In the turn of the millennium, right before Katrina, I spent two years in New Orleans. In the party town I was invited to a number of parties in local households, and according to my experience, there just were no parties without some version of Jambalaya being served. And there are some good reasons for that; Jambalaya is at the same time both simple and sophisticated. Garnished with some fresh herbs, it can be served on your finest silverware, or scooped into disposable cups by your drunken friends from a shared large bowl. It is relatively easy to prepare in large quantities using very limited number of pots and pans, and it tolerates a fair amount of variation in ingredients. And most importantly, most often, despite the variable ingredients, it tastes damn good.
A little while ago, while preparing Chef Emeril Lagasse’s version of Cajun jambalaya (recipe is at the end of this article), I decided to try to develop a hiker/backpacker friendly modification of this wonderful dish.
First thing to do was to dehydrate everything heavy and/or easily spoiled material, ie. veggies and meats. I seasoned thin slices of chicken breast and shrimps with Emeril’s Bayou Blast (recipe below), hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Then I fried the chicken well done (you cannot be over careful with the chicken), chopped it to small cubes, and dehydrated them together with shrimps and tomatoes over night in conventional electric oven. At the same time onions, garlic, celery, and green peppers were dehydrating in my homemade food dehydrator.
The only “wet” ingredient I did not dehydrate was the Chorizo sausage for two reasons; first, Chorizo and other similar kind of sausages are so heavily salted, that they stay good for days, if not weeks, at room temperature, and second, the sausage is pretty dry to begin with, and any attempt to dehydrate it would probably only melt away the delicious fat in the sausage.
The reason why I used Chorizo instead of Andouille of the original recipe was the fact that when you ask for Andouille sausage at the arctic circle, most of the shop keepers just roll their eyes, and the friendliest ones advice you to take a quick 800 km (500 miles) flight to Helsinki, where some small exotic delicacy shop may, or most probably, may not have Andouille available. So, my Andouille is Chorizo. Sorry, chef Lagasse.
Then it was time to test whether it is possible to turn rattling small bits in plastic bags into mouth watering Jambalaya. My original plan was to prepare one portion of Jambalaya using only the Mini Trangia camping stove, but since a friend of mine wanted to join me for a nice day in the forest, and I didn’t want to see him starve, I changed my plan to also test the little Trangia stove’s ability to heat up a larger carbon steel pan packed with enough food for two hungry guys.
So, I started with rehydrating all of the dehydrated stuf in the Trangia pot. After about 30 minutes, I added some chicken broth concentrate (a cube of the same stuff works equally well), and some oil, and let the whole thing simmer for about another 30 minutes. At this point you can add some bay leaves into the pot, but due to the fact that I have never been able to tell any difference between two dishes, one with, and one without bay leaves (maybe something wrong with my taste buds), I skipped the bay leaves. Then I poured the content of the trangia pot into the larger pan, added the rice and chopped Chorizo, and let the Jambalaya simmer till the rice was cooked.
The end result was an absolute success! The only difference to the freshly made Jambalaya was in the texture of the chicken and the shrimp. They were not bad at all, but the truth is that de-, and then rehydrated meat and seafood can never be as tender as freshly cooked ones. However, taste wise it would have been almost impossible to separate the camp site version from the fresh one.
This test also proved that the tiny trangia stove packs enough punch to heat a relatively large carbon steel pan. I wouldn’t try use this combination in the middle of the winter, but at least at above freezing temperatures, it seems to work just well.
And then the recipe for the Cajun Jambalaya, and the spice mix. Unfortunately, the link to the original source of the recipe did not seem to work anymore, but all the credits for the recipe (except the Chorizo part :)) belong to chef Emeril Lagasse and www.foodnetwork.com
12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
4 ounces chicken, diced
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, recipe follows
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
3/4 cup rice
3 cups chicken stock
5 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced
Salt and pepper
Emeril’s ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
In a bowl combine shrimp, chicken and Creole seasoning, and work in seasoning well. In a large saucepan heat oil over high heat with onion, pepper and celery, 3 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, Worcestershire and hot sauces. Stir in rice and slowly add broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rice absorbs liquid and becomes tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. When rice is just tender add shrimp and chicken mixture and sausage. Cook until meat is done, about 10 minutes more. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning.