How to Make Jambalaya
My first memories of Jambalaya are from when I was just 13. My parents took a trip to New Orleans and about a month later, I came home to a kitchen smelling of sausage and shrimp. I absolutely loved it, and it quickly became a special occasion dish in our house. Now, I don’t know that the Jambalaya I grew up with is strictly authentic. I suspect not too many Cajuns are using Polish Kielbasa in there Jambalaya, but it was delicious. And it’s one of the dishes from my childhood that I’ve enthusiastically continued to make over the years.
Like most food (certainly the food I love), Jambalaya can be made hundreds of different ways, and I suspect every grandmother in Louisiana has her own method. But there are common techniques that I’ll highlight here. Those techniques are going to help make sure whatever version you make, it will come out great every time.
My most common version has sausage, ham & chicken. I love adding seafood, but if I do, I do so at the last minute, so it doesn’t overcook. I also tend to make very large batches of the “sauce”, as it freezes very well. I’ll add rice to just the amount I’m eating that night and freeze the rest. It keeps very well I highly recommend doing that. Give it a try and let me know your tips and tricks.
The Keys to the Best Jambalaya
It does take some time, but it's not all that hard. Just follow these few keys to success you'll do great:
- The sausage brings a huge amount of flavor to Jambalaya, so make sure to use a good quality one…and obviously one you like. Andouille is traditional, and I love to use it. I also really like kielbasa – not traditional, but it’s what I grew up with
- I will only use Uncle Bens Long Grain rice. Others I’ve tried are too starchy and end up clumping together or just melting away in a bit mess. You want the rice cooked through, but still firm.
- Make sure to brown the sausage, chicken and any other meat. Getting some caramelization adds quite a bit of flavor.
- The Cajun “trinity” – green pepper, celery & onion is critical. I’d stay away from the French trinity, which has carrot
- The right spices, particularly cayenne pepper are important; however, they can also can bring a lot of heat to the dish. If you need it milder, (I do for my family) I go for a more mild chili pepper – in fact chili powder, or paprika are both nice.
How to Make Jambalaya
- For the trinity, chop up onion, green bell pepper and celery, in a ratio of 2:1:1. I tend to do about 6 cups, 3 cups, 3 cups for a large batch
- Finely chop about 8 cloves of garlic
- Slice up the sausage, chicken, ham and/or whatever other meat you’re using
- In a large pot, coated with olive oil, and heated over medium heat add the meat (work in batches), and stir occasionally until browned.
- Once browned, remove the meat and drain any excess fat (you’ll need a few tablespoons though to cook the veggies)
- Add the trinity and the garlic, season with a good amount of salt and pepper
- Over about 15 minutes, the vegetables will soften, and the onion become translucent – you don’t want them to brown
- Add the species and herbs – typically, I like about a tablespoon of cayenne pepper, half tablespoon of thyme, 3 – 4 bay leaves
- Allow the spices to “toast” for a few minutes with the veggies
- Add about 16 – 20 ounces of chopped canned tomatoes and stir to combine
- Add the browned meat back into the pan, and cover with chicken stock
- Allow the “stew” to simmer gently for anywhere from 1 – 3 hours, depending on how much time you have
- At this point you can stop and freeze the mix once cooled in the appropriate serving sizes
- If I’m not making the whole batch, I’ll take as much as I am going to eat that night and move it to a separate pan to add the rice.
- I always use Uncle Ben’s Long Grain white rice, as it holds up very well.
- A “normal” water to rice ration is 2:1, but I’ll add about 6 cups of the sausage/tomato mix for every cup of rice (which will serve about 3 – 4 adults).
- Allow the rice to come up to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for about 30 – 40 minutes, until the rice is tender, but firm
- Alternatively, I’ve seen some people serve the Jambalaya over rice – which is a great way as well, just not my preference
- I like to serve mine up with a sprinkle of parsley over the top, and a bottle of hot sauce on the side.
This is a fantastic dish, and I hope you enjoy it.