Creole Cooking at Its Worst

As confirmed this Mardi Gras, I’m still a beadwhore, tried and true –– not in the sense that I like to flash anything other than a smile to get throws and doubloons but rather by the sad reality that I have an indefatigable lust for beads of all colors and sizes. What’s a girl to do? Fortunately, the transition away from the New Orleans party season wasn’t as bad as anticipated. I mustered the courage to give away more than half of our bead booty, I was able to resist the last slice of King Cake on Ash Wednesday, and I finally made the commitment to start cooking –– well, learning to cook –– Creole and Cajun style.

On Sunday I decided to impress the hubby with a home-cooked meal of fried green tomatoes, maque choux and Creole jambalaya, which differs from Cajun jambalaya because it’s tomato-based. I stepped out early Sunday morning in search of fresh ingredients and seasonings for all the dishes. After three hours, $170 spent and three stores visited, I returned home with everything needed but was a little unsure about pulling it off. For a good five minutes I almost hid the ingredients and called instead for a pizza. But I’d spent so much time looking on chef John Folse’s Web site and reading Creole cookbooks (The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, The New Orleans Cookbook, etc.) that there was no turning back. Not to mention, eating out every week isn’t an option, so I needed to learn to make the dishes myself.

To spare you the details — the fried green tomatoes with Creole rémoulade sauce (from Rouses) turned out perfectly. Très parfaitment! And the maque choux turned out to be a tasty maize dish that paired nicely atop sliced French bread. These two dishes were easy to make (thanks to chef John Folse and Ralph Brennan’s Seafood Cookbook), but the Creole jambalaya? Not so much.

The only thing successful about that darned jambalaya dish was that it managed to fill the house with hearty scents and impressed the hubby during the entire two hours it cooked. Yes, two hours — which isn’t normal unless it’s made in a slow cooker!

I have no idea where it all went wrong.

I followed the recipe meticulously from the Ralph Brennan cookbook (page 266). I measured exactly and timed everything exactly. But it didn’t exactly turn out as hoped. I substituted real meat with Morningstar chicken strips and Tofurky Kielbasa from Whole Foods because my husband’s a pescatarian (no meat, only seafood) , but it wasn’t a big deal as I marinated everything in Creole seasonings beforehand, and it tasted just like lean meat. I also set aside shrimp to add in the last stage, but such a stage never came around because the rice refused to cook thoroughly.

The recipe called to cook the base sauce of tomato puree, crushed Roma tomatoes, bay leaves, seasonings, etc., for the specified time,  and then add uncooked rice (which is rather counterintuitive) and allow it to cook for 25 minutes or so. But after 30 minutes of cooking, it was as if I’d just put in the rice. So I let it cook for another 25 minutes. No difference. So I added more crushed tomatoes to increase the water volume. No difference. Both shocked and frustrated as I watched my prized entrée eviscerate, I let it simmer for another 20 minutes. Again, no difference. The only thing gained was the complete ruination of our only 8-quart saucepan. 

Alas, I never found out why the stupid rice wouldn’t cook. And I’m still a little ticked off at my obvious incompetence. Nevertheless, I plan to try it again in advance of friends we plan to host for dinner later this week. The hubby will make his splendid shrimp and grits dish, and I’ll take another stab at the Creole jambalaya.

Only this time around I’ll cook the rice before the final stage. Doing so is uncouth, I know. But what’s a girl to do?

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