Saturday I got to try my hand at cooking at a Jambalaya cookoff event, sponsored by the Gonzales Jambalaya Festival Association. It was a hot day, but an extremely fun day for a great cause.
I would guess that in the last twenty years I have cooked about 100,000 pounds of Jambalaya. That is a lot of rice! But this was a completely different experience. I have always used par-boiled rice, it works for me and it is a very forgiving rice. You cannot or should not use par-boiled rice in competitions that are held in this area. So that was my first fear, cooking with old fashioned long grain rice. This is the product we used on Saturday. https://mahatmarice.com/products/white-rice/
I also have gotten pretty proficient at ‘one’ pot cooking. I just add ingredients as I go. As mentioned, I have done this enough that I can really do with my eyes closed to some degree. But Saturday was different!
I was like a babe in the woods. I was nervous and I really wanted to learn how some of the best Jambalaya cooks in the Gonzales area make their delicious pots of food. I was fortunate enough to have some really good help. Shane, his wife Pamela, and son-in-law Chad invited me into the world of competition Jambalaya cooking.
Shane and Pamela own Krazy Kajun Cookware. http://krazykajuncookware.com/
I have known Shane for a while now. He is an incredible fabricator and a great chef. So with his guidance, I dove in!
This event allowed you to cook on propane, that was great, I have never cooked over wood. That will be the next adventure for sure. So I will run down the order of cooking. First, you add cooking oil to your pot. Cook your sausage in that oil, making sure you do not burn it. Then you remove the sausage and cook down your pork cubes. The first batch I believe was pork butt. Once that is cooked, you remove the meat and most of the oil and then begin cooking down your onions. It is during this process that the onions pick up the color from the side of the pot. You are also adding hot sauce and seasoning to your meat and to your onions. It seems you can never add enough!
Once you have this beautiful onion stew, you add back in your pork, sausage and water. Did I mention, and seasoning…. Salt, cayenne, garlic, pepper just to name a few. Once you get this blended together correctly, it is time for the rice. Yes, non par-boiled rice. But with a lot of guidance our rice came out perfectly, both batches! Yes, rice that opened/popped perfectly. As Shane would say, “little hot dog buns”….
Well after the rice is cooked and the fire is off, you wait…. When the pot is ready, you begin the process of making your plate to turn in. Perfectly fluffed rice, pork cubes and sausage placed in the right spots, not too many, just a nice presentation is what the judges I believe are looking for.
As names were called for the top 12, my stomach was turning a little. There were 32 or 33 chefs that day competing, and amazingly we made the top twelve! As far as I can tell, we did not pay off any judges! That was a pretty humbling experience…
Since we made the finals, we had to do this all over one more time. Out of the three chefs, Shane, Chad and myself, I was the lucky one to make it. But those guys did not leave me, no, they stayed and gutted it out. It was hot! Did I mention that!
The second pot went as planned. The rice was cooked perfectly, the color was right. The taste was a little off from the last batch, but we went for it. On the first batch, you provide the supplies, but the second batch they did. So the pork and the sausage were different, which made the seasoning process completely different.
I learned a ton this day. First lesson, stay humble. As much as I have cooked, I was a rookie and will be for a while at this level. I am trying to soak it all in. Secondly, I need to develop a better taste for seasoning. Third, keep smiling! It was really fun to cook. I didn’t feel that I was competing against anyone, it was more me and the pot becoming better acquainted. Not sure if that makes sense, but that is how I would describe it.
Needless to say, my career is not over in competition Jambalaya cooking, it has only begun. Thanks to the crew at Krazy Kajun for inviting me into this world and showing me the ropes!
2 thoughts on “Swamp Pop Fest”
Proud of you baby brother, chef of the family!!
Finding a passion in life will make it a beautiful one!
Thank you Beth, you are too kind