As 2015 ends, I’m thinking of this year’s loss of chef Paul Prudhomme, one of this country’s most welcoming chefs and supreme master of highly seasoned food. More than three decades ago, Prudhomme taught us to embrace bold flavors and to cook with generosity. I had the privilege of cooking with him several times. His command of the spice cabinet affects nearly every dish I make today.
Prudhomme’s first cookbook, “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen,” has had a place in my kitchen since it debuted. I’ve made every gumbo, poultry, fish recipe and pecan goody in the book. In his memory, I suggest a jambalaya party for New Year’s Eve.
One-pot jambalaya allows the cook to serve well-seasoned food that pleases a crowd. The dish is not hard to make if you are comfortable with a knife for some chopping. Converted rice, the preference among many New Orleans cooks, proves nearly indestructible. The version here features chicken and andouille sausage with a bit of smoke from bacon and ham. The base of the jambalaya can be made up to several days in advance. Simply add the rice about 30 minutes before you want to serve.
I’m starting my jambalaya party with a sparkling version of the classic New Orleans sazerac cocktail. It’s best enjoyed super cold — simply put the glasses in the freezer for a couple of hours. Alternatively, fill glasses with ice until they are cold, then dump out the ice and fill with the cold cocktail.
Chilled cooked shrimp or fresh oysters on the half-shell set a stylish tone. Plan on two or three per guest. Store them set over a bowl of ice covered with a damp towel in the refrigerator for up to a day. Never store them in a closed bag. Some fish markets will open the oysters for you, but it’s best to open them just before serving. For safety, secure the oyster on a work surface by placing it on a towel. Hold another towel over the oyster to protect your hand, then slip the tip of an oyster knife into the hinge of the shell. Twist the knife to pop it open. Place the opened oysters on a bed of ice. Serve the oysters with lemon wedges and hot sauce, or make a tangy topping out of minced shallots floating in champagne vinegar.
For healthful eating in the new year, I am making another dish I enjoyed eating at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen: red beans and rice. A cousin to hoppin’ john, which is eaten on New Year’s Day to bring luck throughout the year, my version of red beans and rice uses heirloom beans and brown rice. I’m crazy about the jumbo, gorgeous, mottled heirloom Christmas lima beans, such as those from Zursun Idaho in Twin Falls, Idaho, or ordered from Rancho Gordo. Simmer the beans with vegetables, then puree some to make a creamy dish. Served with aromatic jasmine brown rice, this hearty dish will satisfy for lunch and dinner any time of the year.
With both dishes, I like to serve Louisiana-style hot sauce — not the Asian style sauces I use on eggs and fries.
As we enter a new year, I wish you the same sentiment that Paul inscribed to me in his book, “Good cooking, good eating and good loving.”