As we continue our countdown to the world's largest mystery convention (which starts tomorrow in New Orleans) our guest today is author Ellen Byron. She's going to tell us how to make Jambalaya and about her new book, Blood on the Bayou, the second book in her Cajun Country Mystery Series. Ellen will be at the convention, called Bouchercon, launching this novel.
Ellen's debut novel, Plantation Shudders, made the USA Today Bestsellers list and was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards.
Ellen’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots; she’s written over 200 national magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland.
Jambalaya is probably my favorite Louisiana dish. I’m partial to the Cajun version of the dish, and include a detailed recipe for it in Body in the Bayou, the latest in my Cajun Country Mystery series. In the book, my protagonist Maggie Crozat agrees to be frenemy Vanessa Fleer’s Maid of Honor, but when Vanessa tops the list of murder suspects, meeting this Bridezilla’s wedding demands takes a backseat to keeping her out of jail. I think of Jambalaya as Cajun comfort food, and Maggie needs a lot of comfort as she deals with both Vanessa and a couple of murders.
But alas, my daughter’s a fan of Creole jambalaya. (My husband is happy to devour either.) How does one deal with a jambalaya house-divided? I solved the problem by creating an alternate recipe.
All jambalaya starts with the “holy trinity” of celery, green pepper, and onions. Creole jambalaya, found in New Orleans and environs, adds tomato to its ingredients, hence its reddish color. There are no tomatoes in Cajun jambalaya; instead, it gets its brown color from the bits of meat that stick to the pot they’re cooked in.
Here’s the Creole recipe I concocted for my daughter. If you’re interested in a recipe for the Cajun version, it's in my book, Body on the Bayou.
1 cup finely chopped onions
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ cup finely chopped green pepper
1 14-16 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces (you can also add or substitute 1 lb. of andouille sausage, cut into pieces, or 1 lb. of peeled and deveined shrimp)
1 cup uncooked long grain converted rice
4 T. cooking oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 cups chicken stock, plus liquid from cooking the meats
¼ - ½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground thyme
¼ tsp. oregano
¼ ground red pepper
½ tsp. Cajun seasoning
Heat up two of the four tablespoons of oil in either a cast iron pot or Dutch oven. Saute the chicken (and/or sausage and shrimp) in the oil until cooked. Remove the chicken to a bowl with a slotted spoon and save the liquid in a separate bowl or cup.
Heat up the other two tablespoons of oil, and add the onions, celery, and green peppers. Saute until tender, stirring regularly to prevent sticking. (Add more oil if you need to.) Add the can of tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, and Cajun seasoning. Cook for approximately five to ten minutes, continuing to scrape the pot. Add the rice, and stir well. Then add both the chicken stock and reserved liquid, again stirring well. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the chicken (and sausage/shrimp, if you’ve chosen to include them) and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is done (approximately twenty minutes). If you feel like the liquid is evaporating too quickly, add more chicken stock. Feel free to do taste tests to determine whether or not you want to add additional herbs or spices to compensate. I’m not a fan of spicy food, but if you are, you can up the amount of red pepper in the jambalaya, or serve it with a bottle of Tabasco sauce.
Stay tuned for our Bouchercon coverage from New Orleans.