How to Make Classic Creole Jambalaya at Home

You're just 45 minutes away from serving a lively jambalaya at your table. Here's how to make this classic Creole stew and what to serve with it.

Jambalaya is a quintessential example of the robust-yet-refined style of Louisiana Creole cooking. It's a must-have on any Mardi Gras menu, but it's an excellent menu item when you're looking for a lively party dish to serve friends. 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. Creole cooking has roots in Spanish, French, and African cuisines. Read on to learn the step-by-step process of how to make jambalaya.

Jambalaya with shrimp in green bowl
Andy Lyons

How to Make Jambalaya

With shrimp, ham, and smoked sausage, we're using our classic jambalaya recipe for this demonstrative process. It'll take you less than an hour and make enough to serve six.

Step 1: Prep Jambalaya Ingredients

Wash and chop your veggies and set out the meats you'll be using. If any of the meat or seafood is frozen, for the best flavor, thaw the unopened package in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

Test Kitchen Tip: If you need to thaw the shrimp or meat quickly, place it in a resealable plastic bag and immerse it in cold water until thawed. Or microwave on the defrost setting until it is pliable but still icy. If using the microwave method, cook the shrimp immediately after defrosting.

Step 2: Cook Up the "Holy Trinity"

Heat cooking oil in a large skillet ($60, Target) over medium heat. Add chopped onion, celery, green bell pepper, and garlic. Cook and stir until vegetables are tender but not brown.

Step 3: Make the Jambalaya Rice Mixture

Slowly stir in the sausages, chicken broth, diced tomatoes (undrained), and uncooked long-grain rice. Stir in the dried spices and bay leaf. Bring sausage-rice mixture to boiling. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

What Kind of Sausage for Jambalaya

Many 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.

Step 4: Add the Quick-Cooking Seafood and Additional Meat

Now it's time to stir in the shrimp. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes or until the shrimp turn opaque and the rice is tender. Add in cubed ham. Cook until the ham is heated through.

Step 5: Serve Jambalaya

It's time to enjoy a steamy bowl of jambalaya. Before serving, discard the bay leaf. Try to 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.

One-Pot Chicken and Shrimp Jambalaya
Jacob Fox

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 bell peppers sautéed 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.

Gumbo Vs. Jambalaya

While they're both Cajun dishes with similar ingredients and flavor profiles, there is a difference between gumbo and jambalaya. The key distinction here is that gumbo is served over rice, whereas jambalaya slowly cooks rice right into the pot.

You might be wondering what to serve with jambalaya, but it's truly the perfect one-dish dinner. Since 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 to sop up all those delicious savory juices. For dessert, try a classic New Orleans finale: bread pudding with whiskey sauce.

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