Jambalaya (pronounced as juhm-buh-LIE-yah) may sound like an exotic dish from Africa, but it is a dish that hailed from New Orleans, Louisiana. This Creole dish is a favorite among Southerners because it’s full of flavor, filling and inexpensive to cook.
While the origin of the dish is yet to be established, the most popular theory is that it was derived from the Spanish dish paella, which is a savory mix of rice, seafood, and meat. The word Jambalaya is also believed to be a slur of the French word “jambon” which means “ham” and the African words “a la” and “ya” which translates to “meat with rice.”
Another prevailing theory, points out that the Oxford dictionary in 1872 attributed the word “Jambalaya” to the French-Provencal word “jambalaia” which means “stew with rice fowl.”
I believe all these stories hold their truths because Jambalaya is indeed a stew-like dish with rice, meat (sausage, bacon, chicken or ham), seafood (usually shrimp) and vegetables cooked in chicken stock.
In this article, I will you show you several easy to prepare Jambalaya dishes and what other food or dishes goes along well with it.
How to Cook the Perfect Jambalaya
While the essential ingredients of Jambalaya remain the same, there are hundreds of ways this dish is prepared, especially in Louisiana. To this day, there are two principle types of Jambalaya- those with tomatoes (New Orleans version) and those that don’t (Cajun version). Regardless, both versions are delicious and very tasty especially when prepared well.
Celebrity chef Josh Besh also has his take on the dish, which he says he got from his mother. I love his recipe because it’s a bit different than the usual Jambalaya that uses ham or sausage.
Common Ingredients of Jambalaya
Below are the basic ingredients to make a mouth-watering Jambalaya:
Jambalaya is also best cooked using a cast-iron pot or a pressure cooker. You can also add your own choice of veggies and spices in the basic recipe.
Proper Cooking Method and Techniques
Preparing Jambalaya can vary from person to person. However, there are several proven approaches and techniques, I recommend, which can bring out the best flavors of this dish. Here’s how I usually do it:
1. I always start off with sautéing the meat under medium heat until brown.
2. Next up, I sauté garlic together with onion, bell pepper and celery (a.k.a. the “Holy Trinity) and cook until brown. Toss in bell pepper, thyme or any other spices of your choice.
3. You, then add the rice, next to the chicken stock and bring it to a boil.
4. Cover the pot and reduce heat before simmering. I usually cook it anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes (depending on the variety of rice) or until the rice is tender and the liquid fully absorbed.
5. Open the lid of the pot and add in the shrimp. Cook for another 2 minutes or until the shrimp has become red.
6. Garnish with chopped spring onions.
Reminder: Resist the urge to check if the rice is OK. Only open the lid after the allotted time to make sure the flavor settles in quite well.
Important Tips on Preparing Jambalaya
1. Cast iron pot is best for cooking Jambalaya because it distributes the heat evenly.
2. The ideal rice to water ratio is 1 is to 2. For example, if you are cooking 1 lb. of rice (roughly less than ½ kilo) then you should put a liter of
3. After the rice is added, don’t stir the Jambalaya. Turn rather than stir to prevent the rice grains from breaking up.
4. If you are using pork, never use a lean pork chop or any thinly sliced white meat. Instead, use pork Boston butt or pork temple.
5. Aside from chicken stock (mostly used for Cajun variant), you can also use seafood or shrimp stock especially if you’re cooking the Creole Jambalaya.
6. Use fresh produce as much as possible. Frozen or thawed veggies are not as tasty because they usually have their cell structure broken from the cold.
7. Once served, it’s better to scoop from the pot or cauldron’s bottom so that the rice gets evenly mixed with other ingredients.
What to Serve with Jambalaya
With my collective experience of cooking and eating Jambalaya, I could say that it goes well with almost anything. However, there are certain foods that when paired with Jambalaya produces a heavenly gastronomic experience. Among my favorites are:
- Mixed veggies as sides- whenever I make the Cajun version, I usually pair it with different vegetables such as fried or steamed okra, potatoes, red beans, broccoli or squash. It depends on what’s available in the fridge, but these are my absolute faves.
- Bananas Foster- whether the Jambalaya is spicy or mild, it’s best served with a full-flavored dessert. My go-to dessert, though, is banana foster with its over-the-top sweetness and gentle rum flavor.
- Wine or any beverage- because Jambalaya can be served almost any time of the day, it can be complemented with a wide variety of drinks. I love pairing it with wine, but even carbonated drinks are perfect.
Jambalaya Recipes You Should Try
I’ve cooked many Jambalaya recipes which I got from friends and sometimes over the Internet. There were also instances that I put my spin on the dish, from adding new ingredients and changing a thing or two from its cooking method. It yielded me different results, but so far here are the recipes which I loved so much, that I recommend you try them:
- Chicken and Shrimp Jambalaya- this one’s a real keeper and will have you wanting for more. Surprisingly, the chicken and shrimp complement each other well.
- Sausage Jambalaya- recommended for someone with an adventurist taste as this one is a bit spicy. The turkey sausage is very flavorful, and the dish has balanced natural flavors.
- Crawfish Jambalaya- a low-calorie alternative to shrimp, this dish is best served during the hot summer nights. I also threw in some oysters to make it a complete seafood Jambalaya.
- Jambalaya Salad with Cesar- a huge hit especially if you love crunchy veggies like me. The citrus-pepper dressing gives it a tangy flavor that will surely give you a foodgasm.
Jambalaya is a perfect meal not only because of its rich flavor but also because it’s already full of ingredients that will energize your body. While there are tons of ways of preparing this dish, it never loses its one defining essence- a hearty meal that is a testament to Louisiana’s rich culture and history.
I sure hope that you learned a thing or two from my story about Jambalaya. Do you also have your way of preparing Jambalaya? Write us a comment below to share your experience or better yet share us your recipes and what other food you pair with it.