Thursday, February 16, 2012

Revising Recipes: Jambalaya

When I have a new cookbook, I like to make at least one recipe as it is written. That gives me a good idea of whether I'll like the rest of the recipes in the book.

That was my plan when I got a review copy of Good Bite Weeknight Meals: Delicious Made Easy, edited by Sepideh Saremi. The book is a compilation of recipes from different food bloggers, with a wide range of cuisines, techniques, and ingredients, and it took some browsing before I settled on a recipe. But right off the bat, I decided that I would make just one little change. I knew it wouldn't affect the results.

The most common questions I get for my own recipes start with "Can I ..." and it's always about changing something in the recipe. People ask about substituting ingredients or using different equipment. There are many things you can change in a recipe that won’t affect it drastically. Some changes work, while other can be a disaster.

Knowing how to adapt recipes can make using any cookbook much easier. How many recipes have you looked at in a cookbook where you happen to have everything on hand? Not often, probably. There's always some ingredient that's out of season or hard to find - or maybe something that you happen to dislike. Or maybe a recipe calls for a specific pan or kitchen appliance that you don't have.

You don't have to throw the recipe out if you know how to make changes. For this recipe, I decided to cook on the stove top instead of in a slow cooker. That's a pretty easy change to make.

The recipe I chose was Slow Cooker Jambalaya by Jaden Hair from the blog Steamy Kitchen, and all was going well until I started assembling ingredients. I thought I had the required smoked sausage on hand, but I didn't. So that made another change necessary.

Besides the smoked sausage, the recipe calls for 1 pound of chicken and 1/2 pound of shrimp. I had just purchased the chicken and I had 1 1/2 pounds, so I decided to use all of it. And I used a full pound of shrimp. I figured those two changes would make up for the missing sausage.

My one last change was technique. When I added the chicken stock to the pot, I could see that it was a lot soupier than I wanted it to be. I wanted a thicker sauce. So, instead of cooking with the lid on, I let it simmer with the lid off until it reached a consistency that I liked.

Just a few small changes. But in the end, I'm sure the flavor was close to the original. When you make it, you can stick to the original recipe, make the same changes I did, or do something entirely different. Use more chicken and eliminate the shrimp, for example.

Recipes aren't like laws. They're more like guidelines. If you know what can be changed, you can move things around within those guidelines and have some fun - and make food exactly the way you like it.

Slow Cooker Jambalaya
Adapted from Good Bite Weeknight Meals
Recipe by Jaden Hair from Steamy Kitchen

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used 1 1/2 pounds)
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch thick pieces (I eliminated this)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, plus additional for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus additional for seasoning
2 celery stalks, diced
1 bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth (I suggest adding less, to taste)
1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco or hot sauce, to taste
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used 1 pound)
3 cups hot cooked rice or 1 large baguette

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sausage, season to taste with salt and black pepper, and cook, stirring once, until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a slow cooker, reserving the oil in the pan. (I did this cooking in the same dutch oven I finished cooking the dish in. At this point I removed the chicken temporarily)

Add the celery, bell pepper, onion, and garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the vegetables are softened and fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables to the slow cooker. (Or, if you're using a dutch oven on the stove to cook this, return the chicken to the dutch oven.) Add the broth, crushed tomatoes, Cajun seasoning, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and Tabasco sauce. (I suggest adding the broth last, and adding only as much as you need. The full quart made this very soupy.) Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 4-6 hours. (I cooked mine on the stove, uncovered, until it enough liquid evaporated for my preference, then continued cooking on low, covered. Total time was about 3 hours)

Once the jambalaya is cooked, turn off the slow cooker and skim away any extra oil on the surface. (Since I didn't include the sausage, there was very little fat on mine.) Add the shrimp and stir until pink. The residual heat will suffice to cook the shrimp. If desired, add more salt, black pepper, and Tabasco sauce. Serve the jambalaya over hot cooked rice or with bread.