Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Creole: Jambalaya with Brown Rice

I've never had Creole food straight from the source. My exposure has been limited to what's available in the Northwest, so I wouldn't know an authentic jambalaya if I tripped over it on the sidewalk. But I trust contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood to point me in the right direction, since he's a regular habitué of the Big Easy.

For years my go-to rice was Calrose, a medium grain japonica rice developed in the 1940s for California rice growers. But while I’d always been troubled by the nutritional void of white rice, I’d never found a brown rice I liked as much. Then Albert Katz introduced me to Koda Farms incredible heirloom rice, Kokuho Rose. Like the other products I sell, I eat it all the time.

But because of the longer cooking time, I’d never used the Kokuho Rose brown rice, also a medium grain japonica, in dishes where it cooks in some kind of flavorful sauce. And I couldn’t find a source of reliable information for using it that way. So I tried a simple experiment. I made jambalaya.

Brown Rice Jambalaya

The basics of this traditional Creole dish are simple: make a tomato sauce using the aromatic “trinity” of onion, celery and green pepper, use some hearty seasoning, cook at least one but more often several forms of animal protein in the sauce, add rice and either stock or water, and cook until done.

I’d learned from cooking Kokuho Rose that soaking makes the difference. The brown rice, like all whole grains, takes longer to rehydrate, and the results are much better if you let it happen before you start cooking. When I make it in the rice cooker, I soak for 20-30 minutes, drain, add the measured cooking water and then turn on the heat. My light bulb moment was, “I can soak the brown rice for jambalaya!”

First I cooked chopped onion, celery, and green bell pepper in extra virgin olive oil, added some crushed tomatoes and a bit of tomato paste, and a little Dulcet Creole seasoning. Into the sauce went slices of smoky andouille sausage and boneless chicken thigh; when those had cooked a bit, I added the rice.

I’d soaked it for a half hour, then poured off most of the water. For each cup of dry, unsoaked brown rice, I added 1 3/4 cup water. I covered the pot, turned the heat down to simmer, and let it cook. After 45 minutes the rice was getting tender, but the jambalaya seemed soupy, so I let it simmer uncovered for a bit longer.

I won’t claim this jambalaya is the same as you’d find on the Gulf Coast, but the rice was tender and it tasted great. Next experiment: paella.

(Wikipedia says jambalaya comes from transplanted Spanish cooks substituting new world tomatoes for old world saffron when making paella. Food writers and cooks striving for the elusive authenticity claim paella can only be made using Spanish bomba rice and a special pan. We’ll see.)

Photo by Polyparadigm.

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