I love cookbooks. I find something interesting in almost everything I read, and I’ve read a lot of them. That’s why I started an irregular series in which I write about cookbooks. So far I’ve written about cookbooks that I like.
A friend whose name rhymes with “Boscar” recently sent me a screenshot of a cookbook he picked up in Oklahoma; it was a recipe for “Jambalaya” from a restaurant called Henry’s Brake Room in Drummond, Oklahoma. It’s from a book called “Oklahoma Back Road Restaurant Recipes,‘ by Anita Musgrove (Great American Publishers, 2019). Boscar is a fine fellow and he and his wife know their food well. He didn’t send me the recipe because he thought I would want to make it.
Recipes are not copyrighted but rather than copying what is in the book I will summarize it. The ingredients are 2 whole chickens, 2.5 pounds of smoked sausage, 1 stick of butter, 1 tbsp. flour, 3 cups chopped white onion, 3 cups chopped red pepper, ½ cup white wine, 3 cups Worcestershire sauce, 2 cups soy sauce, pepper, salt, 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste) 1 gallon diced tomato, cooked rice for serving and grated mozzarella for sprinkling.
The method involves boiling the chickens into a broth, although you only use half the broth in the recipe. Then make a light brown roux with the butter stick and 1 tbsp. Flour, after that add the garlic, then the onion. You cook that for 5-7 minutes, then add the peppers, cook another 5-7 minutes, then add the wine, then 3 cups Worcestershire sauce and 2 cups soy sauce, Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper (to taste).
Then debone the chicken and add it and the sausage and tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat until heated through. You may notice that while the recipe claims to be for “jambalaya,” the ingredient list doesn’t include rice; it does so because it concludes, “serve over rice; top with mozzarella.”
I have reached out to Henry’s Brake Room on Facebook and by phone to comment, but as of this writing I have not heard a response.
I don’t see how anyone who has ever cooked anything could think this is edible let alone it’s jambalaya. There’s so much wrong with it that I suspect it’s a mistake. If I hear from Henry’s and learn that the recipe was written while the chef was in a coma or that there was some other problem, I will update you accordingly.
But if that’s not the case, this recipe is a abomination.
That’s not because it’s called “jambalaya,” as no one has time to control the multitude of printed and online recipes that bear that title but have nothing to do with the dish as we know it. (Also see: Gumbo) And I’m the kind of person who is considerate of different techniques/ingredients any Court; especially one like jambalaya, which is so similar to dishes from so many other cuisines that it’s almost impossible to call any version “authentic.”
I’ve embraced the idea that one could cook the rice separately from the rest of the jambalaya if one wanted to, and I don’t mind using unconventional ingredients. I absolutely love the Crescent Pie & Sausage Factory kids’ recipe that included black eye peas, granulated garlic and parboiled rice.
But this is beyond the pale. I don’t know how anyone who has eaten could think that 3 cups of Worcestershire sauce and 2 cups of soy sauce are appropriate for the amounts given in the rest of the recipe. And “serve over rice?” how much rice How many people is this supposed to serve? 2 chickens and 2.5 pounds of smoked sausage sounds about right for a dozen, but the rest of the recipe makes it seem like this is meant for some sort of institutional use. Maybe a prison where they punish you with salt.
Then there are the superfluous extras like “1/2 cup of white wine.” Why? Who among us has the palate sensitive enough to recognize ½ cup of white wine when there’s also 3 cups of Worcestershire sauce and 2 cups of soy sauce involved? Is it because you generally want a little acid/alcohol when cooking with tomatoes? Because if so, that’s not enough to make a difference.
You could dump a cup of vodka into the pot and get a better result. Actually, having a cup of vodka before eating would probably be a better idea.
The smart ones among you might notice that there are no seasonings except salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper (to taste). There are no “mixed spices” or herbs involved, dried or otherwise. There is no celery or other traditional ingredients like scallions, parsley or thyme. For some reason there is mozzarella cheese.
I don’t know why mozzarella cheese is included in this recipe and I’m not going to speculate on the eating habits of the fine folk who live in Oklahoma as I find it very, very hard to believe that anyone in Oklahoma ever made this recipe has eaten .
I’ve spent time in small towns in Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois over the past several years, and while I didn’t find the kind of food culture that we have here, I found delicious things to eat. Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten have been in Chicago, which I find to be an underrated food city.
I can’t find a reliable source for the menu at Henry’s Brake Room other than a picture offering only a variety of steaks and a rack of lamb, with an all you can eat buffet on Tuesdays and a fish roast on Fridays, both for 10 Dollar.
The best I can think of is that this dish is something they serve on the buffet or someone thought they might serve it on the buffet when Henry agreed to be included in this cookbook but never really cooked because the alternative – which is actually something people cook and eat – is too sad to think about.