Stuck in the Kitchen – Jambalaya

Jambalaya is my favorite meal. Growing up, my mother made chicken and rice/chicken bog/chicken perlo, and that was my favorite, but my mother doesn’t really spice her food. I never knew how bland her food was until Rachel started cooking for me. Jambalaya is what chicken bog tastes like in New Orleans, and it really made me realize that I don’t actually like my mother’s cooking. (Except her baked mac and cheese. I still like that.) Anyway… I ate the last of the jambalaya leftovers from the freezer last month some time, and cried like a fucking baby because I knew it was the last time I’d have it, or at least have her version of it. My resolution to that was to make it myself.

A few years back, I had written down the instructions on how to make it, because a co-worker wanted the recipe. So I watched her cook it, I took notes, and I made the recipe. I found that email, printed it out, bought a freaking Dutch Oven, gathered the ingredients, and cooked it today. This is the record of how that went down.

I sautéed oil, a half stick of butter, and the flavor trinity (pepper/celery/onion) with some minced garlic. Once that’s done, dump it in a mixing bowl. That sounded pretty easy, and I think I managed it ok. The smell alone made me think I did it right, but that caused an issue. Smells have always been a memory trigger for me. Wood smoke and sawdust make me think of Dad and Granddaddy. The salty air at the beach makes me think of my cousin and the summers we shared in crabbing in the inlet. And the smell of good cooking in the house… I just wasn’t prepared for it.

The second phase was to make more roux and cook the chicken a bit, drowning it in Tony’s Creole seasoning. One thing I learned last night is that if raw chicken is still kind of frozen, it’s WAY easier to cut, and I don’t get as skeeved out about touching it. I dumped the browned chicken into the trinity mix and then brown the sausage discs.

Once the seasoning, chicken, and sausage were ready, I dumped everything back into the pot (dutch oven), including all the drippings. I poured in 10 cups of chicken stock, laid a skin of Tony’s dust on top of it, dropped in Kitchen Bouquet and Frank’s Hot Sauce, and four cups of rice. At this point, I got a little worried. I’ve never cooked rice before, but I’m aware that it soaks up the juice. This was a lot of juice, though, and I worried that I was making soup. I did NOT stir the rice in, because I had a note in my email that said it would make the rice gummy. There’s a special way to ‘stir’ the rice, and it’s making a cross shape. Anyway, I brought it to a boil on high, and then cranked it sown to a simmer and covered it.

My directions didn’t say to mess with it, but common sense said I had to do the cross every so often to keep rice from burning on the bottom of my brand new dutch oven. I looked up a couple of recipes and they all said to stir the rice every five minutes or so, so I set timers, and made the cross each time, scraping the bottom of the pot. After about 30 minutes, the rice was finally visible in the lake of juice, and I took the lid off to let it boil some off.

After about 10 minutes of simmering open, I notice that the rice is getting gummy. I’m not sure what I did wrong. By this time, though. the whole house smells delicious… and I’m spiraling into negative thoughts as memories of her just assaulted my brain. Her cooking in the house, listening to her music and singing along, dancing as she stands at the stove and didn’t know I’d snuck around to watch her. Times like that when I should have walked in on her and hugged her and kissed her and told her much I loved her and everything she did for me, including the cooking and the being adorable while doing it. The rice was gummy. The juice wasn’t boiling off. I was failing. It wasn’t going to be HER jambalaya. It was going to be another failure on my part, another thing I did wrong. So I reached out to a friend to talk me down. To hear the words that at least part of my knows are true. I’m not a failure. I’m not a bad person. I made mistakes, and I’m trying to come out better from them. It’s okay to make mistakes.

Despite those mistakes, though, the flavor was still on point. Despite the gummy rice, despite the excess of juice, the content of the food was still good. If this gummy, wet, delicious jambalaya isn’t a fucking metaphor for how I’m trying to feel about myself, I don’t know what is.

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