There’s a good fish market that’s just far enough away that I don’t make it there very often. When I do, though, I always try to hit their freezer section to allow for more future meals than the fresh cases can provide. On my last trip, I got the unagi we had the other night, and I also bought a package of frozen crawfish. This was right around the time I was curing the shoulder for the tasso ham, so you can probably guess what I had in mind: jambalaya.
That photo up top is, of course, what is known as “Holy Trinity” in Cajun and Creole cuisine, and I have been a late arrival in embracing it because I hate green bell peppers (and so does my wife). They’re unripe, after all, and that flavor is just awful, though not so much with hot peppers for some reason. I love Jalapeños and serranos. Back in Brooklyn we chose Thai takeout places based almost entirely on their ability to leave green peppers out of their food when asked. When, however, green peppers are slowly sweated with onion and celery so that they gently caramelize and melt, that jarring vegetal flavor becomes something profoundly savory and depth-imparting. I learned this last year as part of my research on Basque cuisine; as early adopters of all the New World vegetables, they embraced nightshades with their characteristic combination of passion and mastery. Since then I have been trying to use green pepper carefully in certain applications.
I even went so far as to send the wife to the store just to buy this one enormous pepper. Unlocal, unseasonal, and not even organic, this is the sort of concession I make at this time of year when I’m thoroughly fed up with the Lenten privations that seasonal eating in this climate forces upon us. And it was well worth it. This wondrous soffrito got a good, slow, sweat until the diced veggies were limp and had shrunk to half their original volume. Then I added diced tasso ham and one of the sausages I made on salami day but didn’t hang to dry; it seemed prudent to keep some fresh sausage around as well. Once the two kinds of pork hit the pan, the aromatic sensuality quotient went right off the charts. Honestly–and I’ve said this before–the combination of home-cured pork and mirepoix sizzling in a pan is as heavenly as smells get here on Earth.
After this mixture got nice and brown, I added some tomato purée, a couple of bay leaves, a pinch of cayenne, the package of crawfish, and the sushi rice left from that unagi don. It all simmered low and gently bubbling for 30 minutes or so to marry the flavors and fully soften anything that might have still harbored obdurate tendencies. I stirred in some frozen peas right before serving; I suspect that this is unorthodox, but I needed some pearls of green in there for contrast and vernal appropriateness. Remarkably, though, I didn’t put any ramps in.
This was excellent. Really, really satisfying and addictive and hearty and just spicy enough to make a point without getting the snot flowing. I love how it has an overlap with paella (rice, shellfish, peppers, in this case peas) but still maintains a distinct character that is unmistakably Louisianan. In the pantheon of storied combinations of pork and seafood, Jambalaya surely rates a permanent seat. I made the leftovers into hand rolls for lunch today. Next time I make the trek down South, I’m buying several packs of the crawfish. This one is a keeper, though I will likely wait until my own peppers are ripe before I make it again. And of course now I have to make Andouille.