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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Biopolar Weeknight Jambalaya!

Ah, my mother.

The 2 year anniversary of her death was the other day. I told myself it would be appropriate on the night after her death anniversary to make something with a kick. My mom was always full of spit and fire (and it wasn't just the Valium talking). She was feisty.

I didn't know what to make, then it hit me -- Andy told me a few nights ago he wanted shrimp for dinner. My first reaction was, "ew".

I know, I know, I know.

Here I am, a home cook on the cusp of pitching his own cooking show the Food Network and I am freely admitting I don't like seafood.


I was raised by Midwestern parents. My Mom and Dad are both from Idaho and Montana. They both knew each other as kids growing up in the same town. Up until 2 years ago when my mother died, they had been married 64 years.

Normal Rockwell! Calling Norman Rockwell!

Yea, sure, my childhood was real Normal Rockwell. If Mr. Rockwell had painted portraits of women who were biopolar manic depressives who secretly drank scotch in the dry pantry of their country home then it would be have been just like a scene from my childhood.

Is this getting depressing?

Forgive me, but I'm reading Carrie Fishers new memoir Wishful Drinking (is that a great title, or what?) and it has me both howling and cringing at how similar her battle with mental illness is to the ones certain members of my family cope still cope with.

I'm obsessed with the book and movie Postcards From The Edge. It all makes sense. Sure, it's a great book and very good movie, but it's no Citizen Kane. So why am I so obsessed with it?

I'm obsessed with it because I am consumed with mother angst and will devour anything mother/daughter or son/mother related. I am ashamed to type this, but I take perverse solace knowing Carrie Fisher had to get electro-shock therapy to exorcise her mother. I realize that's not really funny but I have a sneaking suspicion if I were having a cocktail with Ms. Fisher she would find it very amusing and probably knowingly cackle along with me as we shared mother horror stories. What other choice do we have?

My mom (and her Mom) were mentally unstable for years. I grew up around lots of wacky behavior so I get mental illness. I also get how one can develop a lacerating in the face of such misery. It's what made me the man I am today. No matter how awful things become or how dark the days are, I can see the irony in anything.

So don't think it doesn't escape me the smell of fish and the feel of fish just makes me ill. I am about to pitch a cooking show to the biggest food TV network in America and I swear I'll yak if they serve scallops or (God help me) octopus or (deliver me Lord) calamari at the meeting.

I'm a wreck.

But I think a lot of American's feel this way. Look - here is the upside of my aversion of slimy food that smells like the inside of my jock after a 2 hour spin class or has eyes that are glassy and look like they're judging me, I can tell they're judging me...if I can make a meal and use seafood in it and actually like it, then I can assure other seafood-phobic American's (and Europeans - god the BEEF they eat in Prague is unreal), they'll LOVE it.

I got high standards when it comes to good tasting seafood. Like, give me three glasses of wine beforehand and a side of corned beef hash, if you don't mind.

And last night, I made my own version of Jambalaya and let me tell you - the shrimp was good. I know! Sure, it had sausage and ham in it, but the shrimp stood out as the star of the show and it mixed perfectly with the rest of the dish.

I was shocked.

So, without further ado, may I present:

Biopolar Spicy Weeknight Turkey Andouille Sausage,
Cajun Tasso Ham and Wild Maine Shrimp Jambalaya
with Cayenne, Red and Yellow Pepper Rice

Now THAT'S a recipe title.

I read a lot of recipes before I did my own version. My starting point was my spiritual mentor, the wonderful Mr. James Beard (I love you James - you better have a tender beef brisket and boiled potatoes with sweet cream ready for me when we meet in the afterlife).

Mr. Beard wrote a book given to me by a jerk of a former friend, Angela F. (I'll try to be polite and not type out her last name, but she was mean, really mean, she dumped me as a friend a year ago, no call, no email, what is that about?, but ironically, she introduced me to James Beard so GO FIGURE)...the book he wrote is a little paperback:

Fish Cookery. Isn't that a great title? It's a small little book with the most practical and useful advice you can imagine. In my mind, if there is one person who can give me a fish recipe I'd like, it would be my spiritual mentor, Mr. Beard. And he gave me a perfect starting point.

Mr. Beard was famously called, by Julia Child, un serieux, or, someone serious about cooking. And he was.

He was practical, down-to-earth and serious about his food. But he was also very funny. The writing in his books, particularly Beard on Bread, is smart, funny and slightly odd.

He was very much an actor and performer, so he and I have much in common. He deserves more of a place in American cooking. Tell Martha to share the spotlight. God, now she's a ham!

Beard recommended sausage and the shrimp, as the other ten recipes I read recommended, but his was the only one which recommended butter instead of oil and which recommended ham instead of chicken or other meats.

Most older Jambalaya recipes require cooking in separate pots and not combined into one. Very tedious. I mixed and matched and came up with this.

Note: a few people have wrinkled their nose when I mentioned I put in tomatoes. They said authentic Jambalaya doesn't have tomatoes, but the canned tomatoes, drained, were a very nice addition, so I recommend using them.

To cut down on fat I used half butter and then olive oil. Butter has gone out of style with cooking nowadays. All anyone says is olive oil, olive oil, olive oil. But if you use only one tablespoon of butter and add a bit of oil, you get a truly rich flavor to the dish which, when spread over many servings, is a small amount of calories.

This dish can be heavy, so I cut down on the calories and fat by using turkey sausage, less oil, less chicken broth and used the hot sauce sparingly to cut down on sodium and added loads of veggies to give it super taste.

This dish heats up very well and will last up to 2 full days after cooking. After that, the rice may become soggy. NOT for freezing. God, I'm yelling. I sound like Martha. Shoot me.

Let's cook!

Prep time: 20 minutes (10 minutes for speedy home cooks)

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serving size: 6 nice sized portion bowls of steamy, spicy Jambalaya

Note: If you have a food processor, throw in the veggies (the first four ingredients) and pulse 5-6 times. Will save you cutting time.

What you'll need:
  • 3 medium yellow onions, chopped fine
  • 1 yellow pepper, chopped fine
  • 1 red pepper, chopped fine
  • 8 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
  • 10 ounces spicy turkey sausage OR low-fat Andouille sausage*, cut up into bite size pieces
  • 1/2 pound smoked Tasso ham**, cut into thin strips
  • 1 1/2 cups long grain white rice, rinsed thoroughly for 2 minutes under cold water***
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried French thyme
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 can UN-SALTED canned tomatoes, drained entirely
  • 1 1/2 cup no-salt canned chicken broth
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 pound fresh (or frozen) shrimp, cleaned and shelled
  • 2-5 teaspoons Franks Extra-hot Cajun Sauce, plus more at serving
*Andouille is French in origin. The recipe was brought to the New World by the French colonists of Louisiana. Andouille is made of butt or shank meat and fat, seasoned with salt, cracked black pepper, and garlic, and smoked over pecan wood and sugar cane for up to seven or eight hours. There are many excellent vegetarian AND turkey Andouille sausage on the market. It's all pre-cooked meat, so I suggest you have a taste of it before you throw it into the pot so you know how hot it is. They all vary greatly.

**There is a lovely girl, Amy, who works in the Murray's Pork Store in Grand Central. I told her I wanted a great, full-body ham with a kick at the end and she gave me a taste of Tasso ham. It was perfect. It's a specialty of Cajun cuisine. It is a spicy, peppery version of smoked pork made from the shoulder butt. The meat is cured briefly, only three or four hours, then rinsed, rubbed with a spice mixture containing Cayenne pepper and garlic, and hot-smoked until cooked through. As Mr. Beard notes, "...evidently, any old smoked meat was considered jambon in the old day [for Jambalaya]".

***A few reasons why you must rinse rice - the most logical is bagged rice can be dirty and you can remove hard grains easily when clean - also, it removes some starch when you rinse and results in a fluffier and drier rice.

Let's cook!It's imperative you prep the vegetables before cooking. It will result in a much more streamlined process.

You also must cut up your meats and have those ready as well. The shrimp must go in at the end of the meal or else you will overcook it.

Get out a large Dutch-oven. Heat up the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil until the butter stop foaming. Throw in the 2 tablespoons of flour and mix it in and cook it for 30 seconds.

Throw in the diced Andouille sausage and the ham. Make sure the butter, oil and flour coat the meat. Cook over a medium flame until the fat on the ham is rendered and the meats are nicely brown.

With a slotted spoon, remove the meats and put on a plate (do not line with a paper towel - you want those meat juices!).

Now, throw in your veggies with the remaining tablespoon olive oil. Mix so the veggies are covered in the fat ( gross) and cook until the onions are translucent.

Now add rice and mix up so the rice is covered with some of the oil. Turn the flame up to medium-high and cook for a few minutes, mixing as you do. You want to cook the rice a bit and give it a slight brown.

Put in your drained tomatoes (MUST be drained or it's too soupy and tastes all tomato), the chicken broth, the water and the dried herbs. Bring to a boil. Cover for 20 minutes, checking once and mixing from the bottom up - the rice can stick to the bottom of the pan.

You need to be careful at this point. You don't want to overcook so the rice is soggy. TASTE the meal. See what the consistency of the rice is. See how spicy it is. Add Frank's Extra Hot Cajun bottled sauce accordingly, as well as salt and pepper.

When the rice has a bit of give to it, rinse and triple check the shrimp for shells or tails.

Then gently place the shells on the top of the rice, cover and cook 5-7 minutes NO MORE.

Take off the flame, mix in the shrimp and serve, passing the hot sauce.

Last night I wished I had a crusty Italian bread with this. Would have been PERFECT.

There you go! Great weeknight Jambalaya in under 45 minutes with much less fat and calories than most!

Enjoy my darlings!

Mikey Bryan
Your Food Therapist

This painting is by Grandma Moses, a very famous American painter. She painted this when she was well into her 90's. I've always liked it. Reminds me of where I grew up.

I imagined, last night, I was cooking the Jambalaya in a kitchen in a house like this. I didn't have the radio or the TV on. The windows were open and the breeze last night was warm and humid.

I imagined it was a brisk fall day and Mr. Beard was sitting at the table with me, in quiet, eating the meal, the only sound, perhaps, of a wind outside and the gentle ting, ting, ting of our spoons as they met with the edge of our bowls and ascended to our mouths, a look of great surprise and amusement on his face as we enjoyed our meal together, both wondering what we'd make for dessert.

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