Which came first? The Gipsy Kings or...jambalaya?
Obviously, the two are not related, but not-so-oviously, I made jambalaya to celebrate Mardi Gras, and for some reason known only to Pookie, my ratty old teddy bear that has that all-knowing smile because he has heard my every deep dark secret, I couldn't stop myself from calling it Jamba-leo, and singing Gipsy Kings all night. Jamba-leo, Jamba-leeeo! And since I don’t really know the lyrics (does anyone?!) I made up the rest and filled in with tra la la la la la la la la la la!
However, upon deeper fishing-for-meaning, I found that the Gipsy Kings and jambalaya could, somewhere way back when, share the same ancestors. The Gipsy Kings’ background sort of confuses me, because they certainly sound Spanish to me, but the bio on their website says they’re from gypsy settlements in Arles and Montpelier, which is in the south of France. Jambalaya, too, has a none too specific origin.
In case your only exposure to jambalaya has been the monstrosity known as Cajun Jambalaya Pasta at McCheesecake, first, 40 lashes with a wet fettucine noodle for you, right out of that very bowl of pasta! Second, jambalaya is a Southern dish, most often associated with New Orleans, which is why it crawls into the spotlight around Mardi Gras. Depending on who makes it and what they put in it, jambalaya can be Creole or Cajun, but I shan’t go into the intricacies of Cajun vs. Creole cuisine. I shan’t!
However, the exact history of the rice-based dish is as dicey as its Holy Trinity base (I hate to use the term “Tirinity” becasue it has been Emerilized). It seems that jambalaya came by some convoluted path from either France or Spain (see? just like the Gipsy Kings!), or both, or neither. Jambalaya is often made with ham, so the word "jambalaya" may be an amalgamation of the French words "jambon" and "a la," and an African word, "yaya," which means rice, reflective of both cultural influences from people in the Louisiana area. Jambon+a la+yaya = jambonalayaya = jambalaya (that’s for the Asians out there who can’t do math).
Because the ingredients and preparation of jambalaya are very similar to paella, the dish may be attributed to Spain, which controlled the region of Louisiana from which the dish originates. Personally, I think jambalaya is actually the Gipsy Kings remix of "jumble" – a jumble of rice, the Trinity, and whatever chicken, pork, or creepy crustaceans happened to crawl into your market basket, because that's what jambalaya looks like, whether it’s simmered on the stove top or baked in the oven, whether it is soupy or stew-y, whether it’s chicken or ham or sausage or shrimp or all of the above. Mine is different every time.
In a large pot, brown a whole chicken that has been cut into pieces in about 2 Tbsp. olive oil. I left my chicken on the bone and with the skin, but many people prefer to just use the meat. I'm too lazy, and besides, skin and fat have flavor. Remove the browned chicken to a separate plate.
In the rendered chicken fat and olive oil in the pot, saute 1 bell pepper chopped, 3 large stalks of celery chopped, 1 medium onion chopped, 2-3 cloves of garlic minced, and 1 c. uncooked rice. Add 2 c. chicken stock and 1 15 oz can of tomatoes, chopped, and with their juices.
Season with 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. Tabasco sauce, 1 Tbsp soy sauce (weird, I know, but hey, it works), salt and black pepper to taste, 1 bay leaf, a handful of chopped parsley, and about 1 tsp of dried herbs (I used thyme and oregano).
Put the browned chicken pieces back in the pot along with any other meats you want. I used "Cajun-spiced" sausages that were on sale at the market, but you can use Andouille, chorizo, shrimp, ham. I also left the sausages intact, but you can slice or chop them.
Cover the pot and cook over medium-low heat until the rice and meats are cooked through; mine took about 30 minutes.