AN EASY TREAT FOR OSCARS & MARDI GRAS
This coming Sunday evening, Feb. 22, is the 81st annual Academy Awards. After the extravaganza, my team and I will be feeding the hungry stars as they flock into the Governors Ball.
Two days later, Mardi Gras will fill the streets of New Orleans as extravagant floats, costumes, sequins, beads, and wild celebrations mark the last day of Carnival before Lent begins.
I think it's more than just a coincidence that these two events happen close together. Both mark the liveliest annual celebrations of their communities. Food and drink play big roles. And, come to think of it, some of the costumes you see in the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood are every bit as wild as those on Bourbon Street.
Of course, most people will be in neither place during those celebrations. You, very sanely, will probably be at home, eating a casual meal as you watch the Oscars ceremony, or having a family meal when the evening news runs its usual brief item from New Orleans.
That doesn't mean, though, that you can't celebrate in style. All you need is food perfectly suited to the occasion. And, to me, that means jambalaya.
A popular one-pot meal featuring rice, bell peppers, onion, garlic, okra, tomato, a touch of hot chilies, and any combination of meat, poultry, or seafood, jambalaya is one of the mainstays of the New Orleans kitchen. Yet, it's really global in its appeal, with similar dishes found around the world, only the seasonings and proteins changing. In fact, the first time I ever visited Louisiana, I was surprised to find that jambalaya was just like a dish my grandmother used to cook back in Austria, a mixture of rice and smoked sausage called reisfleisch.
Typically, such dishes require slow simmering and careful tending to get just the right soupy, tender consistency. And I know that's the last thing you want to be doing on a busy Tuesday night or this Sunday while the stars are walking the red carpet.
Fortunately, I have a solution: Make your jambalaya in a pressure cooker.
If your only knowledge of pressure cooking dates back to steaming, hissing, sputtering pots your mother or grandmother anxiously watched on the stove, you'll be surprised by how easy and anxiety free modern pressure cookers can be. Buy an electric model and its secure lid, temperature controls, foolproof settings, and easy pressure-release valve will have you pressure-cooking like an expert in almost no time.
And I mean "almost no time." My recipe for Pressure-Cooker Jambalaya tastes like you spent hours in the kitchen, yet it takes little more than about 20 minutes to prepare. Which means that you won't miss a single exciting moment, whether it's the Oscars or Mardi Gras!
Pressure Cooker Jambalaya Recipe
Serves 6 to 8
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 medium organic green bell pepper, halved, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 1 stalk organic celery, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound smoked sausage or andouille
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 2 cups uncooked organic basmati rice
- 2 cups frozen okra
- 3 cups organic chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
- Louisiana-style hot sauce, such as Tabasco, for serving
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and celery and saute, stirring occasionally, until they turn glossy and begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the tomato paste, red pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, and salt to taste. Continue sauteing, stirring the mixture occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 7 minutes longer. Transfer the mixture to a pressure cooker and set aside.
Wipe the saute pan clean and heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and ground beef and saute, stirring occasionally to break up the beef into coarse chunks, until evenly browned, 7 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the rice, okra, and chicken broth. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil.
Carefully pour the mixture of broth, rice, and meat into the pressure cooker. Stir well. Lock the lid securely into place. Bring the pressure cooker to full pressure and set the timer for 6 minutes; or if it has a rice setting, set it to that.
When the cooking time is over, use the quick-release valve to release all of the pressure from the cooker. When the gauge indicates that pressure has been completely released and it is safe to open the cooker, remove the lid.
Stir the jambalaya to combine the ingredients, then transfer the mixture to a serving bowl, platter, or individual bowls or plates. Scatter the green onion on top and serve immediately, passing hot sauce at the table.
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