Jambalaya Jam Session

For his 25th annual Crawfish Fest, Michael Arnone will bring not only New Orleans music and food, but also his do-it-yourself Jambalaya Mix.

This year’s Crawfish Fest will be held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta from May 30 to June 1.

Jambalaya, a paella-like Cajun-Creole casserole, has French and Spanish roots. In Louisiana, how it’s made varies with who is making it. “Down home," says Arnone, a Baton Rouge native, " everybody has their own recipe.”

Creole “red” style usually contains tomatoes, along with the usual rice, chicken, meat and/or seafood. The Cajun variety omits tomatoes.

Arnone’s quick mix is Cajun-style, meaning no tomato. It comes with rice, dehydrated vegetables and a spice blend that includes black and cayenne pepper, garlic powder and dehydrated green onion. The version he’ll make from scratch at the festival includes chicken and smoked pork sausage.

When people ask how many servings a package of his mix will yield, he answers, “Tell me how hungry you are. It could feed one, or it could feed four to six people as a side.”

Arnone has a long history of cooking his signature dish for crowds, including for The Reunion on the Mall as part of Bill Clinton’s Inaugural celebration in 1993. “There were half a million people there and we could not keep up,” he says.

In 2006, he teamed with the late Sean Brown of Deep South Blenders, a Louisiana spice company, to create a mix to replicate his much-loved scratch recipe. He says it took years of testing and sampling to formulate the 8-ounce package that reduces cooking time to under 30 minutes.

The Jambalaya Mix will be part of a Food and Trade Expo at this year’s Crawfish Fest. Exhibits will be mounted by Louisiana Cookin’ magazine, Bourbon Street Bar & Grille (a New York City Theater District restaurant), the New York Metro chapter of Louisiana State University alumni and Tipitina’s Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the musical culture of New Orleans and supporting music education in New Orleans public schools.

The festival dates to 1989, when Arnone came north seeking work as an electrician. He grew homesick for the soulful sounds and saucy dishes of his native state.

Arnone says he expects about 15,000 people to attend this year’s festival. They’ll hear music by Marcia Ball, Terrance Simien, JJ Grey and Mofro, Raw Oyster Cult, Dumpstaphunk and the Royal Southern Brotherhood. Meanwhile, they’ll chow down on heaps of crawfish, po-boy sandwiches made with oysters, shrimp or catfish, grilled alligator sausage and slices of gooey pecan pie.

Learn more at crawfishfest.com

SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.

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