I love cookbooks. I find something interesting in almost every one I read and I’ve read a lot of them. That’s why I’ve started an intermittent series where I write about cookbooks. Heretofore, I’ve written about cookbooks that I like.
A friend whose name rhymes with “Boscar” recently sent me a screenshot of a cookbook he picked up in Oklahoma; it was a recipe for “Jambalaya” from a restaurant called Henry’s Brake Room in Drummond, Oklahoma. It’s from a book titled “Oklahoma Back Road Restaurant Recipes,” by Anita Musgrove (Great American Publishers, 2019). Boscar is a fine fellow and he and his wife both know good food. He did not send me the recipe because he thought I’d want to make it.
Recipes are not subject to copyright, but rather than copying what’s in the book I’m going to summarize. The ingredients are 2 whole chickens, 2.5 lbs of smoked sausage, 1 stick of butter, 1 tbs. flour, 3 cups chopped white onion, 3 cups chopped bell pepper, ½ cup white wine, 3 cups Worcestershire sauce, 2 cups soy sauce, pepper, salt, 1 tbs. cayenne pepper (or to taste) 1 gallon diced tomato, cooked rice for serving and shredded mozzarella for topping.
The method is to boil the chickens to make a stock, though you only use ½ the stock in the recipe. Then you make a light brown “roux” with the stick of butter and 1 tbs. flour, after which you add the garlic, then the onion. You cook that for 5-7 minutes then add the bell pepper, cook another 5-7 minutes then add the wine, then 3 cups of Worcestershire sauce and 2 cups of soy sauce, salt, pepper and cayenne (to taste).
Then you debone the chicken and add it and the sausage and tomatoes and cook on medium-low heat until heated through. You may notice that while the recipe is ostensibly for “jambalaya,” the ingredient list does not include rice; it does, because it concludes, “serve over rice; top with mozzarella.”
I have reached out to Henry’s Brake Room on Facebook and by phone for comment, but as I write I haven’t heard back.
I do not understand how anyone who has ever cooked anything would think that this is edible, let alone that it is jambalaya. There are so many things wrong with it that I suspect it is a mistake. If I hear back from Henry’s and learn that the recipe was written when the chef was in a coma or that there was some other issue, I will update you accordingly.
But if that’s not the case this recipe is an abomination.
This is not about the fact that it’s called “jambalaya,” because nobody has time to police the multitude of recipes found in print and online that bear that title yet have nothing to do with the dish as we know it. (See also: gumbo) And I’m the sort of person who makes allowances for different techniques/ingredients in any dish; particularly one like jambalaya that’s so similar to dishes from so many other cuisines that it’s damn near impossible to call any version “authentic.”
I’ve accepted the idea that one could, if one were so inclined, cook the rice separately from the rest of the jambalaya and I am not opposed to unconventional ingredients being included. I think the recipe the kids at Crescent Pie & Sausage Factory, which included blackeye peas, granulated garlic and par-boiled rice is actually really good.
But this is beyond the pale. I do not know how anyone who has eaten food could think that 3 cups of Worcestershire sauce and 2 cups of soy sauce are appropriate for the amounts given in the rest of the recipe. And “serve over rice?” How much rice? How many people is this supposed to serve? 2 chickens and 2.5 lbs of smoked sausage sounds about right for a dozen, but the rest of the recipe makes it seem like this was intended for some sort of institutional application. Perhaps a prison where they punish you with salt.
Then there are the superfluous touches like “1/2 cup white wine.” Why? Who among us has the palate sensitive enough to detect ½ cup white wine when there’s also 3 cups of Worcestershire sauce and 2 cups of soy sauce involved? Is it because you generally want a little acid/alcohol when you cook with tomatoes? Because if so, that’s not enough to make a difference.
You could dump a cup of vodka into the pot and achieve a better result. Actually, drinking a cup of vodka before eating this would probably be a better idea.
The astute among you may notice that there are no seasonings apart from salt, pepper and cayenne pepper (to taste.) No “spice blend” or herbs are involved, dried or otherwise. There’s no celery or other traditional ingredients like green onion, parsley or thyme. There is, for some reason, mozzarella cheese.
I do not know why mozzarella cheese is included in this recipe, and I am not going to speculate about the dining habits of the fine people who live in Oklahoma since I find it very, very hard to believe anyone in Oklahoma has ever eaten this recipe.
I’ve spent time in small towns in Iowa, Indiana, Missouri and Illinois in years past and while I did not find the sort of food culture we have here, I did find delicious things to eat. Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten were in Chicago, which is an underrated food city as far as I’m concerned.
I cannot find a reliable source for the menu at Henry’s Brake Room apart from a picture that offers only various cuts of steak and a rack of lamb, with an all you can eat buffet on Tuesdays and a fish fry on Fridays, both for $10.
The best I can figure is that this dish is something they serve on the buffet, or that it was something someone thought they might serve on the buffet when Henry’s agreed to be in this cookbook but never actually made because the alternative – that this is actually something people cook and eat – is too sad to contemplate.