Jambalaya is one of my top ten favorite foods. It’s delicious, simple to make, nourishing, and affordable.
Rice with meat, vegetables, and spices. It’s a common combination dish across so many different cultures. The spices vary, to be sure, and the meats and produce are more-or-less based on availability. But the concept is basically the same.
It’s also one of the great answers to the what should I do with these leftovers question.
This is a one pot meal.
I recommend using an enameled cast-iron one if you have it or at least a heavy dutch oven.
You’ll need a good wooden spoon as well — it’s the official spoon of my jambalaya.
A Little Backstory
I grew up in the upper mid-west moving all over Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. And we didn’t have jambalaya growing up. Just wasn’t something there was.
And that’s a shame.
I was in my early twenties when my wife and I found ourselves in New Orleans for the first time — my first, I should say, not hers. We arrived late at night and checked into the hotel and immediately crashed to sleep. Since I am very much a morning person, it was still dark when I followed the desk clerk’s advice and wandered down Decatur Street into the French Quarter. I ambled into the Cafe du Monde while it was still prepping for service and the customers were mostly the people getting ready to start work soon somewhere in the Quarter. I was the only tourist at that moment, most likely, but no one was awake enough to really care. I sat down at a table with a couple of others and ordered Cafe au Lait and beignets.
I suspect it was the whimper I’d let out that brought my table companions’ eyes up level with mine. I think I just said, “So good,” through an amateur cloud of powdered sugar but they smiled and went back to their newspapers.
A bit of small talk later I’d told them how we were in town unexpectedly and I asked where we should visit, what we should not miss seeing, and where we should eat. I told them — and I swear they did not believe me — I had never really had Cajun or Creole food.
So they gave me a short list of where they ate and what they ordered.
So we went to those places and ordered that food.
We went to Coop’s later that day. It was just down Decatur from the Cafe. (I haven’t been there in a while but I hope it’s still just as good as it was.) As I remember, it had the typical sausage, chicken, and shrimp. But it also had rabbit!
Jambalaya is one of those dishes where everybody who makes it has their own recipe. And we take it seriously too. I was told it began as a way for the Spanish to make paella with the ingredients and spices found in Louisiana. I make a lot of paella and the technique is similar enough.
Legend has it this was the first recorded recipe for Jambalaya.
I learned my way from some time spent at the New Orleans School of Cooking many, many years ago. And I have tried dozens of variations, some from other people and some I just fiddled with along the way.
For me, it’s a dish for using leftovers. And it’s possible that it’s never been exactly the same twice. But it’s almost always good and sometimes, and this is why we make it, sometimes it’s fantastic. Spiritual even. And I’ve collected my share of recipes over the years — I have at least a dozen different ones from Emeril Lagasse alone! My favorite being Clean Out the Ice Box and Freezer Jambalaya. That’s the spirit!
Always starts with the trinity: onion, celery, green bell pepper, diced. Then some diced tomatoes and spices. (Creole-style has tomatoes, Cajun-style does not.)
Except for shrimp or crawfish, cook your meats first. Use a glug of olive oil if they’re on the lean side.
By the way, you can substitute some firm vegetables like kidney beans or chickpeas or even diced eggplant and use vegetable broth to make this vegetarian. It’s not authentic but I think the spices and the rice will still win you over.
Remove the meat to a bowl using a slotted spoon and set it aside for now.
Cook the holy trinity (onion, celery, and green pepper) in a bit of olive oil until it starts to get tender.
Then, add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more.
Next, add the spices, chopped tomatoes, and rice and let it all toast for a few minutes. Stir it well to coat the rice.
And finally add back the meat and the stock.
For the meat, I like andouille sausage and chicken and/or shrimp. I’ve used everyday smoked sausage many times though. A bit of ham or crawfish certainly are welcome too. Remember: leftovers. I also normally use chicken stock but I’ve used seafood and vegetable too — depends on what I have.
Stir in some green onion at the end and serve.
Suppertime Blues Jambalaya
This is my version, tweaked over many years from the starter I learned at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Enjoy.
- 2 tablespoons oil, butter, or lard
- 1 onion, medium, diced see note
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups tomatoes, diced
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon worcestershire
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne More if you like heat, less if you don't.
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1 pound andouille or good smoked sausage, sliced into coins
- 1 pound chicken, diced or shrimp or 1/2 pound of each
- 2 cups long-grain rice
- 5 cups chicken stock Or broth if needed.
- 1 bunch green onion, chopped
Cook the chicken over medium-high heat and set aside.
Cook the sausage coins over medium-high heat and set aside.
Melt the oil in a dutch oven or stock pot and cook the onion, green bell pepper, and celery until it starts to soften - about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently to keep it from burning.
Add the tomatoes and the spices. Cook for another few minutes.
Add the meats, rice, and stock. Stir well and bring to a boil.
Cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the rice is tender but not mushy. About thirty minutes with the heat just right. If the liquid is gone but the rice isn't quite done, add a bit more stock or water and lower the heat a tad.
If using shrimp or crawfish, add them now and cook for just a few minutes --you don't want to overcook them.
Stir in the chopped green onions just before serving.
For the trinity ratio, you're looking at about 2x onion to 1x green pepper and 1x celery. So, for example, 1 cup onion, 1/2 cup of the others. But I never toss food for this because it's a touch over or under -- I make do. Use the whole medium onion, the whole green pepper, and a few celery stalks.
The first time I had this, they served me an ice cold Abita TurboDog beer with it.
P.S. Warning: cooking this can reduce cats to a silent, hopeful, and expectant daze.