Jambalaya is a classic one-pot recipe filled chicken, sausage, shrimp, and rice. Easy to prepare and completely irresistible, this Jambalaya Recipe includes all the classic flavors of true Cajun/Creole cooking including cajun seasoning and starts with finely diced onion, bell pepper, and celery- the Holy Trinity of Cajun Cooking. Learn all about this representative New Orleans dish, including how to make Jambalaya, below!
THE BEST JAMBALAYA RECIPE
Jambalaya is a special kind of comfort food. At least if you ask me.
Unlike many cold weather classics which sometimes fall flat, Jambalaya practically bursts from the pot with mouthwatering flavors from chicken, shrimp, and sausage all seasoned with generous amounts of cajun seasoning.
It also makes terrific couch food. Depending on the day of the week, time of night, or how many glasses of wine I’ve had, this can come in handy.
AUTHENTIC JAMBALAYA RECIPE INGREDIENTS
- Andouille sausage -typically bright red from all the seasoning and bursting with spicy goodness, Andouille sausage is pretty amazing. If you’re not a fan, feel free to substitute with a different sausage variety or leave out altogether.
- Chicken – Feel free to use chicken breasts or chicken thighs. I choose chicken breast meat as it is a little lighter.
- “holy trinity” – a Cajun soffrito of onions, celery, and bell pepper, this is the “base layer” of flavor for most Cajun meals. You may use any color bell pepper you wish.
- Cajun seasoning – You literally cannot make jambalaya without a good Cajun seasoning.
- Cayenne and Red Pepper Flakes – added for a little kick. Start with less and add more as needed since (a good) Cajun seasoning should already come with a little heat.
- Italian seasoning + Garlic – jambalaya is all about flavor! While a little Italian seasoning and garlic will not overwhelm the dish, it will add to it.
- Crushed tomatoes – the addition of tomatoes makes this a “creole jambalaya” (at least if we were to define it strictly by the inclusion of tomatoes). In any case, tomatoes add wonderful flavor and color.
- Worcestershire sauce – yep, more flavor.
- Long-grain white rice – a nice long-grain white rice is the traditional rice used to make jambalaya. Please do not use any kind of fast-cooking rice.
- low-sodium chicken broth – should the rice need more liquid as it cooks, you may add more, just take care not to add too much.
- Okra (or file powder) – not traditional, but I love the flavor
- Shrimp – big shrimp, little shrimp, or no shrimp, completely up to you!
- Parsley + Green onion – to garnish
Ok, so the list seems long, but trust me, it is a million times worth it.
WHAT IS JAMBALAYA?
Originating in Louisiana with French and Spanish influence, Jambalaya is typically made with meat and vegetables mixed with rice. Traditional Jambalaya almost always has some kind of smoked sausage (such as andouille sausage), in addition to one or two other meats. The vegetables, a mixture known as the “holy trinity”, usually consist of onion, celery, and green bell pepper. And while this “holy trinity” of vegetables is added to Jambalaya, traditional Jambalaya recipes are not usually vegetable-heavy. In other words, in terms of the ratio, there is far more meat and rice than vegetables.
WHAT IS THE “HOLY TRINITY” OF CAJUN COOKING?
The “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking, or “holy trinity”, is a soffrito-like mixture consisting of finely diced onion, celery, and green or red bell pepper. If you’re thinking- “right, ok, now what is a soffrito?” don’t worry, I was super confused by this as well.
- soffrito (also known as mirepoix)- a simple base made from finely diced vegetables (the mix of vegetables will vary by country and cuisine) that are cooked in butter or oil, low and slow as to sweeten the ingredients rather than caramelize them.
- “holy trinity”– a Cajun soffrito of onions, celery, and bell pepper.
Ok guys. Depending on who you ask this recipe may or may not be considered “authentic”. Actually, just kidding, it’s not 100% authentic because I included okra which is typically reserved for gumbo, but I’ll get to that in a sec. Anyway, while researching Jambalaya and learning all these fun and fantastic facts for you guys, I learned that there are actually two primary methods of making this magical one-pot wonder.
- Creole Jambalaya “red jambalaya”– Creole Jambalaya includes tomatoes and typically includes shrimp. Typically, the chicken and the sausage is added to the pot and cooked together with the “holy trinity”.
- Cajun Jambalaya “brown jambalaya”– unlike Creole Jambalaya, this version does not contain tomatoes. The meat is browned in the pot first, leaving bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pot, giving this version a deep brown color and lots of delicious added caramelized flavoring.
This jambalaya recipe is a mix of the two. I decided to take the best of both and mix them into one.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JAMBALAYA AND GUMBO?
This is a really fantastic question. Although quite similar, there are several major differences between Jambalaya and Gumbo.
The easiest way to remember the difference between Jambalaya and Gumbo is that Jambalaya is, at its core, a rice dish (much like paella). Of course, it has protein, vegetables, sometimes tomatoes, and rice and stock that are simmered together to make one big happy pot of spicy rice.
Gumbo, on the other hand, is more of a soup. Like Jambalaya, Gumbo contains a mix of vegetables and meat and some kind of shellfish, but the overall stock is thinner. In addition, the rice is cooked separately and added when served.
Which actually bring me to my next question…
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JAMBALAYA AND PAELLA?
After visiting Spain a million years ago I fell in love with their signature rice dish, Paella. It wasn’t until I started learning about Jambalaya, however, that I ever even considered a connection between Spanish and New Orleans cuisine, let alone Jambalaya and Paella. So what’s the difference?
There are several differences between Jambalaya and Paella.
- Paella uses a short grain Spanish rice while Jambalaya uses a long grain rice.
- The primary seasoning in Paella is saffron, where creole or Cajun seasoning is what you will use in Jambalaya.
- Paella is cooked in a wide, flat pan which causes the rice to crisp around the edges. Jambalaya is cooked in a large pot or Dutch oven.
- Traditional Paella is cooked on a fire, where Jambalaya is cooked on the stove.
Am I totally blowing your mind yet? Or am I the only one fascinated by all this food history?
HOW TO MAKE JAMBALAYA
- Pick your sausage. Depending on the sausage you purchase will determine if you should cook the sausage first whole and separate from the chicken, or, if you can pre-slice and sauté with the chicken. I purchased Cajun sausage that wasn’t smoked so it needed to be cooked whole first to prevent it from falling apart while cooking. If you use a sausage such as this or this, simply slice and cook with the chicken.
- Brown the meat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the sliced sausage, chicken pieces, and 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper and sauté for 6-8 minutes. Stir occasionally to cook evenly and prevent burning. Transfer the chicken and sausage to a clean plate and set aside.
- The “holy trinity”. To the same pot over medium heat add the last tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the minced onions, bell pepper, and celery, mixing well to combine. Sauté for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the minced garlic, Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper, cayenne, Italian season, and red pepper flakes. and sauté for an additional minute.
- Rice. Add the crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, white rice, and low-sodium chicken broth to the pot. Sit well to combine. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until the rice is nearly cooked through, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent the rice from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Add the shrimp and okra (optional). Stir in the shrimp and the sliced okra, mixing well to combine. Continue to cook on low, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are cooked, approximately 5 minutes. Add the chicken and sausage back to the pot and season with additional salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning, if desired. Remove from heat.
- Garnish. Serve warm garnished with chopped parsley and green onion if desired. Refrigerate leftovers in a sealed container for up to 4 days.
WHAT IS THE BEST RICE FOR JAMBALAYA?
The best rice for jambalaya is a long grain white rice. Basmati is a great alternative if long grain white rice is not available.
Fast-cooking rice or any kind of short grain white rice is not recommended.
TIPS & TRICKS
- Although it is traditional to add chicken, shrimp, and andouille sausage to jambalaya, feel free to add just one or two depending on what your favorites may be. Other protein additions may include white fish, such as cod, or firm tofu.
- Can’t get your hands on andouille sausage? Alternatives include Mexican chorizo, kielbasa, or any other spicy smoked sausage.
- If you are sensitive to spicy food I recommend skipping the cayenne powder, red chili flakes, and adding just half of the Cajun seasoning. On the other hand, if you love spicy foods, feel free to add a diced jalapeño at the same time as the holy trinity.
- There is no right or wrong shrimp for jambalaya. For me personally, I like the big fat ones (approximately 12-16 per pound) that are peeled with the tail on. That said, purchase what’s right for you.
- You may use fresh or frozen okra. My local market almost always has fresh available, but I know that isn’t always the case, so use what’s easiest for you. If you use frozen okra, be sure to thaw before adding to the jambalaya. On the other hand, if you aren’t a fan of okra, skip it and simply add file powder.
- Remember that jambalaya is a rice dish – it isn’t meant to be soupy.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH JAMBALAYA?
Jambalaya is one of the very best stand-alone meals. With so much bold and delicious flavor, it has everything you need all in one pot.
If you’re looking for something to serve with this one-pot wonder, my advice would be to keep it simple. No strong or overpowering flavors. Honey cornbread or fresh bread would be fantastic options in addition to a light and simple salad with a light vinaigrette.
You may also want to serve it with a fruit salad.
Since jambalaya is typically quite spicy, I definitely suggest pairing with a drink or cocktail that is cool and refreshing. An ice-cold Mojito or Gin and Tonic (or even a beer) would be my top picks.
If you try cooking this Easy Jambalaya Recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.