A Mardi Gras snowstorm
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Chef “Chief” Robideaux woke me early Sunday morning by ripping open the curtains in the bedroom to reveal the effects of a weather system that had, while we slept, transformed the backyard into a wintry wonderland.
“Rise and shine, missus,” Robideaux said with his trademark good cheer (and an accent eerily reminiscent of Billy Bob Thornton’s deranged character in the movie Slingblade). “Thanks to this tricky storm, we’re not gonna make it to New Orleans today, but I have a plan to bring the Big Easy to our mouths before the sun sets.”
Unbeknownst to me, the chef had slipped away to the market the day before to procure the list of edibles he’d need to make his famous Creole-style jambalaya. He assured me we had everything we needed for the Mardi Gras meal—including shrimp, chicken, Louisiana-style sausage, stock, jalapenos, diced tomatoes, spices and more—and that there was no need to leave the house if we didn’t want to.
Chef Robideaux had planned to make the stew in the early afternoon, but an unexpected power outage foiled his timetable and sent us both back to bed to stay warm under the covers, where we alternately read, napped and watched the neighbors make giant snowmen.
When the miracles of modern technology were returned to us a couple of hours later, the Chief sprang out of bed and headed to the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later to tell me preparations for the Southern-inspired feast had begun.
“I took the pot out of the cupboard!” he crowed before returning to the comfort of the goose feathers.
Eventually, after the house had sufficiently warmed back up and our hunger started to intensify, we both made our way to the kitchen. The chef took his place at the butcher block, while I snuggled with the cat on a nearby loveseat to watch his culinary creativity unfold.
Because jambalaya is a dish that can be cooked about a million different ways, I didn’t pay close attention to each and every move Chef Robideaux made. I did, however, take note of tips he bandied about, and admired the deft way he chopped onions and celery and prepared the shrimp.
“I will take your jacket now, Mr. Prawn,” Robideaux said while cleaning the crustaceans. “Ideally, I’d use fresh shrimp caught in the bayou, but for now a $6 bag of frozen shrimp from the Bellingham Grocery Outlet will have to do.”
More ingredients were added to the mix, and, before long, the house started to smell less like winter and more like a sultry evening in New Orleans. By the time dinner was ready, I’d nearly forgotten that we were in the middle of a snowstorm.
“This is a dish that’s just gonna get better as the days go on,” Robideaux said as he finally handed me a hearty serving of the jambalaya.
My eyes widened with pleasure as I took the first bite and realized that although there were a lot of ingredients contained in the classic dish, I could taste each of them on their own—and they were all so good. I took another bite just to be sure, and, before long, my plate was empty.
“Well, it sure looks like you enjoyed your snow day repast,” Chef Robideaux said as he cleared my plate and readied the leftovers for the fridge. “Just wait and see what I come up with on Fat Tuesday.”
Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound shelled medium shrimp
1 pound ham (preferably smoked), cubed
1 pound kielbasa, andouille or chorizo sausage, sliced
2 large celery stalks, diced
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Heat the oil in a large, heavy stockpot over high heat and add the shrimp. Cook, stirring constantly, until the shrimp curl and just begin to brown, about three minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the ham and sausage to the stockpot and cook, stirring frequently, until both are well browned, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, celery, bell pepper and onion.
Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the rice, tomatoes, broth, salt, cayenne pepper and half the parsley.
Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes or until the liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in the shrimp and the remaining parsley. Cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, 3 to 5 minutes more. Serves 8-10.
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