‘Hank’ it up this weekend with some jumbalaya

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Hank Williams Festival is this weekend in Georgiana. It’s the 32nd annual festival. I’ve never been. Someone told me when I first came to Andalusia, it was just a bunch of rednecks drinking beer. I’m not a big fan of beer but I like Hank Williams’ music.

Hiram Williams was born in Mt. Olive on Sept. 17, 1923. The family lived in several towns in south Alabama – Fountain, Greenville, Georgiana and Montgomery.

Changing his name to Hank, Williams began his career on the radio in Montgomery. He formed the Drifting Cowboys as backup and they toured south Alabama. In 1943, Hank met Audrey Sheppard in Pike County. He and Audrey lived in Andalusia while he played at the Riverside Inn on the Conecuh in River Falls. Shortly after her divorce, they were married, Dec. 15, 1944, by Justice of the Peace MA Bovett at John G. Wright’s garage on East Three Notch in Andalusia.

I have also heard he played at a juke joint on the Conecuh in Gantt. In 1948 he joined the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport. Perhaps he got his inspiration there for one of my favorites of his – “Jumbalaya” (‘On the Bayou’) which he wrote in 1952. He is perhaps better known for “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” but I am celebrating the festival this weekend with “Jumbalaya.”

In honor of the Hank Williams Festival, try and do a really good jambalaya. I think this recipe from Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook is one that you will like. The classic jambalaya dish has shrimp and ham and is “red” thanks to the tomatoes. In some of the Cajun communities there are “brown” jambalayas with oysters, giblets and lusty country sausages.

The name “jambalaya” may be a contraction of jambon á la ya-ya – a combination of the French for ham, jambon, and the African Bantu word for rice, ya-ya.

Creole Jambalaya

Serves 6

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or 2 tablespoons if the pork and sausage are very lean)

4 ounces andouille, sliced into ¼-inch rounds (can use kielbasa)

4 ounces pickled pork or ham, cut in ¼-inch cubes (use any good quality ham)

1 medium- sized yellow onion, chopped

1 bunch of green onions, chopped

1 medium-size green sweet pepper, chopped

2 cans (10 ounces each) crushed plum tomatoes

¼ cup canned tomato purée

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 whole bay leaf

1 teaspoon table salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne

¼ teaspoon dry thyme leaves

4 quarts chicken stock

1 tablespoon Louisiana pepper sauce

2 cups long-grain white rice, uncooked

1 pound raw medium shrimp, peeled

Over medium-high heat, melt the butter in a heavy, non-reactive 6-quart saucepan or Dutch oven.

Add the sausage and pickled pork or ham and cook until all of the fat is rendered out of the meats, about five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the yellow onions, the white part of the green onions and the sweet peppers. Cook the vegetables until they are clear, about five minutes, occasionally stirring and scraping clean the pan bottom.

Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato purée, garlic, bay leaf, table salt, black pepper, cayenne and thyme. Cook and stir this base sauce about two minutes. (If the dish is being prepared ahead, allow the base sauce to cool, then place in a lidded non-reactive container and store in the refrigerator for up to two days. For the final preparation, heat the base to a boil and proceed with the remainder of the recipe.)

Add the chicken stock and pepper sauce to the base and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to maintain a strong simmer, and simmer the liquid uncovered until it is reduced by one third, about one hour and 15 minutes. Skim any foam or coagulates as they develop on the surface.

Return the liquid to a boil and stir in the rice.

Reduce the heat to medium, and cook uncovered until the rice is just short of being done (it should still be a little firm in the center), about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the shrimp and cook until the rice is tender and the shrimp turn bright pink, about three minutes. Do not overcook.

Stir in the green part of the green onions.

Serving suggestion: Spoon the warm jambalaya onto a heated serving platter or into a wide, shallow serving bowl.