What is jambalaya?
Jambalaya is probably one of the most emblematic dishes of Louisiana!
It is a one-pot meal composed of meat and vegetables that are mixed with rice. Traditionally, it includes smoked sausage like andouille, mixed with other meat or seafood, including chicken, pork, crawfish, or shrimp.
Louisiana has historically been influenced by several peoples and cultures, all of whom claim a role in the paternity of the jambalaya recipe. Indeed, the Spaniards, French, Creoles, Cajuns, as well as Africans, probably influenced this iconic dish of the South.
What is the origin of jambalaya?
The origin of the name of the dish itself is subject to controversy.
Another possible origin is that the word “jambalaya” is based on the Provençal word jambalaia. The word appeared in a French-Provençal dictionary in 1878, but had first been used in a Provençal poem in 1837 (Leis amours de Vanus, by Fourtunat Chailan). The word means mishmash, much like the dish itself.
Yet another popular story suggests that the word jambalaya comes from the Spanish word jamón (“ham”) associated with paella. However, this story doesn’t seem to have legs, as ham is not an ingredient of the traditional recipe, and Spanish speakers would say “paella con jamón” as opposed to jamón paella.
Still, jambalaya was probably an attempt to recreate saffron-scented paella using New World ingredients like tomato. The earliest recipe also called for a type of sausage called chaurice, a version of Spanish chorizo.
A far-fetched theory comes from the story of a traveller who was staying in an old guesthouse in Louisiana. One night, he asked the cook named Jean to “sweep something together” in French. “Jean, balayez!” would eventually become “jambalaya”.
Native Americans also probably influenced this dish. They have come up with a theory to explain its origin. Indeed, the Atakapa tribe claims that jambalaya originates from the phrase “Sham, pal ha! Ya!” meaning “Be full, not skinny! Eat Up!”
What is certain is that the authentic jambalaya recipe has benefited from the influences of various similar rice dishes including paella (Spanish), jambalaia (French provençal) or jollof (West African).
Gumbo vs. Jambalaya
Jambalaya is also similar to other Louisianan staples such as gumbo or étouffé. Gumbo is very similar. However, the stewed meat and vegetables are typically served over white rice and that the dish includes filé powder and okra. Filé powder is a spice made from the dried and ground leaves of the North American sassafras tree.
Étouffée, on the other hand, is a stew which always includes shellfish, often crayfish. Like gumbo, it is usually served over separately prepared white rice.
Hoppin’ John is also a traditional rice dish from Louisiana. It is mostly composed of black-eyed peas, onions and bacon.
How to make jambalaya
There are two primary methods for making an authentic jambalaya rice recipe. Those methods primarily differ by the presence of tomatoes.
The first method is called Creole or “red jambalaya”. It obviously includes tomatoes.
The second method is more traditional of southwestern and south-central Louisiana. It is called Cajun or brown jambalaya and doesn’t contain any tomato.
Creole jambalaya originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans. As stated earlier, it was an attempt to make paella without saffron which was available. Tomatoes became the substitute for saffron. You can find this creole version primarily in and around New Orleans.
Cajun jambalaya comes from Louisiana’s rural, low-lying swamp country. In this region, crawfish, shrimps, oysters, alligators, ducks, turtles, boars and venisons are plentiful and these are the traditional meats being used in the Cajun version. This version is also known as “brown jambalaya” as the meats, typically browned at the bottom of a cast-iron pot, give this recipe its particular color.
The Cajun people descend from a group of French Canadians who were expelled from the former French colony Acadia (Eastern Canada) in the late 18th century, and settled in Louisiana’s low-lying swamps.
Cajun cuisine is considered rough and robust. Dark roux and very spicy flavors often characterize the cuisine. It also often includes large amounts of animal fat. Creole cuisine tends to be more refined with the use of ingredients like cream and butter.
You may also prepare this Southern recipe in a slow cooker (crockpot) or a pressure cooker (instant pot).
You can also adjust the heat of the recipe by adding more Cajun seasoning or hot sauce.
Make this very easy chicken and sausage jambalaya recipe at home and you will feel transported to the French Quarter!
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- 1 green bell pepper , seeded and chopped
- 1 stalk celery , finely chopped
- 1 lb smoked sausage (andouille), cut into ¾ inch slices
- 1 lb chicken breast , cubed
- 28 oz diced tomatoes (canned)
- 15 oz tomato sauce (canned)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon creole seasoning (recipe below)
- 1-½ cups rice
- 3 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon basil
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
- Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Add the onion, bell pepper and celery and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add sausage and chicken and cook for about 10 minutes.
Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaves, broth, Creole or Cajun seasoning and rice. Cover and simmer on low heat for about 40 minutes.