At-Home Chef: Flat-Out Good
Melt the cold with Steve Nicholson’s all-star Jambalaya
By Kimberly StolzPublished February 1, 2013
What’s red and brown and hot all over? Jambalaya, baby! With winter running its bony finger up and down our shivering spines, jambalaya is here to save the overcast day. With its stick-to-your-ribness and dose of heat, this Southern pleasure is the perfect prescription for a cold night in the 614.
Courtesy of the Flatiron’s Chef Steve Nicholson, this dish can be made as is or tweaked to your own taste, just like it is down in Dixieland.
“If you go to different regions in the South, there are different recipes – one place might have shrimp, another place inland might use duck,” he explained. “Jambalaya had humble beginnings; it came out of being thrifty, you’d make it out of whatever meats were around and eat it for three or four days.”
This version is on the tame side heat-wise; punch it up with more cayenne or serve it with your favorite hot sauce so guests can customize their taste-bud torching.
The jambalaya is just one of the stars on the revamped Flatiron menu. Owner Roger McLane travels down South often, said Nicholson, and is huge fan of barbeque.
“We’re going to stay strictly Southern and focused on fresh ingredients –this menu is Roger’s dream.”
To put together the new bill of fare, Nicholson commented that they pulled the greatest hits from the specials that have been run throughout the Flatiron’s history.
“Any time we offered shrimp and grits, it flew out the door,” he smiled. “We do it differently than a lot of other people in town – it’s a true red eye gravy with Andouille sausage and coffee, so it has a bit of a different flavor.”
As for the jambalaya, it is one of Chef Steve’s favorite’s to make, mainly because it consists of stirring huge amounts of food in a huge pot with a huge paddle. “I also really like it because it’s a showcase for our house-made sausage, which really elevates the dish,” he added.
A culinary mix-tape, Jambalaya reflects the chef and kitchen that creates it: a Southern slow jam that banishes the Ohio chill.
1 cup flour
1 cup corn oil
2 quarts fish or shrimp stock
3 quarts diced tomatoes
4 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp cayenne
1 tbsp black pepper
4 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
4 large sweet yellow onions, diced
1 bunch celery, diced
6 large green bell peppers, diced
1 quart large boneless chicken thighs, diced
1 lb. Andouille sausage, sliced
1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp
2 bunches green onions, minced
1 bunch Italian flatleaf parsley, minced
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or a large heavy saucepan. Add vegetables, cover and cook over medium heat until the onions translucent. Add flour and continue to cook while stirring until flour is lightly browned and smells slightly nutty. Slowly add stock and continue to stir, making sure the flour doesn’t lump. When stock is incorporated, add tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic and dry spices and stir to combine. Turn heat down to low, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes to develop the flavor. Add sausage and chicken; continue to simmer until chicken is cooked. Add shrimp, green onions and parsley. Turn off heat and let stand covered for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve in a bowl over rice.
Meet the Chef
It’s there – on the down low – but it’s there. The dropped “r” and the nasally “a’ rear their distinctive sounds during conversation and betray chef Scott Nicholson’s Boston roots. Time spent hanging out on Beantown’s North End, renowned for its celebration of all things Italian, and around his mother’s table, weighted down with plentiful plates of Italian classics, gave him the foundation for a life of culinary appreciation.
“My mom was always cooking,” recalled Chef. “When I was young, I worked in a supermarket cleaning the meat room and then I learned how to cut stuff and the guys were like, ‘You like to do this.’ And I did.”
That bloody backroom stint led to attending Newbury Culinary School and working in local family restaurants, but initially was only a paycheck gig to fund skateboard adventures. “We would road trip to Dayton to hang out at Alien Workshop,” he said, “and head to Columbus to go to Stache’s and see bands.” Taken by the Columbus scene and low cost of living, Nicholson and a group of friends decided to move to town.
“I saw Scrawl in Boston; they used to play with Sebadoh and Superchunk,” he said. “I saw them for like 22 bucks and then, two weeks later, I moved here and the second night I was here was ComFest and someone was like, ‘Do you wanna go down to this big festival? Scrawl’s playing.’ And I was like, ‘No way, I love Scrawl, how much is it? Like 20 bucks?’ ‘No it’s free, they’re from here.” Nicholson’s been here ever since.
One thing that surprised the New Englander about relocating to the Midwest was the consistent friendliness of people.
“I’d see someone, on the street or something, and they would say hi and I was, like, what’s the deal? Guys would nod at me and I was like, ‘We getting in a fight?’ laughed the chef. “In Boston, everybody’s always pissed – whether about the Sox or the traffic.”
Slinging in kitchens ranging from Ground Round to A La Carté and Frezno Eclectic Kitchen, Nicholson landed in the back of the house at Flatiron more than a decade ago.
“I like working at a mom and pop place,” he reflected. “I still learn from everybody on my line, from the food-centric atmosphere.”
Moving from wheels to meals is not as strange as it sounds. Nicholson likened skateboarding to cooking in that, when cruisin’, you can do whatever tricks you want and you have to be ready for the bumps in the road. In the kitchen, chefs have to be able to roll with whatever is happening and need to be ready for anything.
“If I order 20 pounds of mahi-mahi and I get the order and it’s tuna,” he said, “I have to be loose enough to make it work.”
With the menu changes at Flatiron, Nicholson spends time practicing in his recently redone kitchen in Clintonville.
“I’ll listen to Dinosaur, Jr., Mountain Goats, old Boston – that’s a stalwart – Sabbath, anything that gets me going.”