Emeril. It seems as though the man has come under a good deal of ridicule over the years – the catch phrases, the live show with the fawning audience who responded in Pavlovian fashion at the very mention of "pork fat" and "gaaaaaaaaaaalic", and of course the very, very ill-advised NBC sitcom. But I'm not ashamed to admit that I learned a hell of a lot about cooking from the man.
Back in the early days of Food Network, before its invasion by the nightmarish likes of Sandra Lee and Guy "Fee-eDRD-i", the show was The Essence of Emeril, and it was just the man himself, a simple white tile background, an occasionally misbehaving electric range, and the food. Far from the manic caricature he became, indiscriminately dumping bowl after bowl of pre-prepped ingredients into saucepans between exchanging banter with Elmo, the Emeril of the Essence days was a very informative host, entertaining yet mostly sedate, and he got a lot of important concepts across. Like seasoning both sides of whatever you're cooking so "both sides taste good". Getting your pans hot and not moving things once you put them in. Building layers of flavor with the use of things like the "trinity" of onion, bell pepper and celery. Making a roux from blonde to chocolate brown. It all really clicked.
So just as Emeril was something of a TV-watching staple in my formative years, so too were his recipes part of our family's dinner rotation. We had a few of his cookbooks, and always had a batch of his "essence" seasoning blend on hand, ready to sprinkle on anything and everything. Once in a while, it was crawfish étoufée on a Saturday night, but usually it was Emeril's jambalaya. And I'll be damned if it hadn't been at least seven years since I made it, so I threw a batch together the other day.
This was made a little easier because someone at Emeril Inc. had sent a little care package to I'll Eat You some time back. It included some Emeril-brand chicken stock and a few bottles of the vaunted Essence, all pre-mixed and ready to sprinkle. Once you have the Essence, the rest is easy, and here's how it goes:
A smallish batch, recreated from memory from one of Emeril's cookbooks
1/2 lb. chicken (preferably thigh meat, I was stuck with breasts)
1 or 2 links andouille sausage (kielbasa works in a pinch)
1/2 lb. shrimp, shells off
1 1/2 C. rice (long grain white is best)
1 green pepper
1 medium onion
2 stalks celery (omitted from this batch because Lauren doesn't like it)
1 large clove gaaaaaaalic
The Essence - if you don't have this, here's a recipe
A few bay leaves
2-3 plum tomatoes, or small can of diced tomatoes
Cut the chicken into chunks and sprinkle liberally with Essence (shout "Bam!" as you do this). Get a large, deep pan hot and add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. While you're browning the chicken thoroughly, dice the onions, peppers and celery, and cut the sausage into small chunks. Once chicken is browned, add vegetables and andouille; reduce heat to medium and cook until vegetables soften.
Add the garlic and rice, then stir around for a minute or two. Add bay leaves, tomatoes, a few dashes each of Worcestershire and hot sauce, and add enough chicken stock to completely cover the rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Read through script of proposed sitcom pilot; reject it.
Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it's getting too dry in there and the rice is sticking to the bottom, add a little more stock. When the rice is almost cooked, add the shrimp and re-cover. Cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the shrimp is pink and opaque. Serve with a Turbo Dog or the beverage of your choice.