Jambalaya is a quintessential example of the robust-yet-refined style of Louisiana Creole cooking. It's a great choice when you're looking for a lively party dish to serve friends.
What Is Jambalaya?
This chunky stew combines cooked rice with meat, poultry, and/or shellfish (such as shrimp or crawfish). Like many regional specialties, the recipe varies from cook to cook. Most versions, however, start with the "holy trinity" of Creole cooking: a base of onion, celery, and green sweet peppers sauteed in cooking oil or another fat. The dish usually includes tomatoes as well as ham -- in fact, the word jambalaya is thought to have been derived from the French word jambon, which means ham.
The Creole Pedigree
Jambalaya is considered a Creole dish. In the United States, the term Creole generally refers to descendants of the original French settlers who came to the South, particularly Louisiana. Over the years, the term came to refer to New Orleans inhabitants of European backgrounds who exhibited refined tastes. Creole cooking reflects this sophistication and has roots in Spanish, French, and African cuisines.
Add Some Andouille
Some recipes for Jambalaya call for andouille (an-DOO-ee) sausage, a Louisiana specialty. This fully cooked smoked sausage generally packs a little heat, thanks to its peppery seasoning. Find andouille wherever sausages are sold. For a milder sausage choice, substitute kielbasa or another fully cooked smoked sausage you like.
How to Make Jambalaya
With shrimp, ham, and smoked sausage, this is a classic Jambalaya recipe. It takes about 45 minutes to make and serves six.
1. Thaw the Shrimp, if Frozen
You'll need 1 pound of fresh or frozen shrimp. If your shrimp is frozen, for the best flavor, thaw the unopened package in the refrigerator, where it will defrost in 1 to 2 days.
Tip: If you need to thaw the shrimp quickly, place it in a resealable plastic bag and immerse it in cold water until thawed. Or microwave the shrimp on the defrost setting until it is pliable but still icy. If using the microwave method, cook the shrimp immediately after defrosting.
2. Cook Up the "Holy Trinity"
Heat 2 tablespoons cooking oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium onion), 1/3 cup chopped celery, 1/4 cup chopped green sweet pepper, and 2 cloves garlic, minced. Cook and stir until vegetables are tender but not brown.
3. Cook the Rice Mixture
- Halve 8 ounces andouille or kielbasa sausage lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices. To the skillet, slowly stir in the sausages, 2 cups chicken broth, one 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes (undrained), and 3/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice.
- Add 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed; 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed; 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper; 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper; and 1 bay leaf.
- Bring sausage-rice mixture to a boiling. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Add the Shrimp and Ham
- Stir in the 1 pound shrimp. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes or until the shrimp turn opaque and the rice is tender. Stir in 1 cup cubed ham. Cook until the ham is heated through. Before serving, discard the bay leaf.
Tip: Serve the Jambalaya soon after the dish is finished cooking. The rice will continue to absorb the liquid, and the dish can become dry if it sits too long.
What to Serve with Jambalaya
- Jambalaya is a perfect one-dish dinner -- it's already so chock-full of ingredients, you won't need much more to round out the meal. Corn bread is a quintessential pairing. Or buy some baguette-style French bread at a local bakery.
- For dessert, try a classic New Orleans finale: Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce.