You know it’s game-day without having to check the schedule for confirmation.
The pungent smell of celery, peppers, and onions simmering with chicken and sausage wafts upstairs to your second floor bedroom. As you wait for your eyes to adjust to the shafts of late morning sun deflecting through your window, your ears pick up the familiar country/bluegrass drawl of your dad’s ancient Hank Williams CD, and you can’t help but sing along in your head.
You shuffle down stairs, and the delicious aroma of dad’s “famous” jambalaya makes your mouth water as your stomach grumbles audibly. Unfortunately, you know the main dish is going to have to wait.
Your dad is dressed in his worn-out hoodie with the New Orleans’s Saints logo emblazoned across the chest, too preoccupied with the simmering vegetables on the stove to notice you pop a beignet into your mouth to satisfy you hunger for now. You savor the taste of the doughy dessert, feeling rebellious for having snuck one of your dad’s New Orleans’s desserts to eat for breakfast. As you swallow, dad finally registers your presence. The white powdery residue the beignet left on your lips betrays you, and your dad scolds you as he herds you out of the kitchen and into the den where the TV is on showing sports casters chatting excitedly about the Saints and what a victory today could mean for the rest of their season. Your dad takes his seat in his designated recliner closest to the TV, and you sink sleepily onto the couch.
You close your eyes and let the spicy smell permeate your senses. New Orleans’s born and raised, your dad has managed to keep his Southern heritage alive despite his post-marriage relocation to cloudy North New Jersey. Whenever the Saints play at home in the Super-Dome, dad takes the occasion as a reason to celebrate the culture and food of his vibrant native city. He cooks up a dish of pungent “brown” jambalaya, adamant in his opinion that the Cajun style is the way God intended jambalaya to be made.
He’s explained to you the difference between brown Cajun style jambalaya and the red Creole version so many times you’re sure you could teach an entire college curriculum exploring the subtle nuances between both recipes and their origins. You know that Creole jambalaya is associated with the French Quarter of New Orleans, where European influences reign. It is widely credited as the original recipe, later shared with the Cajuns of the more rural Louisiana swamp regions. Your dad has explained that Creole jambalaya is really not much different from the Spanish dish, paella, which features similar ingredients. He explained to you that when the Spanish settled in the New World, they substituted the use of expensive saffron with tomatoes due to the ease of growing tomatoes as opposed to importing saffron. The rice absorbs the red color of the tomatoes, leading to the distinct color difference between the two recipes. Eventually, the import of spices from Spanish communities in the Caribbean contributed to the evolution of the recipe, making the dish a fuse of culinary traditions from Spain and the Caribbean. Not long after, jambalaya integrated into the culture of the rural parts of Louisiana swamp country.
The Southwestern swamp country was home to the Cajuns; the people your dad argues are the founders of “true” Louisiana culture. The rural expanses of marshes, swampland, and bayous around Lafayette display very little European influence, and the more simplistic recipes characteristic of the Cajuns tend to be hybrids of Creole dishes. The Cajuns did not use tomatoes in their cooking; your dad explains that the further you get from New Orleans the less often you’ll see tomatoes used in dishes. The meat is browned in a pot, which gives Cajun jambalaya its brown coloration. The rest of the dish consists of onions, celery, and peppers, all left to simmer and added into the meat later. The cooking time is slightly longer than the Creole recipe, and tends to have a slightly smokier flavor.
Despite all you know about jambalaya culture and history, you’ve only reached on conclusion.
No matter how its made, jambalaya makes a damn good dinner.
“What’s The Bongo Zeptobrewery Cooking ?” Smoked Sausage Jambalaya W/ Garlic Bread. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2013.