Jambalaya’s has pot full of origin stories

Friday, June 15, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 24

I started out having trouble deciding on something to write about that would be halfway entertaining and, of course, yummy – then it happened. I got up and ate a piece of almond pound cake with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. NOW I am ready to write!

Everybody is playing this time of year. With vacations, ball games, swimming, hiking, boating, camping and all the other wonderful summer activities, who wants to be stuck in the kitchen cooking? Not me!

The usual comfort food I seek out just is not working right now. Give me some of what I ate above, and I’m happy. It’s quick, cool and yummy! A large slice of watermelon, some juicy red strawberries, or a few chunks of sweet cantaloupe will work just as well.

However, that menu is not very practical, especially for our family, so we need something quick, easy and nutritious – agreed? I found just the thing: crock pot jambalaya. Add hot rice and some crusty hot bread to the mix, and you have a perfect Southern summer meal. Grab yourself a big bowl and saunter out to the back porch swing to enjoy the sunset!

I got to thinking about jambalaya. Pretty weird name. Pretty big mix of “stuff” in one pot – just how and where did it originate? You know me, I’ve got to find that stuff out so I started researching.

As always, every piece of information I found all started with “the origin of the name is uncertain,” so to cover myself: whatever I say is up for scrutiny.

For the most practical explanations, some have said the name came from the Spanish word “jamon,” which means ham, and “balayez,” which means “mix some things together” in the Louisiana dialect.

The word also is said to be a combination of “jambon” from the French and “aya,” meaning rice in African. There were many slaves in Louisiana in the early development of the state, and jambalaya was supposedly a cheap meal made of rice and ham.

Then there is the folklore story about a hungry traveler who stopped in an inn late one evening. The owner (whose name was Jean) told the cook to “mix some things together.” Maybe he asked the cook to go in the kitchen and “balayez” with some ham. No one knows. However, I digress. The hungry patron was so impressed with the tasty dish, the cook presented that he named it “Jean Balayez.”

Whatever the origin, jambalaya evolved from one-pot dishes made to feed the family for a few weeks, to larger, more social outdoor gatherings. It moved from the woodstove inside the house to outdoor cooking over a hardwood fire in large cast iron pots. Popularity grew, and soon affairs of all kinds featured jambalaya.

In May 2012, the 45th Jambalaya Festival was celebrated in Gonzales, La., a town claiming to be the jambalaya capital of the world. It seems that this festival draws quite a crowd. There are the usual festival activities, but the headliner is the World Champion Jambalaya Cook-off. There were more than 100 participants in the 2012 event.

According to The Advocate, the crowning winner was Danny Robert, along with his cousin Kurt Waguespack. Together, they have placed in the finals or the semifinals about 20 times in past cook-offs. This time, however, the duo stirred up the meanest pot of jambalaya around and brought home the Golden Paddle.

Well, there you have it. The scoop on jambalaya – something you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask!

Well, the recipe above might not be made in a cast iron pot over a outdoor hardwood fire, and to be honest, most people in Gonzales would probably flip up their nose at this, but it is still good, hearty and most of all – quick. So enjoy!

Crock Pot Jambalaya

1/2 lb. Andouille sausage

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 onions, chopped

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into pieces

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, undrained

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. sugar

Tabasco sauce to taste

1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves

1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves

1 lb. frozen shrimp, thawed

In large skillet, cook Andouille sausage until some of the fat is rendered; discard fat. Combine all ingredients except shrimp in slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for six to eight hours, or until chicken is done. Increase heat to HIGH. Add shrimp, stir, cover and cook an additional three to five minutes until shrimp is heated through. Serve with hot rice and crusty hot bread. Serves six.