What Is Jambalaya?
Jambalaya is a rice dish from southern Louisiana, featuring the spicy sausages and seafood local to the region. There are a few theories about the origins of jambalaya: Jambalaya may have originated as a variation of West African jollof rice; or it may have emerged during the Spanish occupation of Louisiana during the late eighteenth century, its name a portmanteau of jamón (ham) and paella. Another theory is that jambalaya developed first in Provence, France, under the name jambalaia (mixture).
To make jambalaya, you first brown the meat, which is often pork and sausages. Then add the holy trinity of bell pepper, celery, and onion to the fat. Finally, toss rice—which has grown on the Mississippi river since the early eighteenth century—with the meat and veggies, and cook it in fish or chicken stock with Creole and Cajun seasonings.
7 Essential Jambalaya Ingredients
Though recipes for jambalaya vary, there are several consistent ingredients.
- Rice: You can make jambalaya with short or long-grain white rice, but it's important that the rice isn't sticky—you want individual grains rather than clumps of rice.
- Seafood: In areas where oysters, crawfish, and shrimp are abundant, seafood jambalaya is common.
- Meat: Andouille sausage and tasso, a Cajun-seasoned ham, are jambalaya classics. You can also add chicken thighs or breasts.
- The holy trinity: The Cajun holy trinity is a flavor base similar to Spanish sofrito and French mirepoix. It consists of green or red bell pepper, celery, and onion (and sometimes garlic cloves).
- Stock: You can make jambalaya with water, but the best jambalayas include a flavorful homemade chicken stock or fish stock.
- Creole and Cajun spices: Paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and oregano are just some of the spices that feature in Louisiana cuisine, including jambalaya.
- Tomatoes: Creole or New Orleans-style red jambalaya includes diced tomatoes; Cajun brown jambalaya does not.
Classic Cajun Jambalaya Recipe
Prep Time15 min
Total Time1 hr 10 min
Cook Time55 min
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
- ¼ pound salt pork, chopped into 1-inch cubes (or substitute cooked ham or bacon)
- ½ pound andouille sausage, sliced ½ inch thick (or substitute another smoked sausage such as kielbasa or chorizo)
- ½ pound hot Italian sausage, sliced ½ inch thick (or substitute another spicy, uncooked sausage)
- ½ pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped into 1-inch cubes
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and minced
- 2 stalks celery, minced
- 3 cups long-grain rice
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or hot sauce, plus more to taste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 4 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- Heat oil in a Dutch oven, large pot, or very large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Add pork, sausage, and chicken breast. Sauté meat until lightly browned and fat has rendered out, about 5–10 minutes.
- Once fat has rendered, add onion, bell pepper, and celery, and cover, stirring occasionally until softened and fragrant, about 5–10 more minutes. Add rice and stir to coat.
- Add remaining ingredients except the green onions, and increase heat to medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is fully absorbed, about 25–30 minutes. If necessary, add water to prevent drying out. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Fluff with a fork, garnish with green onions, and serve warm with hot sauce.
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