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Feb 16, 2011 03:44 PM

What makes Jambalaya Jambalaya?

Is it the type of meat/seafood, the spices, the tomatoes, the cooking method, the time of year you make it (Mardi Gras? Super Bowl?)? I've never made or eaten jambalaya and I'd like to try it. I saw there was a thread from last year with different recipes and they all seem different. Thanks!

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  1. That's a good question and I have only visited New Orleans and ate it there but I think that it's just a rice with stuff in it thing. I normally put in shrimp, crawfish, sausage, ground pork, ham. it's a meal. Jambalaya is a real treat, similar to dirty rice but with more stuff. I make it when I'm having casual buffet company, at least I used to, my father in law loved it but my husband died and so did his dad so I haven't made it in a long time but the recipe I use is from the Frugal Gourmet and it was very authentic and delicious.

    1. Jambalaya is like chili. There is no "official" recipe.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Antilope

        So I can't get it wrong, that's good to know!

      2. Well, there's two kinds. Creole jambalaya uses more stock and tomatoes and reminds me a bit of paella, while Cajun jambalaya is tomato-less and drier in texture. The words Cajun and Creole get tossed around and confused a lot. As a rule of thumb, Creole is more New Orleans "melting pot" cuisine, and Cajun is more swamp-country central Louisiana.

        What makes jambalaya jambalaya for me is definitely the spicing, plus some smokiness from the meat. I don't care whether it's shrimp or crawfish or sausage or chicken... but vegetarian jambalaya usually lacks something, in my experience.

        Even though I love tomatoes, I prefer the Cajun style. If you want to try it without a lot of effort, go grab a Zatarain's box mix. It's not inauthentic, it's EASY and you can get an idea of the dish before you try making it from scratch. For the meat, I recommend some combination of Hillshire Farm smoked sausage, Andouille, and leftover rotisserie chicken. And I always throw in some extra bell pepper if I have any in the house. Serve with Crystal hot sauce, or Tabasco works in a pinch.

        Once you know what it's supposed to taste like, more or less, you'll be in much better shape to evaluate all the different versions out there and tweak to your taste.

        8 Replies
        1. re: asheblogs

          You can't go wrong with any recipe on Gumbopages, either:

          He's got four jambalaya recipes, two red, two brown.

          1. re: asheblogs

            Thank you Ashe, that is great information. My daughter is going to school in New Orleans and I'll be visiting her at the end of March, so maybe I'll spend a few days sampling jambalaya. And I'll definitely check out those recipes.

            1. re: Linda513

              For an interesting (and delicious) variation on Cajun (tomato-less) jambalaya, go to Crescent Pie and Sausage when you're in New Orleans and try Bad Bart's Black Jambalaya.

              1. re: Linda513


                I used to go to UNO and got some excellent jambalaya (and sanwiches) from sammy's because of this article:

              2. re: asheblogs

                Thank you for that link! I am making jambalaya today and can use all the help I can get because it's not a part of my family's food tradition nor is it featured locally. I was going to add my only tip to this thread: Use homemade stock! so it was funny that your site puts that front and center!

              3. re: asheblogs

                Good explanation, asheblogs. I agree with you that trying a Zatarain's boxed jambalaya is a good idea to see if you like the dish, before spending a few hours making it from scratch.

                I prefer a Cajun style, though I grew up on a Creole style, not necessarily authentic, but my mom used a southern recipe that had tomatoes in it. I only use paste or a highly seasoned (usually Mexican, since I am in LA) tomato sauce, and you cannot even detect the tomato in the finished dish, but it contributes to the spice flavor and the liquid that helps cook the rice.

                Also, I only use fresh chicken thighs, and season them well before browning first, then using the fat in the pan to brown the smoked sausage. Then the browned thighs go in to finish cooking with the rest of the ingredients. I think it lends much more flavor than just adding cooked chicken to the end product.

                1. re: Phurstluv

                  Wow--I wondered where you'd been, Phurstluv.
                  I agree: good jambalaya (and I too prefer Cajun-style) takes full advantage of the fat/juices/fond from whatever meats are going into it.

                  1. re: nomadchowwoman

                    Hi friend, yes it's been awhile, guess I needed a little break! And I knew a true southern belle (from LA, right?) would agree!

              4. A good freind from New Orleans who taught me how to make Jambalaya insits you must use Andouille Sausage. Other meats / seafood are interchangeable depending on your mood, but you have to use Andouille Sausage. Brown the meats and remove, then slow cook green pepper and onion with lots of tyme in the drippings for about 20 minutes, add rice and saute for a few minutes, then stock and meats/seafood. Spice with Trappey's or a similar hot sauce.

                3 Replies
                1. re: chezfredo

                  This is great, I can't wait to start trying my own jambalaya. Thank you!

                  1. re: chezfredo

                    fredo just about nailed my answer to what makes jambalaya jambalaya:
                    Brown the meats and remove, then slow cook vegetables in the drippings, add rice and saute for a few minutes, then add stock and meats plus seafood is optional but good if you have it.
                    Agree with antilope - there is no one right recipe. Very much agree with ashe to check in with Chuck at gumbopages.

                    1. re: AreBe


                      I think it's largely a technique more so than a certain flavour or aroma or texture. It doesn't really matter so much which meat or plants or spices you use.

                      1. Meat goes into the pan, browns, and comes out.
                      2. Plants go into the pan.
                      3. Meat goes back in. Broth and uncooked rice go in.

                      If you use a box mix, you just put that in instead of rice.

                  2. Fun thread, especially with Mardi Gras right around the corner. i've never tried jambalaya but in response to whoever recommended Zatarain's, I've found all of their things really overloaded with sodium.

                    I love gumbo but will have to try jambalaya. I make paella on a regular basis and the underlying current of saffron is "Paella" to me. Is that what the andouille is to jambalaya?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Barbara76137

                      Unfortunately I had the same experience. There aren't any shortcuts for good jumbalaya.

                      1. re: Barbara76137

                        Zatarains has low sodium jambalaya mixes, I use them pretty often, and the time of year means nothing. We eat it year round.

                        Mardi Gras foods hve more to do with what you can bring with you on the parade route without having t carry tons of stuff, now if you live on or near the parade route, then I would do some jambalaya.