Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

As fun to say as ‘San Francisco’

No-one is born a good cook, just as no-one is born a good painter.

It takes time and effort and lots of time in the kitchen, learning about ingredients and methods of cooking before a person is able to cook with any great proficiency.

I mean, no-one is born knowing how to make bacon or meringues or butter or chicken tikka. It’s a craft that has to be learned and appreciated and perfected but unlike other crafts, there’s usually a lot of benefits to practising this one.

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For example, even if you make brownies and overcook them, they’re still going to be edible. They might not be perfect but there will still be a lot of pleasure to be gained. Cooking and learning to cook and quasi-messing things up, is all very rewarding – so long as you keep going. And that means, anyone can cook – eventually.

Practice makes perfect of course, but it also helps if you’re in any way greedy. I reckon I’ve got that quality down pat.

Sometimes, when attempting a new dish or recipe, it can take a few goes before perfection comes calling. I think I made five or six Thai curries before I hit the jackpot. It therefore came as no small surprise when I tried jambalaya recently for the first time and nailed it. I was overjoyed, not only with the sumptuous satisfaction and comforting nature of the resulting dish but also with the fact that I’d tried a new recipe, tweaked it, winged it and it wasn’t disastrous or just OK. It was magnificent.

Jambalaya… it’s almost as fun to say as San Francisco (Elf fans will appreciate that one) but for sure, it’s much more fun to eat.

A melange of varying cultures and cuisines (Spanish, West African and French), jambalaya is a Louisianna-origin dish and apparently there are two main variations, Creole jambalaya and Cajun jambalaya. Following my extensive research into the dish (you guessed it, Google came to the rescue), I also now know the difference between jambalaya and gumbo. Go me!

Just in case you were wondering, gumbo uses the same meats and spices but the rice is cooked separately. With jambalaya, everything goes into the same pot; exactly my kind of cooking.

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Purists will likely scoff at my version of this world-renowned dish but I don’t care. Had they been present when I lifted the lid on my first jambalaya, they would have been scoffing all right but only in a good way.

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Also, as jambalaya is a hodgepodge of cuisines already, I don’t feel as though it’s as sacrosanct as something like a crisp sandwich, which, as everyone with a brain knows, has to have Tayto Spring Onion Crisps, mayo, a mucky cheese slice and a handprint.

NOTE: A frying pan with a lid will come in handy here but, as my pan doesn’t have a lid, I used my big Le Creuset jobbie and it worked a treat.

Gluttony, as with necessity, is the mother of invention.

INGREDIENTS (SERVES 4)
• tbsp of olive oil
• tbsp of butter
• 2 chicken breasts, chopped into large pieces
• 1 large white onion, diced
• 1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
• 2 cooking chorizo, sliced (about 100g in all)
• 1 bell pepper, sliced (I used red but apparently green is more traditional)
• 1 tbsp of Cajun seasoning (mix a tsp of each: oregano, salt, cayenne, sweet paprika, smoked paprika and black pepper – the remainder will keep for another time)
• 250g of long grain rice
• 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
• 500ml of chicken stock
• 1 tbsp of worchestershire
• 1 bay leaf
• lemon juice and chopped spring onions and sour cream and hot sauce (optional)

THE PLAN
In your large frying pan with a lid (or cast iron Le Creuset jobbie), fry the chucks of chicken in the olive oil for three or four minutes until starting to golden. Add the sliced chorizo and fry each side for a minute on both sides, until starting to crisp. Remove the lot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the butter to the pan and then gently fry the onion over a low to medium heat until soft (about ten minutes). Turn the heat up to medium and add the garlic and chopped chilli and stir fry for a minute. Add the slices of bell pepper, a heaped tablespoon of the Cajun spice and fry and stir for yet another minute.

Return the chicken and chorizo to the pan along with the rice and stir well to combine. Add the tomatoes, stock, bay leaf, worchestershire and a pinch of seasoning, stir it all up and stick the lid on. Turn the heat down low so that it’s just simmering and then you’ve 20-25 minutes to clean the place up a bit. Basically, check after 20 minutes and if the rice is tender, it’s done. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary and then it really is done.

Ladle into deep bowls and top with a few chopped spring onions and a squirt of lemon juice for added freshness and then set about scoffing, but only in a good way.

It’s also worth noting that if things are a little bit nippy (which they will be with the addition of cayenne and red chilli), you could always calm your bowl down with a spoonful of sour cream. However, to hammer the lesson home, I used sour cream and Frank’s Hot Sauce.

Trust me on the crisp sandwiches.

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