HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


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!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.

                      2. Jambalaya is a cajun or creole rice pilaf. You almost always start by sweating onions, bell pepper and celery (known as "the trinity" in Louisiana). Jambalaya almost always has cajun or creole spices including cayenne.

                        it is a poverty food. You pretty much make it with whatever you have but what cajun doesn't have andouille, shrimp or crawfish? Consequently, jambalaya is rarely the same thing twice. I seldom make jambalaya without andouille. If I didn't, I would have to render some bacon to sweat the trinity in. Otherwise, use andouille. Like most pilafs, the rice needs to be gently roasted in the grease so it doesn't clump. This would also mean using long grain rice. Use a well flavored stock or broth. Most people use chicken broth. If you want to use tomatoes, Rotel would be a good addition. I would say you need 3 - 3.5 cups of liquid for each cup of uncooked rice. I like mine a little on the soupy side. The rice has to be simmered for 20 - 25 minutes. Any seafood such as shrimp or crawfish has to be added the last 5 minutes. As far as spices and flavors go, thyme and Worchestershire sauce is usually used. Some kind of fairly hot chile pepper is used.

                        Your on the internet so look up some recipes but if you keep in mind it is a pilaf with the trinity in it with some rendered smoked, garlicky sausage, you can't go wrong.

                        By the way, you could write a book on rice pilafs from around the world. In fact, I would be surprised if it hasn't already been written and one of these nice chowhounders will probably tell us about a few on this thread.

                        1. The best Jambalaya I ever had was in New Orleans, and yes the andouille sausage had everything to do with it. The spices too, and it has to be be moist, not dry. I tried it in several places, chicken, seafood etc. I think my favorite involved shrimp and ham, it had just the right balance of thyme, red pepper, onions, garlic, and sausage... There was quite a bit of ham (no skimping) and lots of plump shrimp.

                          1. In simple terms, "jambalaya" can be broken down as so: "jambon" is the French word for "ham". "a la", the French term for "with", and "ya" is the African word for "rice." So put it all together and you have "Ham with rice."

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: 1stmakearoux

                              Technically, the French word for with is "avec."

                              A la in French is more literally translated as "to the." But your definition is spot on, cajuns and creoles tended to bastardize the language, as do most regional natives, to suite their needs.

                              1. re: 1stmakearoux

                                Gotta agree with you on the Ham and Rice being the musts for Jambalaya. Tasso if possible.
                                Over the many years I am sure many have strayed from the ham but I always use it in mine.

                                1. re: chefj

                                  You're right, I couldn't think of the ham that was used, Tasso. Very flavorful.

                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                    Luckily here in the bay area Hobb's smoked meats produces great Tasso and Andouille but when I was in N.E. I used high quality smoked ham and Lingica to good results.

                                    1. re: chefj

                                      Thank you! I'd not been able to find it!

                                      1. re: chef chicklet

                                        I'll have to find good tasso and andouille sausage in the DC area.

                              2. Lots of good ideas presented so far. Gotta put in my 2 cents. You have to know that people all over southern Louisiana have been arguing about jambalaya for years. Tomatoes included or tomatoes as heresy? Ham or andouille? Etcetera, etcetera. I can hear my aunts arguing about sauteing the veg first - what, you didn't brown the meat first? And what do you MEAN you cook the raw rice in the fat first like paella or rice pilaf?

                                I will not join in the fray, nor should you. Enjoy your jambalaya however you will. I will say that I don't think shrimp and sausage belong together in the same jambalaya--but I know lots make it that way, and if invited I will happily eat it. For the record, my favorite jambalaya is chicken and pork (not smoked, not ham, not sausage). And nobody I knew back in the day ever used stock or broth for jambalaya. But they probably do now, because lots of things have changed in the making of everything Louisianaian. And THAT, y'all, is what south Louisiana cooking (Cajun, Creole or what-have-you) is all about. If the people there had not adapted the foods of their French, Spanish, African, Native American, English, German, Irish, Italian ancestors none of the distinctive Louisiana foods would exist. (Don't be surprised - Cajun potato salad owes a debt to the Germans, filé for gumbo was introduced by the Native Americans, and the best Irish stew ever starts with a French roux in Louisiana.)

                                BTW, Leah Chase told that Food Network Throwdown guy that his crazy gumbo was just fine, and right in line with gumbo tradition. She meant it - and it will be true for whatever jambalaya you end up making, whatever the ingredients or time of year. My mom made it once a week, year round. She made just about all the variations mentioned by posters in this thread. So make it however you like. Go nuts; have fun. Sorry to get so wordy; I do go on about the things I love.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: sancan

                                  I love reading about things that people love, so thank you for this, it's great!

                                  1. re: Linda513

                                    It is worth noting--and perhaps it is in one of teh links that I did not see---that lots of people add beer to the liquid. You can get any number of approaches on this..dark beer, mexican beer..whatever. My most successful ones haveewe always had some beer.