From America's Test Kitchen Season 4: New Orleans Menu
Done right, jambalaya is a one-pot meal that can be on the table in an hour, and its combination of sweet, spice, and smoke makes it a standout. We wanted to improve the classic version with fluffier rice, more succulent chicken, more delicate shrimp, a more modest amount of tomato, and fresher flavors—all in a more streamlined method.
Instead of using a whole chicken cut into parts, we opted for bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. The chicken in jambalaya is often dried out, but these relatively fatty dark meat pieces of chicken are much more likely to stay moist than white meat chicken. Keeping the skin on during searing added flavorful fat to the dish, but it should be removed before serving because it gets soggy. After trying a variety of sausages, we realized that nothing else tastes like andouille—a Cajun sausage that infuses the other ingredients in the pot with spice and smoke. We browned pieces of andouille in chicken fat and set them aside, planning to add them back to the pot with the liquid, rice, and chicken. Although we kept the trio of minced bell peppers, onion, and celery that is the key to Cajun cooking, we traded sweeter red peppers for the somewhat bitter-tasting green that are traditionally used. Garlic added punch and removed the need for the artificial-tasting garlic powder called for in many recipes.
After some trial and error, we found the perfect ratio of rice to liquid that yielded the perfect compromise between fluffy pilaf (too light for jambalaya) and sticky risotto (too heavy). To boost the complex flavor of the rice and highlight the flavors of chicken and shrimp, we cooked the rice in a combination of canned chicken broth, clam juice, and the juice from canned tomatoes. To avoid overcooked shrimp, add raw shrimp to the pot just five minutes before the chicken and rice finish cooking.
Serves 4 to 6
Because andouille varies in spiciness, we suggest tasting a piece of the cooked sausage and then adjusting the amount of cayenne in the jambalaya to suit your taste. If you can't find andouille, try tasso, chorizo, or linguiça; if using chorizo or linguiça, consider doubling the amount of cayenne. The onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic can be chopped by hand instead of in the food processor. The shrimp don't need to be deveined, but you can do so if you prefer. If you're serving only four people, you may choose to skip the shredding step and serve the chicken on the bone.