Jambalaya is characteristic of New Orleans and southern Louisiana and the basis for this recipe comes from Sarah Savoy, a Cajun musician, whose lively and entertaining demonstration in the WOMAD 2009 Taste the World tent I popped along to at the last minute. I am so pleased I did because this recipe has become a regular in our house. Hearty, spicy, full of flavour, with a range of textures, it is also very quick and easy to cook, making it ideal for a weeknight supper or for feeding the 5000.

Jambalaya traditionally made use of what was available and is subsequently one of those dishes that can vary from family to family and even day to day. A proper jambalaya might include alligator and andouille sausage. I’ve suggested chicken, bacon and chorizo instead and regularly add kabanos to replicate the spicy, smokiness of the andouille.

You need a good heavy casserole pot that can sit on the hob or heavy-bottom saucepan with a tight-fitting lid for this though traditionally jambalaya is cooked in a cast-iron cooking pot.

You know you’ve made a good one when the meat and rice have stuck to the bottom of the pan. The stuck bits add to the flavour and colour of the finished dish but be warned, they’re likely to lead to a fight with your loved ones as you dive in to grab the sticky, crispy, umami flavoured morsels.

Take your time over the first part of the recipe to get the sticking process going. Don’t be tempted to stir when you don’t need to. In Louisiana there’s no rush to cook when there could be fun to be had – taking your time over the cooking whilst drinking a beer and singing a song or two is encouraged!

Serves 2 (quantities easily increased to feed an army if you’ve got a pan big enough!)

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive, vegetable or sunflower oil

1 chicken breast, sliced

4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped

1/4 semi-cured chorizo picante, skinned, sliced into rounds about the thickness of a £1 coin

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 onion, chopped

1 – 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 green pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped

1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped

1/2 – 1 tsp cayenne or hot chilli powder, depending on how hot you like things

1 tbsp concentrated chicken stock/1 chicken stock cube

110 g Basmati rice

salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat the oil in the pan and add the chicken. Leave to cook, not touching it for a good few minutes to start the sticking process. Stir only occasionally as the chicken browns and cooks through.
  2. Add the bacon and chorizo and fry for a few more minutes, without stirring the pan, until the bacon begins to brown and the chorizo releases its paprika flavoured oil.
  3. Turn down the heat slightly and add the onion and oregano. Stir and leave.
  4. Once the onion has softened, add the garlic and peppers. Stir and leave once again.
  5. Once the peppers have softened slightly, about 4 or 5 minutes, add the chilli powder, seasoning and stock followed by the rice.
  6. Pour in enough cold water to cover the rice and other ingredients by 1 inch (if you’re unsure of this method, you need twice the volume of water as you have rice). Give the dish one final stir.
  7. Bring to the boil, clamp on the lid and turn the heat right down.  Leave it to simmer, lifting the lid briefly and checking every few minutes, until you can no longer see any water on top of the rice.
  8. Set the timer for 17 minutes (not a minute longer or less) and walk away. Don’t be tempted to lift lid or, heaven forbid, stir!
  9. Once the timer chimes 17 minutes have passed, turn off the heat, remove the lid, give the rice a quick stir through with a fork and serve straight from the pan.

Swap and change by adding whatever cured meat you have in the fridge. I tend to stick to chicken and chorizo as a base and then add either bacon, cured pork or even Kabanos (or a combination of all of them). You could also add prawns or crayfish. The Louisianans use cured alligator meat so go ahead if you can find that!