Jambalaya - Southern Paella
I’m making homemade jambalaya today. I’m trying out a new jambalaya recipe that I created myself, and I’m writing this article as I’m cooking the dish. Of course, I won’t publish the recipe until after I’ve had a few folks sample the results. I wouldn’t want to share anything with you that wasn’t a success. Since my jambalaya might turn out to be wonderful, I’m writing and taking photos as I cook. If the dish isn’t so great, I don’t have to publish the article, and you’ll be none the wiser. You’ll never know that my idea was a flop, and if it is, I’ll go back to the drawing board and create a new and improved version recipe for jambalaya. I’m also including here some information about Cajun recipes and Creole recipes, in general. The two share a considerable amount of overlapping, including ingredients, cooking techniques, and place of origin. I hope you try making this at home – or at least some similar version of it. My daughter is having an oyster roast tonight, and friends and family members will be on hand to enjoy roasted oysters, boiled shrimp, grilled sausage, cheese grits, key lime cupcakes, and some party foods. I’m taking a big pot of this jambalaya.
Cajun Recipes – Creole Recipes
When some people think of jambalaya, they think of Cajun recipes. Actually, however, jambalaya is a Creole dish. Differentiating between Cajun recipes and Creole recipes can be confusing. First, let’s talk about the Cajuns and the Creoles themselves before we get to their cuisines. That might help you better understand the foods and their histories better.
The term “Cajun” evolved from the word “Acadians,” people who came from French colonies in Canada and Maine to settle in Louisiana. Obviously, they had strong French roots. The Louisiana Creoles, on the other hand, were often a mixture of different races and ethnicities, including French, Spanish, Native American, black, Italian, and/or German. The Louisiana Creoles weren’t the only creole group living in the U.S., either. The Gullah or Geechee who lived on the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina are often referred to as “creole,” too, and their cuisine is similar to that of the Louisiana Creoles. The Louisiana Creoles and the Gullah also share Caribbean influences in their cuisines and cultures. Many of the black slave forefathers of the Gullah and Geechee spent time in the Caribbean before their journey to the southern plantations, and some of the Creoles came from colonies in the Caribbean Islands that were held by Spain and France.
Now for Cajun recipes and Creole recipes. Creole cuisine is usually considered more refined that Cajun food is. Also, Cajun foods are usually spiced more heavily, and the dishes usually have more heat. Generally speaking, the Cajuns lived in rural areas like the bayous, while many of the Creoles resided in or near the city of New Orleans. As you can imagine, this had a big influence on their respective cuisines. Many Cajuns farmed, raised livestock, hunted, and fished, and this “living off the land” is evident in the foods. Creoles, on the other hand, could shop in city markets for a wider variety of ingredients.
Did you know that jambalaya is actually sort of a New World paella? Yep, it’s true. If you’ve sampled both dishes, you probably noticed the similarities. Paella is a rice dish that originated in Spain. It also contains one or more type of meat and/or seafood, saffron, olive oil, and oftentimes vegetables. The most common vegetables used in paella are usually beans, tomatoes, artichokes, onions, garlic, and peppers.
In Spain, paella recipes vary from region to region. Meats might include chicken, sausage, shrimp, lobster, eels, octopus, squid, snails, mussels, rabbit, or duck. In addition to saffron, the dish might be seasoned with bay leaf, rosemary, and/or paprika.
You remember that the Louisiana Creoles have some Spanish ancestry, right? When these immigrants came to America, they wanted to continue eating their favorite foods, of course, and that included paella. The problem was obtaining saffron, the signature seasoning. It was pretty hard to come by in New Orleans, so they decided to use tomatoes, instead, and the practice caught on. The dish became popular - sort of a southern paella.
Jambalaya recipes differ from cook to cook. Also, the Cajuns were great at using whatever ingredients they had on hand at the time. That’s why you see shrimp jambalaya, chicken jambalaya, sausage jambalaya, and seafood jambalaya. You also see the dish made with what the average American outside Louisiana to be… questionable. The original Cajun cooks didn’t run to the supermarket every time they wanted to prepare a meal. They grew, raised, caught, or killed most of their ingredients.
Unlike some other Creole and Cajun recipes that are served with rice, jambalaya recipes usually require cooking the meat, the vegetables, the herbs and spices, the stock, and the rice all together, in one pot. The tradition order is to sauté the vegetables and meat together, and to then add the diced tomatoes. If shrimp or some other type of seafood is going to be included, it’s added next, followed by the chicken broth and rice. The concoction simmers over low heat for up to an hour. By the way, the three main vegetables used are onion, celery, and bell pepper – the trinity. The Cajuns, the Creoles, and the Gullah-Geechee all pay homage to the culinary trinity.
What types of herbs and spices are used in jambalaya recipes? Once again, it depends on who’s cooking. The most common spices and herbs used are perhaps bay leaf, garlic, thyme, oregano, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne. Hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce might also be added. Instead of trusting their own instincts, some cooks prefer to use Creole or Cajun seasoning blends.
I’m going to share my secret ingredient for my jambalaya recipe. It’s red curry. Yeah, I know curry powder isn’t a traditional seasoning for the dish, but I think it gives the rice and other ingredients an awesome flavor. If you don’t like the taste of curry, of course, you can leave it out completely. By the way, I began referring to this particular jambalaya recipe as “Georgia jambalaya,” and the name sort of stuck. Now my friends and family members call it that, too. Actually, the moniker is pretty appropriate, as my dish isn’t exactly Creole or Cajun jambalaya, and most of the ingredients are grown in my state. Georgia produces lots of pigs, chickens, onions, tomatoes, and peppers, and shrimp are netted on the coast. Rice was once a staple in the South, and there were numerous rice plantations on the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina.
Cajun jambalaya is similar to Creole jambalaya, of course, but traditional Cajun jambalaya doesn’t include tomatoes. Tomatoes are a common ingredient in Creole recipes – think shrimp Creole, for instance. Most of the time, Cajun jambalaya omits the tomatoes and uses the pan drippings from frying the meat, instead.
There’s no telling what meat, game, or seafood might make an appearance in the Cajun jambalaya recipes. It might be chicken, pork, wild boar, sausage, alligator, crawfish, nutria, turkey, oysters, deer meat, turtle, duck, bacon, cured ham, or shrimp. The Creole version is usually a little lighter and more “refined,” with chicken, shrimp, ham, and/or andouille sausage. Sometimes Cajun jambalaya is called “brown jambalaya,” and Creole jambalaya is called “red jambalaya” because of the tomatoes.
Many people think the Cajun version of this dish is heartier, but some prefer the Creole version more, partly because of the tomatoes. Personally, I’m in the Creole corner. I think the tomatoes really add a lot of flavor. On the other hand, I like the heat of Cajun jambalaya, so I add jalapeno peppers, cayenne, and Louisiana hot sauce.
In my opinion, andouille sausage really gives this dish authentic flavor. You can use any type of smoked link sausage, but you won’t get the exact same results. Andouille sausage originated in France, and the traditional type is made from the organ meats of pigs, including the stomach. In the United States, most andouille is made from muscle cuts of pork like the shoulders.
This type of sausage is usually seasoned with garlic, hot peppers, onions, paprika, and sometimes wine and/or sugar. Once the ground pork and seasonings are combined, the mixture is stuffed into pig intestine cases and smoked. Pecan wood is often the choice for smoking.
Andouille is more often associated with Cajun recipes than it is with Creole cooking, but it can be used in either. It’s getting to be very popular in the United States. The sausage used to pretty hard to find in South Georgia, but now all our local supermarkets carry it. In fact, most of the grocery stores carry several varieties of andouille sausage.
In this jambalaya recipe, I used leftover smoked chicken. If you don’t happen to have any smoked chicken, you can boil your chicken or sauté it before making your jambalaya. If you have leftover turkey, use that in place of the chicken. If the bacon you use is lean, you might want to add some extra butter or oil to the mix. When I boil my shrimp, I use lots of my homemade shrimp boil. I add a cup of the water from boiling the shrimp to my chicken broth. Let me know how you like my Georgia jambalaya!
Rate my Recipe for Jambalaya. Thanks!
- 1 pound bacon
- 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
- 2 large onions, diced
- 2 green bell peppers, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup water from boiling shrimp
- 2 cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon red curry powder, (optional)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons cayenne
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- salt, to taste
- 4 cups white rice, uncooked
- 2 pounds boiled shrimp, peeled
- 2 cooked chicken breasts, torn into small pieces
- 1 pound andouille sausage, cooked and sliced
- 1/2 stick butter
- In a large pot, sauté bacon on medium for about 2 minutes. Add jalapenos, onions, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, and celery and cook until almost soft. Add garlic and cook for one more minute.
- Add broth, shrimp boil water, tomatoes, bay leaves, hot sauce, curry powder, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, black pepper, cayenne, oregano, parsley, basil, thyme, and salt. Place lid on pot and simmer for 15 minutes. For more pronounced flavor, you can simmer the ingredients for longer – up to an hour.
- Bring pot to a boil and add rice. Cover pot, reduce heat, and cook for 20 minutes. If rice becomes too dry, add more chicken broth or shrimp broth.
- Add shrimp, chicken, sausage, and butter and stir. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until all ingredients are hot and butter has melted. Stir to distribute ingredients evenly. Serve hot.
- Be sure to have some extra hot sauce on hand to add more heat to your jambalaya!