Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Little Bowl of Sunshine...

The sun must be back. Boys across the country are bravely venturing out in the first shorts of the season, destined not to be removed until September, beer gardens are jam packed with cider drinkers and the library is looking just a little more empty than usual. So, seeing as the sun has finally and so fabulously graced us with its presence, it would be just plain rude to salute it with anything less than a bowl of something similarly summery. 

Whilst the mercury has not yet hit the highs that see shoppers squabbling over the last bottle of Pimms, and being just a little too breezy for a barbecue to go without setting the nearest bush aflame, Jambalaya is just what is needed. Comforting enough to warm your short-clad legs when the sun has gone down, it is bursting with just the right amount of fresh and summery flavours to provide the perfect end to your day in the not yet scorching sun. Like a Creole risotto, it comes without the stodginess of your average student rice dish, but oozing with vibrant and fresh Deep South flavours. Spicy, sweet and bursting with rich tomatoes, peppers and the smoky undertones of paprika, this is like summertime in a bowl. And it looks gorgeous to boot.

And, it gives me the chance to say a few words about Chorizo. Despite its reputation as a luxury ingredient that is more at home in the plush surroundings of parent’s kitchens than the mouldy cave that (just) passes for a fridge in a student house, this smoked paprika sausage can, surprisingly, be found for less than the price of a pint. And it is definitely a lot more useful. When you experience that familiar end of semester empty fridge low, it can offer you the option of at least a slightly normal last night dinner, thankfully leaving the interesting baked beans and pasta combination in the far reaches of memory. Throw it into a quick tomato sauce, stir into your hangover Huevos Rancheros, add to a sausage casserole or simply toss into an omelette with some fried potatoes for a speedy Spanish supper. Delicious.

Finally, don’t be scared by the addition of the tea bag, you don’t have to eat it. It is a little trick that originated in a misunderstanding of Mr Neil McArthur's Jambalaya recipe. In his original recipe, the teabag was full of herbs and not PG tips as I supposed, so feel free to leave it out and just add some dried thyme and fresh parsley instead. It has become a little habit of mine now which I think just adds a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the dish (and I mean that quite literally, I have no idea what it actually does, I only know that it makes it even more delicious.) Try it, leave it out, either way it is sure to make you, and your tummy, very happy...

Jambalaya (Serves 4-5)

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chill, finely chopped
1 red pepper, cut into small pieces
150g chorizo, diced
2 bay leaves
2tsp paprika
1 tin chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato puree
2 chicken breasts
A handful of frozen prawns
300g long grain rice
1 pint chicken stock, and more if needed.
1 tea bag (or a  large pinch of thyme and1tsp chopped parsley)
A handful of frozen peas
Squeeze of lemon

Fry the onion and peppers for about 5 minutes in a wide saucepan, or until the onion is soft. It is important at this stage to keep the pan on a medium heat and to keep the ingredients moving to prevent any burnt bits.

 Add the chicken, chorizo and paprika, along with the chilli and garlic and fry, still stirring, for another 3-5 minutes or until the chicken is lightly golden and the chorizo has released some of its delicious amber coloured oil.

Add the rice and coat in the oil and spices.

Stir in the tomatoes, stock and tomato puree and add the bay leaves.

Turn up the heat and  bring to the boil. When boiling, turn down the heat, put on the lid  and leave to simmer, stirring about every five minutes, until all the liquid has absorbed and the rice has cooked. When the rice is feeling reasonably soft, add the peas. 

(If using the tea bag, add it about 10 minutes from the end of cooking, being careful not to split the bag, as nobody wants a gritty Jambalaya! If you are substituting it for the herbs, stir them in around the same time.) 

Add more stock if it is feeling a bit dry, the end result should be about the consistency of a wet risotto. This should take about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the tea bag and bay leaves (Important!) and season well with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, EAT.

Ps. If you are feeling less extravagant than I do, feel free to leave out the prawns. Jambalaya literally means ‘mixed up’ so throw in whatever you have to hand, its a great way to clear out the fridge. However, if you are lucky enough to live near an Aldi, you can get a bag of the beauties for under £2. Bargains don’t get better than that. 

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