French food is delectable: rich flavors garnered only from hours of slow roasting or braising, pastries delicately ensconced in butter. There’s the simple alchemy of meat and salt producing paté and sausage and rillettes. And then the decadent milk charcuterie: cheese. However, weeks and weeks of the food had us aching for the fiery and the spicy. For all the beauty of French food, it is undeniably brown in its balance. I craved dramatic highs and lows, punches of red and green. My fellow American students yearned for the same.
From that desire came forth two dinners cooked in the house we shared: matar paneer and jambalaya. Yes, in the Gascon heartland, we managed to coax fire into our meals. Not without some guilt, I wolfed down bowls and bowls. But French cooking was not wholly left out in the cold- if it were not for the creamy raw milk straight from the farm, I am convinced our paneer would not have been so toothsome. If not for the fresh chickens obtained at Toulouse’s famed market, the jamabalya would not have been so succulent. So, France did have a role to play in our decidedly non-French cooking.
Jon’s Matar (and Diana’s) Paneer
For the paneer:
- 1/2 gallon of the highest quality whole milk you can find
- 1/4c lemon juice
- 1/2t salt
- Set milk over medium heat in saucepan and bring to a low simmer. Stir milk occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pan so that it does not scald. It’s ready when it looks steamy and foamy
- Remove milk from the heat and add lemon juice. It should curdle
- Cover saucepan and let stand for 10 minutes, allowing the curds to separate from the whey. If separation has not occurred after 10 minutes, add another tablespoon of lemon juice
- Strain curds by placing cheesecloth or muslin over a colander and pour in curd; whey can be reserved or discarded
- Squeeze curds to expel remaining whey
- Salt curds; taste and add more as necessary
- Press curds: still in cheesecloth, place whey on dinner plate. Wrap cheesecloth around curds, forming into rectangular shape. Place another plate on top of curds and weigh down. Press for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour
- Use paneer or refrigerate up to two days. Paneer will firm up and be less crumbly if left in the fridge longer
For the curry:
I sadly did not take notes as Jon was making the curry. I’m trying to wrest the steps from him, but my efforts have proven fruitless thus far. Maybe one day I will be able to put a recipe here.
- 1 stick of butter
- Dry cajun seasoning (Ali recommends Slap Ya Mamma)
- Bell pepper
- 2lb chunked chicken ( Ali’s notes: I like to break down a chicken myself and get a mix of white and dark)
- 2lb smoked sausage (Ali’s notes: Andouille is traditional but any form of REAL SMOKED sausage will do)
- White Rice
- Bouquet garnis (bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns)
- Worcestershire sauce
- Hot sauce
In Ali’s words:
- Melt half stick of butter in a skillet and saute peppers, onion, garlic, parsley, and a sprinkle of seasoning until mostly cooked. Remove from skillet
- Put the rest of your butter in the skillet and add chicken along with a healthy amount of cajun seasoning (at least enough to get a good cover on your chicken,…if you’re trying to have a mild jambalaya this is where you need to take note of seasoning usage)
- Cook your chicken over medium heat. It’s important to cook the chicken into the butter it’s a process of making a type of flavored sauce that is going to flavor your rice, and that is a pivotal point in jambalaya. (you want good sized chunks of chicken so they don’t disintegrate while slow cooking)
- Add your sausage when the chicken is about halfway done. Low and slow and delicious. Let the juices from the chicken and sausage combine with that butter to make a super tasty juice.
- Use the lid of your skillet to drain out the chicken/sausage juice….measure the amount you have. Factor that amount into your liquid measure for the amount of rice you are going to cook, once measure add the liquid back into the skillet. **this part is optional depending on your skill of cooking. The main point of this step is to refrain from having runny rice (that’s a major faux pax in cajun country)
- Take your chicken sausage mix and put it into an appropriately sized stock pot, add your veggies into the same pot and test your spice/seasoning.
- At this point add a touch of worcestershire sauce and the bouquet garnis
- Add your rice and the appropriate amount of water. For 4 lbs. of meat 3 cups of rice is usually appropriate.
- Throw a lid on it, keep it on a medium heat and DON”T TOUCH IT! for at least ten minutes. Stirring in not essential. You will want to stir the bottom of the pot every 10-15 minutes at first as to not have anything burn on the bottom, but that’s the only reason you should touch it. You want the rice to cook in all the flavors of all the deliciousness you just created. As it’s going along, I usually test it, throw in some hot sauce if you like heat.
- Cook until rice is done and longer if you desire (longer doesn’t hurt, just don’t let it dry out) You want a colored flavorful sticky type rice.
- Remove the bouquet garnis and ENJOY!
I highly suggest pairing this with some cornbread and bourbon