Either I pulled this one from a Mark Bittman recipe or out of my ass.  Either way.

What’s the difference between jambalaya and gumbo?  As far as I can tell, technically nothing.  Jamba tends to have rice in it, while gumbo doesn’t.  Gumbo tends to have file powder and okra in it, while jamba doesn’t.  Spiritually, however, there seems to be a world of difference.  Jambalaya seems, to me, to be a more civilized dish, a kind of thick stew married to a starch.  Gumbo seems to be a myth more than anything else.

I’ve come closer and closer to that line between jamba and gumbo, and I’m not sure where I am anymore.  I’m going to say this batch was jamba, though, because I didn’t do any voodoo over it.  It only took a half hour to make, too.

Jamba on Polenta
1 lb andouille sausage, removed from its casings
2 T red wine vinegar
3 T butter
3 T flour
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 stalk of celery, diced finely; another stalk (with leaves), sliced
1/4 red pepper, diced finely; the rest of the pepper cut in strips
several sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped off
1/2 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined, thawed if frozen
1 can good diced tomatoes
salt
pepper
hot sauce
1 pkg prepared polenta
1/2 to 1 c milk
1 oz freshly-grated parmesan or other hard cheese

Cook the sausage over high heat until cooked through, stirring constantly and breaking up the chunks in the pan. The idea is to add some burnt bits to the pan without drying the sausage out too much. Remove the sausage to the side. Use the red wine vinegar to help scrape up the bits at the bottom, then add the butter and flour, stirring quickly to break up the flour before lumps form. Lower the heat to medium and stir the roux until it turns brownish; scrape the pan constantly. Add the thyme and diced garlic, celery, and red pepper, and stir constantly until soft and fragrant, a couple of minutes. Add the shrimp and raise the heat to medium-high; cook until the shrimp is browned on the outside but not cooked through. Add the tomatoes and sausage and cover, lowering heat to medium.

Meanwhile, put the polenta in a saucepan over medium heat and add the milk, using a wooden spoon to break up the polenta. When it’s about the consistency of a good bowl of cream of wheat, turn off the heat and add the cheese and salt to taste.

After about 10 minutes, check the jamba and season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Serve the jamba over the polenta, with the red pepper strips and celery slices on top. Parmesan on top might not be a bad idea, either.