This weekend I spent a morning learning how to correctly throw a cast net to catch shrimp in the creeks here in Charleston. My friends are accomplished net-casters and it didn’t take long for their lessons and pointers to turn into correct form. Although it is common in the area to cast for shrimp at night, we got an early start and tried our luck from about 7:00am to 1:00pm.
We had probably hauled in about 4-5 lbs of shrimp when sore shoulders and hot sunshine (and a dearth of cold beer) told us it was time to call it quits. I suggested cooking up a large batch of jambalaya with our catch, mainly because I couldn’t think of what else to do with so many small to medium-sized shrimp.
It was a gamble. I had never really enjoyed jambalaya. My experiences with it had been in restaurants where it was wet and brothy, or severely overseasoned from a box. You know what I’m talking about.
It was only during the meal, as the other five diners opened up, that I discovered that everyone had the same impression of jambalaya that I did: wet, overseasoned, and unremarkable.
In searching for a recipe I turned to Southern Living thinking surely they would have the best, if not the most authentic, recipe. They didn’t excite me. Neither did Paula Deen’s or Emeril’s, the two hits that appeared most prominently in a google search. As I dug, I came across this jambalaya recipe from Bon Appetit and it became immediately clear that this was the one. A simple substitution of our shrimp for Bon Appetit’s chicken and voila! I had my recipe.
It was only after a little more research that the Bon Appetit recipe is for “City Creole Jambalaya,” or “Red Jambalaya.” Because of its inclusion of tomatoes and its slightly different method of cooking, it differs from “Rural Creole Jambalaya,” which simmers for a longer time on the stovetop before the addition of rice. “Cajun Jambalaya,” or “White Jambalaya” differs even further, in that the rice is cooked separately in stock and added to the meat and vegetables at the end.
The only changes I made were as follows:
- I used half smoked paprika and half hot paprika.
- I didn’t feel like adding the tasso or black forest ham, mainly because the recipe was starting to get expensive. I would do it next time.
- I substituted freshly caught (and pre-steamed) shrimp for chicken, and added it just before putting it in the oven.
In the time it took to remove the cover from the dutch oven, it became clear that this recipe was going to change minds about jambalaya. The fact that it served six of us when purporting to serve ten pretty much says it all. The pot was scraped clean.