Alligator and Andouille Jambalaya

The menu board for tonight read “Very Special Jambalaya!!!” in big letters, with “greens” written in small, almost embarrassed, writing underneath. My daughter wrote the menu on the board this week.

Special jambalaya is special tonight because I made it with the only three links of homemade andouille that survived the sausage-making experiments a few weeks ago. My husband smoked the links along with the ham for Thanksgiving, and then I stuck it in the freezer for jambalaya. The alligator was saved from a catering job, also tucked away in the freezer. I used less than a pound of it tonight, at least half of that gator meat is also bound for the sausage-grinder, along with some of the pig fat I’m picking up Friday.

I’ve already posted the recipe for jambalaya, which is simple and infinitely variable. Tonight’s version included a mix of red and green peppers and a bunch of green onions because that’s I brought home from the farmer’s market, an extra teaspoon or so of fresh thyme, and alligator instead of duck. If you’ve never cooked with alligator, give it a try in this recipe. Alligator can be dry and tough because it’s lean like chicken breast meat but comes from parts of the animal that get real work. It works well in recipes that are either quick-fried, or cooked with plenty of fat and moisture like this one.

The real secret though to Cajun jambalaya is the browned bits at the bottom of the pot- in French cooking, that thin layer of oil and browned meat and vegetable juices at the bottom of the pot is called the fond, and that’s the concentrated flavor of the dish. Carefully browning the meats and vegetables adds to it, and then the chicken stock dissolves the fond and incorporates it. If you burn the fond, you might as well wash the pot and start over.

Every charcuterie experiment teaches me something new. The andouille had a slight metallic flavor that seemed to disappear after cooking (we may have just over-smoked it) and the texture was too fine from being ground twice, but overall I was happy with the flavor of the sausage, I know what not to do next time, and the jambalaya turned out excellent. I served this with lacinato kale, sauteed in garlic and olive oil, and then braised with more rich chicken broth while the jambalaya was cooking.

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