How to cook the perfect jambalaya _ life and style _ the guardian

Jambalaya – one of those dishes that’s almost as satisfying to say as to eat. Chicken fingers recipe baked Almost, but not quite, because this cajun/creole favourite is from the school of hearty one-pots that hits the spot like nothing else, whether you’re sweltering in the heat of a Louisiana August, or sheltering in Auchtermuchty in October.

Like its cousin the gumbo, jambalaya’s origins are the subject of hot dispute – though several communities claim it as their own, it’s a veritable melting pot with its roots in the early Spanish settlement of the region (the dish bears more than a passing resemblance to paella). Healthy chicken fingers It is, though, heavily seasoned with African and French influences, and no doubt many others too.

Certainly, there are more ways to make a jambalaya than there are crawfish in the bayou, though, at its heart, this is a thrifty recipe designed to stretch out leftovers.

Best chicken fingers But there are some constants, whatever else you chuck in there … and one of them is that, like Jamie Oliver and his paella (or indeed his jollof rice, whatever I do), it won’t be how your momma made it. Chicken tenders recipe easy For which I can only apologise in advance.

Broadly speaking, there are two principal styles of jambalaya: creole, originating from New Orleans and its vicinity, and the simpler cajun version from the rural bayou. Breaded chicken fingers They reflect differences in the two culinary traditions as a whole; creole food is often described as richer and more sophisticated, thanks to the greater wealth of urban Louisiana, and the variety of ingredients available there, including tinned tomatoes, which are said to have been popularised in New Orleans by Sicilian immigrants. Chicken tenders recipe fried Creole “red jambalayas” include tomatoes, cajun “brown” versions do not (the latter also tend to be dryer and less soupy, so the rice browns on the bottom, giving the whole dish a toasty tint).

The creole version proves more popular in recipes from outside the region, with Jamie Oliver, Cook’s Illustrated magazine (a Massachusetts-based operation) and Mississippi-born chef Brad McDonald all using tinned or fresh tomatoes – indeed, McDonald credits New Orleans’ legendary Brennan’s restaurant for the foundations of his dish.

McDonald’s version is creole jambalaya at its best; rich and generously seasoned, with a bright, fresh flavour that comes of fresh tomatoes and a relatively brief simmering time; the other two taste a little jammy in comparison. Buttermilk chicken fingers But, to my slight surprise, when pressed, my testers come down on the side of the cajun alternatives “because you can taste the spices better”. Deep fried chicken fingers If, however, you’re feeling more sophisticated, I’d highly recommend McDonald’s recipe from his book Deep South; it takes a while, but it’s worth it.

McDonald and Prudhomme make their own elaborate seasoning mixes, while Cook’s Illustrated, Gautreau and Oliver stick to black and cayenne peppers, and bay leaves. Baked chicken tenders recipe no breading These are, it seems, the backbone of most cajun-spice mixes, along with thyme (which Oliver uses fresh) and paprika, which gives dishes colour and a mellow heat. Homemade chicken strips recipe McDonald also adds tomato powder, ground from dehydrated fruit, onion powder, oregano and celery seeds, while Prudhomme goes for cumin, mustard and file powder, a ground root often used to thicken gumbo (always gratifying to get some use out of my tub after lugging it across the Atlantic). Easy chicken fingers recipe All fine and dandy, but I’m loathe to overcomplicate things for a basic jambalaya.

Both McDonald and Gautreau stir hot sauce into their dishes, which seems an excellent idea, however; it adds both heat and a clean acidity that cuts through the richness of the rice. Oven fried chicken fingers The fat

Prudhomme recommends starting the jambalaya with margarine, and McDonald butter, but a neutral oil feels like the most authentic bayou choice – topped up with sausage and chicken fat, naturally. Homemade chicken fingers recipe The liquid

Gautreau cooks his rice in water, but the chicken or pork stock used in every other recipe is a more flavourful choice, augmented by the juices from the slow-simmered chicken pieces. Chicken strips recipe easy Tomatoes, obviously, bring their own liquid, and Cook’s Illustrated also pops in some clam juice on the basis that it “brings out the sweetness of the shrimp”, but testers aren’t convinced, claiming it makes their jambalaya taste a bit “fake … like a stock cube”. Chicken tenders recipe healthy In any case, clam juice is ridiculously hard to find here – I end up having to decant the liquid from a jar of clams – so if you do yearn for a more savoury flavour, a shake of fish sauce or a tiny amount of anchovy paste will have a similar effect. Chicken tenders recipe ideas The method

A cajun jambalaya, I’m reliably informed, should be somewhat dry, even slightly browned on the bottom, which rules out the soupier, wetter texture of those creole versions using tomatoes (Oliver advises cooks to aim for a “porridgey” consistency).

The fluffiest, plumpest rice comes from Gautreau, who parboils the rice before steaming it in a tightly sealed pan, and then letting it sit for 10 minutes before serving, a method I’m inclined to copy wholesale. Chicken tenders recipe oven Be careful not to stir the rice too frequently during cooking, or it will begin to break down into mush: as the Gumbo Pages website has it, “turn rather than stir after the rice has been added” and “only two or three times” at most.

Toast the peppercorns, paprika and cayenne in a small dry pan over a high heat until they smell toasty, then tip into a pestle and mortar and grind until smooth. Baked chicken fingers panko Stir in the thyme, bay and salt and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wide, lidded pan over a medium-high heat. Crispy chicken fingers recipe Add the sausage and cook until the fat begins to render, then lift out on to a paper-lined plate and add the chicken. Easy chicken fingers Cook on both sides until golden brown, then put on to a fresh plate.

Add the onion, green pepper, whites of the spring onions and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring regularly, until softened and translucent. How to cook chicken fingers Stir in the spice mix and cook for another couple of minutes, then add the chicken back into the pot and pour in the stock and Tabasco.

Turn down the heat and simmer gently until the chicken is tender (about 15 minutes). How to make homemade chicken fingers Stir in the rice and simmer for 10 minutes, then turn the rice once, cover with a tight lid, turn down the heat and steam gently for 15 minutes. Deep fried chicken tenders recipe Remove the chicken and add the prawns and sausage, turn the rice once, then replace the lid and leave to sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, shred the chicken. Chicken strips recipe ideas Fold into the rested jambalaya, taste and season with salt and more hot sauce if necessary. Zaxby’s chicken fingers recipe Scatter with the chopped green spring onion before serving.

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