Arm In Arm Down Bourbon Street

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.

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  1. April 19

    Oh yum! We LOVE doing crawfish boils and my husband makes a mean gumbo.

    Funny about the green bell peppers. I think I might actually prefer them green. We are bell pepper addicts here (well, my 3.5 year old and I are). We will take them green or ripe, we love them all. On the rare occurrence I purchase one at the store I always buy organic, those are one of the veggies you want to make sure are organic since they use loads of pesticides to grow them (not that you are eating loads of unorganic, store bought bell peppers, so I guess one pepper won’t kill you). When I showed my son all our bell pepper plants sprouting up he went ballistic with excitement.

    Anyway…I ramble.

    Have you ever done a crawfish boil? Super fun thing to do with a big crowd of friends. We have a friend who’s dad owns a crawfish farm in Louisiana and we get them overnighted to us. If we can get them here in LA, you could certainly get them there, not that that would be “local” but it’s worth it! And you’ve gotta suck the heads! lol, not really, I’ve never done it, but all the guys in our crowd always do and claim there is juicy goodness to be had by doing so.

  2. April 19

    I made a vat of jambalaya recently for our annual Big Ass Party. I looked at dozens of recipes that all called for some kind of tomato ingredient: sauce, puree, fresh… Not remembering having tomatoes in my jambalaya before, I called on some friends who I trust to answer food questions. All said yes to tomatoes. Still unsatisfied, I called upon my family from Morgan City, LA. “Do you put tomatoes in jambalaya?” “You can.” “No… Do YOU put tomatoes in YOUR jambalaya?” “Oh. No. Never.”

  3. April 19

    I’m with you and your wife – usually don’t like green peppers. Plus, when I eat them, I taste them all day long (if you know what I mean). I do make occasional exceptions but, as a rule, I leave ’em out of my cooking.

  4. April 19

    Once my supply of andouille (frozen, from ‘Nawlins) runs out, I’ll be making my own as well.

  5. Peter
    April 19

    Mo: That pepper is probably the only non-organic thing we’ve bought so far this year. I like a boil, though up here it’s easier to get clams and lobsters. Bourdain was talking about the shrimp brains he ate at El Bulli last week; I’m guessing there’s a similarity.

    Rebecca: Evidently it’s a geographical thing; the farther South one goes in LA the more common tomatoes become in the mix. It often calls for chicken; too, but what I love about this sort of food is the endless remixability of it. Open-source cuisine.

    Zoomie: For this sort of thing they’re indispensable, but otherwise yeah.

    David: I’m thinking of doing a 4-way split of my next hunk o’ pork: andouille, chorizo, hot soppressata, and fucked up idea I had last week.

  6. April 19

    Actually, you can substitute poblano or Anaheim peppers for really nice results. I hate the green bells that much.

  7. Peter
    April 19

    That’s a good idea; I almost used some anchos from the pantry but I really wanted to do it properly. I think what I’ll do this summer is make a batch of trinity along with all the mirepoix so I have some bags of it in the freezer for crayfish emergencies throughout the winter and spring.

    We should form a support group for the green pepper haters.

  8. April 19

    I think it might mean we are super tasters. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  9. April 20

    seems you’re not alone in despising the humble green bell pepper, huh? The Galicians were also among the first Euros to incorporate nightshades into their cooking, though in a rather more paired down manner than the more gastronomically inclined Basques. And, you made your own tasso ham? Did I miss that post? If you’ve got it lying around why aren’t you making shrimp and grits with tasso gravy? It’s freaking amazing, and that way you wouldn’t have to moan about green peppers…

  10. Peter
    April 20

    CC: I guess we need capes, too.

    Jonny: I can’t believe you don’t religiously read every post. It’s a few back, called “Kraftsmanship.” Alas, it is just about gone; it accidentally ended up being part of this complete breakfast.

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