Into every cook’s life, if they’re lucky, there will come that one recipe that they treasure above all others. It might be a family recipe passed down through the generations, something from a church cookbook, or perhaps that recipe they talked a chef into divulging. Debi’s Jambalaya is my treasured recipe and here is the story behind it.
David and I went to New Orleans in August of 2005. During our time there we met Bryan and Debi Ory of Debi and the Deacons who perform at Tropical Isle on Bourbon Street. We were having such a great vacation that we decided to extend it a couple of days, totally unaware that Hurricane Katrina was headed our way. By the time we realized what was happening it was too late to get an earlier flight. So we did what any reasonable people would do. We bought some bottled water and snacks, stashed them in our hotel room and then went to a hurricane party at Tropical Isle.
Bryan and Debi were performing that night. They already had their van loaded up so they and their four children and Bryan’s mom could evacuate right after they finished their show. We exchanged email addresses, partied for several hours and then wished each other well. You can read more about it here.
We were greatly relieved to receive an email from Bryan letting us know they had made it out of the city safely. Debi later told us that she had watched news footage, scanning the crowds looking for us.
And so I suppose you could say we bonded over a hurricane.
We returned to New Orleans the following April and began to go twice a year, always spending time at Tropical Isle enjoying the music of Debi and the Deacons. And then in 2007, Debi invited us to their house for dinner. She made jambalaya and I swear it was the best thing I’ve ever tasted. A couple of nights later at the bar, during one of their breaks, I asked for the recipe. And the rest is history.
I have no idea how many times I’ve made this over the years. It makes a LOT so it’s perfect when feeding a crowd. I make a pot or two every year at our annual Happyland Music Festival that we host in our backyard and everyone raves about it.
I’ve always been more than happy to share my recipes but this one just felt too special for some reason. A couple of years ago I asked Debi if she’d ever given the recipe to anyone else and she said no. I told her I hadn’t shared it, despite having been asked. Ever generous, she told me it was fine if I wanted to. I said, “Tell me I can’t share it.” She looked a little perplexed for a second and then laughed. “Okay, don’t share it.”. I just wanted to keep it to myself.
So why am I sharing it now? Sadly, Debi passed away a few months ago after a year-long battle with lung cancer. We flew to New Orleans to attend her funeral and during our time there it occurred to me that perhaps it was time to share her jambalaya recipe. I decided to wait a little while and then ask Bryan if it was okay with him.
A couple of weeks later I got a text from Bryan asking if I had the recipe for her jambalaya because he wanted to make some that day. I sent him screen shots of the handwritten recipe and asked if I could share it on my blog as a tribute to Debi. He replied, “That would be awesome.”
Debi loved nothing better than to feed people. She always seemed to have a houseful of people at mealtime – many of her relatives live in the same neighborhood. She also brought food to the bar often for the bartenders and other staff. She was everybody’s mom and always made sure no one went hungry.
I’m sharing this treasured recipe as a way of honoring the memory of a woman who loved everyone and made sure they knew it. Every time I’ve ever made this, I’ve thought of Debi. For those of you who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing her, I hope you’ll think of someone you know who embodies love and share it in their honor.
Debi's Cajun Style Jambalaya
- 1 whole chicken
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 1/2 pounds smoked sausage
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
- 1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet
- 8 cups chicken broth (from boiling chicken)
- 4 cups rice (Zatarain's brand preferred)
Place chicken in large pot, cover with water and simmer until chicken is cooked through.
Remove chicken to platter and allow to cool enough to handle. Pick meat from bones and cut or tear into large, bite-size pieces.
Strain chicken broth. Add water if necessary to equal 8 cups. Set aside
In the same pot you boiled the chicken, melt butter (or combination of butter and olive oil).
Add onions, celery, bell pepper and sliced smoked sausage and cook over medium high heat until onions are translucent and sausage is browned. Add the minced garlic the last minute or two, being careful not to let it burn.
Add chili powder, Creole seasoning, Worchestershire sauce, soy sauce, and Kitchen Bouquet. Stir to combine.
Add 8 cups of chicken broth then stir in chicken and 4 cups of rice. Bring to a boil. Cover with tight fitting lid.
Put in preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until rice is tender.
Stir well and serve.
I usually use yellow onions but I’ve got a combination of yellow and red in this photo because that’s what I had.
Debi’s recipe calls for smoked sausage. Sometimes I do that and sometimes I use andouille sausage. Andouille is spicier so I generally use less of it.
After cooking veggies and sausage and adding seasonings
Cooked chicken ready to add to pot
The sausage floats to the top while baking. This is what it will look like right out of the oven.
Here it is after stirring.
And finally, a plate full of deliciousness:
Debi served this with homemade potato salad and that’s what I do, too. Interestingly, her potato salad was almost exactly like my mom’s version. The combination of jambalaya and potato salad is traditional and delicious.
Here is the original recipe. As you can see by the smudges, I’ve used it many, many times. Debi started writing the recipe but didn’t have her glasses. After the word “chicken” she dictated the rest to Bryan. I added “Debi’s Jambalaya” and “preheat 375°”.
Note: The only thing I’ve changed from her original recipe is that she used margarine and I use butter or a combination of butter and olive oil.
If you’d like to know more about Debi:
Bryan writes beautifully about her and the grieving process on this Facebook page.
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This recipe is linked up on Miz Helen’s Full Plate Thursday.