Jambalaya, Me Oh My Oh!
By Dennis Linden
This month’s recipe subs in two of Melissa’s most popular products for the traditional ingredients in this well-known dish of the Louisiana bayou country. This Cajun big pot dish comes from the kitchen of Sonia Sigur in our Business Development Department. Jambalaya is a creole dish that originated in southern Louisiana, where inventiveness made up for a lack of food resources in this poorest region of the state. The word reflects the cultural history of the area taking “Jambon” from the French meaning ham, and “Aya” being the African word for rice. The French having first settled the region, which was also a hub port for the slave trade.
“My husband's family is of New Orleans descent,” explained Sonia. “The culture is dear to our hearts. And, if you know what it means to miss the food and ambiance of New Orleans, this dish reminds us of home.” Sonia uses Melissa’s tasty Soyrizo instead of the traditional sausage and a package of our quinoa as substitute for the rice seamlessly. Just shut your eyes and your palate will be transported to the French Quarter with the first forkful of this hearty dish with a pleasantly spicy-hot kick!
Preparing Sonia’s recipe is very straightforward. While Jambalaya ingredients can vary greatly, Sonia starts by prepping the essential fresh ingredients that are considered a “must” in every version of the dish. Onions, bell peppers and celery, aka the Cajun holy trinity, are the base vegetables used in much of south Louisiana cooking. Sonia layers her flavors in three steps that produce a surprisingly big taste from her small ingredient list. Sautéing separately first the seasoned chicken, followed by cooking the soyrizo in the chicken fat, which prepares the pot for the third step of cooking down the holy trinity veggies in the leftover bits of soyrizo. This process creates the flavor foundation for this dish. She then adds both the chicken and soyrizo back into the pot with the vegetables to simmer awhile in chicken stock before adding the uncooked quinoa to absorb all the succulent liquid during a final simmer. That’s it -- authentic jambalaya in under an hour from cutting board to table!
A few words about the Cajun seasoning called for in this recipe. Firstly, without a good Louisiana seasoning mix, this dish would be a very bland rice-like casserole. Sonia is a big fan of “Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning”, though she does admit that this mix is quite salty. I used another well-known seasoning blend also made in Louisiana, brand name “Slap Ya Mama”, which is much less salty but quite spicy, as in hot, hot, hot. If using Tony’s brand, do not add any more salt; if you decide on my choice, add salt, but definitely cut out the hot sauce option. Of course there are as many “authentic” Louisiana seasoning mixes on the market as there are cypress trees in the bayou, so this mandatory ingredient is also a chef’s choice according to flavor preferences.
Sonia Sigur is just starting her sophomore year as a team member at Melissa’s. “My role is a Business Development Manager. I strive to maintain existing Melissa's customers as well as expand our company’s outreach,” said Sonia, adding. “I also provide support to evaluate our customers’ needs and offer product-based solutions in order to build stronger relationships with our clients through problem solving.”
Sonia and husband Rich have been married for 13 years. Their busy household includes twelve-year-old daughter Madeline and her two pugs, Chow and Lola. “When it comes to family time we enjoy short road trips, going to the movies, eating out and entertaining our daughter's favorite pastime, which is rummaging through antiques stores and estate sales.”
As a personal passion, Sigur says that she loves to create things with her handy-dandy glue gun and sewing machine, an interest she has also passed on daughter. “Madeline’s current project is creating her own Halloween costume. What can I say--she's amazing!” said the proud mom, without a trace bias whatsoever.
“My main passion is life itself. In my daily dealings with others I try to be kind, to be thoughtful, to share a smile, to give a compliment and to befriend the lonely. You've got only one life, so live it to the fullest,” counseled Sonia. We are all grateful that this passion also includes an occasional big pot of jambalaya. Here’s hoping that this submission is followed by Sonia’s take on “crawfish pie and a filé gumbo -- me oh, my oh!”
1 pound Cooked Chicken, diced, seasoned with a favorite Creole Seasoning mix*
1 pound Melissa's Soyrizo, cooked
½ cup of Green Bell Peppers, chopped
1 cup White Onions, chopped
1 cup Celery, chopped
4 cups Chicken Stock
2 tablespoons Creole or Cajun seasoning mix (Sonia suggests “Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning”)
1 cup Melissa’s Quinoa, uncooked
Salt, Pepper and Hot Sauce to taste
In a large cooking pot sauté the seasoned chicken in a little oil; when browned remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, retaining the chicken fat and juices in the pot. Add in the soyrizo to the same pot and cook just long enough for all the liquids to be absorbed, then remove and set aside – those bits of soyrizo left in the pot are a good thing!
Add the vegetables to the pot, along with a little more oil, mix thoroughly with the soyrizo remains, sauté at a medium low heat until the onions turn translucent.
Add in the soyrizo, chicken, seasoning mix and the chicken stock, bring the pot to a very slow boil to allow the flavors to develop in a soupy stew-like mixture.
After 15 minutes cooking time, add the quinoa, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from flame and let rest another 5 minutes. The quinoa will have absorbed the liquid, as well as all those succulent flavors! Season to taste with salt, Melissa's Rainbow Peppercorn Grinder and a favorite hot sauce if using a mild Cajun mix.