Jambalaya is a crowd pleasing favorite at parties and special occasions. But did you know that you can also enjoy Jambalaya as an everyday meal at home? Our easy Jambalaya recipe is ideal for those times when you want to serve the classic New Orleans dish to a small crowd of four people.
When your life revolves around food, your memories are filled with epiphanies – those moments of discovery when you eat something so shockingly new that mastering it becomes a life mission. Like many, we have vivid memories of our first gastronomic meals, our first New York bagels and our first plates of authentic Texas barbecue.
Such was the case when Daryl tasted Jambalaya for the first time.
He can still remember that first bowl served by a friend’s stepmother on a college trip to the Mississippi coastline. It was a dish that had everything he loved. It had shrimp. It had smokey, spicy andouille sausage and, most of all, it possessed a flavor that permeated the rice – a savoriness that only exists in the Bayou. It wasn’t saucy but it was velvety, with a special flavor that didn’t exist back home in Philadelphia.
As the years passed, he later enjoyed great renditions of the dish at annual Mardi Gras parties, subpar renditions at various chain restaurants (some made with pasta – arrgh!!) and finally, with Mindi, his favorite version at Coop’s Place in New Orleans.
At Coop’s, a deceptively good New Orleans restaurant disguised as a neighborhood bar, his first bowl of the dish was almost an afterthought, served in a soup cup. He ordered the small. They make a large version served in bowl. After one bite, he knew that this was a serious cup of Jambalaya.
It was thick with pieces of fresh shrimp with local andouille sausage. The flavor of tomato was pleasant but the dish wasn’t saucy. Coop’s Jambalaya also has little brown caramelized bits that created deep special flavors. Daryl later realized that Jambalaya is a dish that’s easy to make if you have the right ingredients.
Shrimp? Sure the curly crustaceans are best along the Gulf Coast but, due to the magic of flash freezing, the critters hold their own on a journey across the world. The holy trinity? You can buy onions, celery and green bell peppers almost anywhere in the world.
Andouille Sausage? Ok. This one’s a bit trickier but producers can ship decent quality Andouille to your front door. Sure, Andouille sausage that you order online or buy at your local market won’t be as good as the product for sale in Louisiana. But some of the Andouille widely available these days acts as a fine substitute.
What Is Jambalaya And Where Did It Come From?
We can trace Jambalaya to many origins and they all seem plausible.
Essentially, Jambalaya could be considered a pilaf – a dish in which rice is slow cooked with spices, meat and vegetables. Pilafs (sometimes referred to as Pilau) made their way from Asia all the way to Spain. The word Jambalaya originates in France, specifically Provence where this particular pilaf’s roots can be traced. However, it seems that a huge range of cultures and nationalities have had their hand in this great dish.
Some believe that Spain’s Paella influenced the dish. That may be true, especially considering the dish’s reddish tomato tinted color. This theory contemplates Spanish settlers in New Orleans using tomato paste as a substitute for the saffron used to tint Paella. But it’s also important to remember the influence of Africa’s Jollof rice on the dish. In fact, Jambalaya may be closest to Jollof, an African dish with similar ingredients like onions and tomatoes, in texture and color.
Jambalaya reminds us that food is a living thing with a continuum that changes with every year, every distance and every melding of culture. Nothing in food is fixed and a great dish like Jambalaya epitomizes this concept. It’s literally a dish that combines Spanish, French and African traditions. But it also incorporates other international culinary influences from countries like Italy (think risotto) and even China (hello scallions).
These are all of the ingredients you need to prepare delicious Jambalaya at home:
In this and other Jambalaya recipes, most of the work is in the prep. You’ll need to chop the classic Louisiana ‘trinity’ of celery, green pepper and onion. Our recipe includes some garlic and you’ll need to chop that too.
With the exception of the andouille, which may be more commonly found in certain regions of the USA, you should be able to find everything at your local supermarket.
Read on for details about the recipe’s key ingredients.
Any good, long grain, jasmine white rice will work in this recipe. It’s that simple.
You’ll want a good amount of starch present when the dish is finished so, as opposed to many Asian recipes, there’s no need to wash the surface starch off the rice. The finished Jambalaya should be starchy and thick.
We like to cut our sausage lengthwise in half and then in ½ inch slices.
As we said before, you should be able to find decent smoked andouille sausage at most American supermarkets. If not, you can always order it through Amazon or directly from Louisiana.
In a pinch, you can use cooked, smoked sausage like Polish kielbasa but look for andouille first. We found a cooked and smoked sausage product at our local Portuguese supermarket that’s so similar to Andouille that we jumped on it. We now keep a couple packs in the freezer – it’s that good.
You should use the best tomato puree possible.
We use tomato passata since it’s widely available where we live. You don’t need a lot. When most recently preparing the recipe, we used a half a cup mixed with water.
You want the tomato flavor to be present in the dish. However, too much tomato will overwhelm the unique flavors of the trinity.
We recommend buying 16-20 frozen shrimp for this recipe. You can either keep them whole or cut them in half.
We like to brine our shrimp with a tablespoon of salt in about 2 cups of water for about 20 minutes before cooking.
Get instructions on how to clean and prep the shrimp prior to cooking.
We use boneless skinless chicken thighs in this recipe. If you use chicken breast, it can be overcooked and tough. The thigh’s abundance of connective tissue makes it virtually impossible to overcook.
Some supermarkets only sell the thighs bone-in and skin-on but you should be able to find boneless, skinless thighs if you ask at the butcher counter. If necessary, you can debone and deskin them yourself.
The Holy Trinity – Onions, Green Pepper And Celery
The trinity of onion, green pepper and celery bring the flavor of Louisiana.
Over the centuries, probably due to necessity, the common French combination of base vegetables called a mirepoix evolved from carrot, celery and onion to green pepper, celery and onion. The vegetal, green, earthy flavors of Louisiana’s holy trinity give New Orleans food a flavor that’s unmistakable.
You’ll want to finely chop your trinity but, as is often the case with the food of Louisiana, the cuts don’t have to be exact. Rusticity is a plus. Once you begin sautéing the trinity, it will perfume your kitchen with scents of the Bayou.
Some Jambalaya recipes, like the recipe in Serious Eats, call for straining whole tomatoes and chopping them. Our recipe takes a different approach.
A small amount of tomato puree, mixed with some water, adds a bit of thickness and caramelization to the finished Jambalaya that’s tasty without being saucy. In this approach, the tomato acts as a component in the dish but not the star performer. We also add a little tomato paste for thickness.
Chicken broth provides the primary cooking liquid in our Jambalaya recipe. We call for a 2:1 liquid to rice ratio using one part tomato water and two parts broth.
You can use store bought chicken stock but it’s better to make stock from home. It’s not a deal breaker if you use store bought stock by choice or necessity.
Spices And Herbs
Some Jambalaya recipes take the easy route and call for the addition of a Cajun seasoning or New Orleans spice blend. However, it’s easy enough to add individual spices which is what we do in our recipe.
We use a combination of cayenne powder (for heat), smoked paprika (for a bit of mellow smokiness), onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, salt and a healthy amount of black pepper (for bite). We also add a little flat leaf parsley for freshness and herbaceousness.
We don’t know who first added scallions to Jambalaya or when that happened. But we do know that sprinkling freshly chopped scallion into the finished dish adds a pleasant crunchy dimension that we appreciate.
How To Make Jambalaya
We’ve been entranced by this rustic, legendary party dish for years. But, as it turns out, preparing Jambalaya at home can be one of the simplest things to do any night of the week.
Our recipe only requires one pot and, once the prep is done, can be cooked in about a half hour.
Start by assembling all of your ingredients. Some people streamline the process by chopping the trinity while the sausage or chicken is browning but, considering the amount of ingredients in this recipe, that’s not necessary. You can and should assemble your mise en place first.
Set a medium mixing bowl aside. Once you start cooking, you can use it when you remove browned chicken and sausage from the pot before cooking the rice to make sure these ingredients don’t burn.
Pour your vegetable oil into a heavy pot, preferably a Dutch Oven, on medium heat.
Once the oil is shimmering, add the chicken thighs. Cook the thighs until they have browned and released from the bottom of the pan.
Remove the thighs from the pan.
Add the andouille. You won’t need to add any additional vegetable oil since the sausage will render a bit more fat into the pot. Once browned, move the andouille to the same side bowl as the chicken.
Add the trinity and cook until softened. Add the spices and the tomato paste. Once the tomato paste and spices have cooked a bit, add the rice. Add the tomato liquid, the browned chicken and the browned sausage once the rice has been thoroughly mixed with the seasonings
Be aware that a good amount of fond will form on the bottom of the pan before you add the rice and liquid. Once you add the liquid, you’ll want to thoroughly scrape the bottom of the pot. This will prevent the bottom from burning. We scrape the bottom of the pot after we add the broth and tomato liquid.
These wonderful brown bits, similar to Soccarat In Spanish paella, add occasional flavorful, caramelly bites to the finished dish.
Some recipes, like the one in Serious Eats, call for the Jambalaya to be placed in the oven. Our recipe doesn’t have this step. Instead, a small fire gives the dish a crusty bottom without burning the rice since the fond is scraped from the bottom of the pot before the rice is cooked.
Once you’ve scraped the bottom of the pot, bring the liquid to a full boil and then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. This is a sizable dish and, unlike most rice recipes, you’ll want to provide plenty of heat in order to thoroughly cook the rice.
Cover the pan and cook the rice over a small fire for about 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, remove the lid and add the shrimp. Thoroughly mix the shrimp with the rice, recover and cook for five minutes.
After five minutes, while keeping the pot covered, remove the pot from the heat and let it set for five minutes. The shrimp should now be pink in color.
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- 1½ cups long grain white rice
- ½ cup tomato puree diluted with a 1/2 cup of water
- 2 cups homemade chicken stock (or low sodium chicken broth)
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- ½ pound andouille (or other kind of spiced smoked sausage cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
- ½ pound chicken thighs (boneless and skinless, cut into one inch pieces)
- ½ pound large shrimp (fully peeled and deveined)
- ½ medium onion (finely chopped)
- 1 rib celery (finely chopped)
- ½ large green bell pepper (finely chopped)
- 4 cloves fresh garlic
- 1 tablespoon parsley
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper powder (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Pour oil into a large heavy pot on a stove over a medium fire. (We like to use a Dutch oven.)
- When the oil is heated (it should be shimmering), add the chicken thigh pieces and cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot.
- Add the andouille to the pot. Cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pot.
- Add the onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
- Add the rice to the pot and stir. Then add the cayenne pepper powder, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano and tomato paste. Stir together with the rice and cook for about two minutes until the rice, spices and tomato paste are incorporated. A layer of brown fond will form on the bottom of the pot.
- Turn the heat to high. Return the browned chicken and browned sausage to the pot. Add the tomato liquid along with the chicken broth, making sure to scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Bring the liquid to a boil and, once boiling, reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
- Cover the pot and cook for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, uncover the pot, add the shrimp and stir to incorporate. Cover the pot and continue to cook over low heat.
- Take the pot off of the heat and let sit for five more minutes.
- You can reserve the shrimp shells and heads for later use.
- Serve with toasted baguette slices.
- This recipe can be halved or doubled.
Hungry For More Rice Dishes?
About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
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Original Publication Date: February 27, 2022