaya recipe below varies from the most stringently traditional jambalayas in a number of ways. (I suppose this is to be expected when a Jersey guy cooks a dish so dear to southern hearts.) First, for the meats this version uses sausage, which is a little unusual but not unheard of, and catfish (rather than shrimp or oysters) which, as far as I know, is completely unheard of but that is easy to use and I feel works well. (If you can't get catfish, swai is an excellent substitute.) Next, the four parts – catfish, sausage, vegetables, and rice mixture – are cooked separately and combined at the end. (This is common among northerners making jambalaya, but, admittedly, is something no self-respecting Louisiana native would ever do.) Finally – and perhaps predictably to anyone who follows Kissing the Cook - the famed trinity of celery, onions and peppers is joined by mushrooms. (Feel free to leave the mushrooms out if you don't like them.)

One final note before we start: as with other recipes, my personal preference is to use a grille pan to cook the fish, sausage and vegetables, but any cooking method you’re comfortable with will do just as well.

To make 4 meal-size servings, begin by preparing the rice mixture as follows:

Into a medium saucepan, put 1 cup of uncooked brown rice; 1-1/2 teaspoons of butter substitute; 2 cups of low fat, low sodium chicken broth; a 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes; 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 1 bay leaf; ½ teaspoon of dried oregano; ½ teaspoon of chopped thyme; 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt; ½ teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper; and a pinch of cayenne pepper for mild spiciness. (Use ¼ teaspoon of cayenne for a more spicy taste.) Bring just to a boil, then simmer over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is fluffy. When the rice is done, add 1/2 tablespoon of dried parsley.

Most of the cooking of the meats and vegetables can be done while the rice is cooking.

Begin heating a grill pan, brush 1 to 1-1/4 pounds of catfish fillets on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, combine 1 cup of chopped onion, 1 chopped green bell pepper, 1 chopped red bell pepper, 2 chopped stalks of celery, 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms, and 2 chopped garlic cloves. Toss the vegetable mix with just enough oil to coat lightly.

Grill the fillets (about 4 minutes per side), and then ¾ pound of turkey-sausage meat (removed from the skin and divided into bite-size chunks). Finally, grill the vegetables until they're done and tender but still just a bit crisp.

Cut the catfish into bite-size pieces. Then combine the catfish and sausage with the vegetables and finished rice, and serve.

All you need now is a pick guitar and a filled fruit jar, and you're all set!

Want a notebook-ready, cookbook-style version of this recipe? Let me know in a comment or a note and I'll get it right out to you.

See you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)


  1. Now this one just CANNOT be done with soy & veggies. :-)

  2. why, Why, WHY?! Now I'm singing that song!

    I always add sausage to my jambalaya....I thought it was a requirement or something...

  3. Thank you, Mary, Sandy and Amy!

    I'm thinking if someone really put their mind to it, it may be possible to make a vegetarian jambalaya. (I've seen great recipes for vegetarian chili, so why not jambalaya, after all?) There are already decent red-meat substitutes. (One of my short-term goals is to explore seitan, a popular meat substitute that is essentially bread with the carbs removed and only the gluten proteins remaining. It won't be popular with gluten-free dieters, but still...) The hard part would be the fish substitute. Any thoughts on this out there?

    As for sausage, most of the jambalaya I've seen in Jersey (which, admittedly, is probably not the best place to get authentic Cajun cuisine) uses chicken and shrimp. Sausage is used in many "real" recipes I've seen though. It's the use of catfish (which we call C-A-T fish in our house so as not to upset Willie and Lilly) instead of shellfish that would get me in the most trouble with traditionalists. I like catfish, though it's not cooked around here as often as it probably is in other places, and would love to see people eat more if it, as well as its southeast Asian cousin, swai. As for the song, well, I can tell you from experience it's better than being a middle-aged guy with Beyonce's "I'm a Single Lady" stuck in his head.