Soon after I landed my first job post-college, way back in 1978, my mother sent me the whole Time-Life series called “Foods of the World.” It was through these beautiful books and corresponding wire-bound recipe booklets that I discovered the world of global cuisines. It’s because of these books that I eventually made Ethiopian Doro Wat, Chinese Peking Duck, and Indian Raan, plus many more international dishes.
But these books also covered regional American cuisines – the Pacific Northwest, New England, the Great West, Southern Cooking, and also Creole and Acadian cooking. All of these were fascinating reads; salmon and berry recipes from the northwest, the crab and cranberry recipes from New England, the southwestern and Mexican influences of the Great West. The diversity of American cuisine is vast, and all of the different regions deserve respect.
I would like to feature a couple of recipes from each of these regions in the next few months. And the first one is Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya. It’s not the prettiest dish, being a one-pot meal. But it’s hearty and delicious. And spicy, which we love in this house. Before making this recipe, I don’t think I’d ever put ham and shrimp together, but in this dish it makes perfect sense.
Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya is more of a Creole dish, from what I understand. There are many similarities within the ingredients of Acadian and Creole cooking. Anymore, the term Cajun is used, instead of Acadian, but both terms refer to the mix of Louisiana natives and the French and Caribbean folk who migrated there. (I’m generalizing, of course.)
My take on it is that Cajun is the step-kid of Creole, with Creole having the more “upscale” reputation. Nonetheless, both styles of cuisine are fresh and full of life. They’re rich with flavor and have that spicy factor. They also share the trinity of green peppers, onions, and celery. You won’t see any recipes without those three ingredients. Enjoy the following recipe, inspired from the Foods of the World – Creole and Acadian cooking.
Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya
2 pounds shrimp, shelled, cleaned
6 tablespoons butter
2 onions, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 – 15 ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound chopped ham
Bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove. When it’s boiling, place all of the shrimp in the water at once. Count about 4 minutes from when the water starts boiling again; the shrimp should just be pink and opaque, but not overcooked. Pour everything into a colander and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, and celery. Sauté the veggies for at least 5 minutes, stirring occasionally; a little browning is just fine.
Add the garlic and give it a stir, just until you can smell it, then add the diced tomatoes. Cook, over medium heat, until the tomato mixture has thickened, about 15 minutes. Then stir in the tomato paste, parsley, the cayenne and thyme. Stir well and check for seasoning.
Add the ham to the pot, then the warm shrimp. If you are going to serve the jambalaya immediately, heat everything through and serve. If you’re serving later, heat everything later; you don’t want the shrimp overcooked. Jambalaya is often served with white rice, but this is optional.