#32 Jambalaya

What the hell is jambalaya? This was a question posed years ago to the sixth grade version of myself by a distant pen pal, named Carlos. Since this pen pal was foisted upon me by my Kum Ba Yah singing Catholic school teacher in an idealistic attempt to expose me to the outside world, I didn’t feel a particular need to respond right away. I was much too busy playing Super Mario to write back to some stranger. Well, I might be a lot of things, but let it be known far and wide that I’m not a flake, just an overachieving procrastinator. So Carlos, if you’re out there, here’s your answer, some twenty odd years late.

Jambalaya is the ultimate in single pot Cajun cooking. A combination of rice, vegetables, stock and a mixture of meats all cooked together in a single pot (usually black iron), jambalaya is a deceptively simple meal that takes only minutes to learn, but years to master. Done right, it will bring tears to a Cajun man’s eyes, but done wrong, jambalaya a greasy mushy mess. Unlike gumbo, jambalaya is a great year round dish, whether served fireside at the camp, or at home by your mama.

The jambalaya was an attempt by New Orleanians of Spanish descent to make paella in the New World. Without ready access to saffron, tomatoes were substituted, and the resulting dish bore a red hue instead of the trademark yellow of paella. This new dish was dubbed jambalaya, from the Provencal word “jambalaia,” meaning a mish-mash or mixup. Eventually, the jambalaya made its way to Cajun country, lost those damn tomatoes, and became the more tasty brown jambalaya we know and love today.

Every year a jambalaya cookoff is held at the Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales Louisiana, located on the far eastern outskirts of Cajun Country. Here you can sample some of the best jambalaya you’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately, the festival finished last weekend, so you’ll have to wait a whole year to see what I’m talking about (damned procrastination reared its ugly head again).

If you’d like to try making your own jambalaya, here’s a good recipe I found for feeding 120 people, or as I like to call it, my immediate family. If you don’t have that many mouths to feed, you might try this recipe which won the 1978 Jambalaya World Championship title.

So Carlos, I hope this answers all your jambalaya related questions. If not, just write back, and I promise you an answer sometime in the next 20 years.

Jambalaya (On the Bayou):


31 thoughts on “#32 Jambalaya

  1. Jambalaya is the one thing I have still not been able to master! I don’t understand how my jambalaya can be under and over cooked at the same time! I have a recipe given to me by a trusted friend that is a good cook that calls for parboiled rice. I’ve been afraid to try it though for fear I will just ruin it again.

  2. Corey, I completely understand. It took me forever to get everything right. I have found that if you cook it in large batches it is better. The reason being is that you can over cook (burn) the very bottom and still have enough left to eat that will be cooked just right (lol). But, I think the one thing that helped me the most is being told to think about rice as pasta. It is basically the same thing and rice can be cook the same way you cook noodles. So with that in mind it freed me to stir and add more water and basically do all the things that my Maw maw told me not to do with rice.

    One the second day of Squirrel season we (my uncles and cousins that I’m hunting with) take the left overs of our squirrel sauce picante, add rice and make it into jambalaya.

  3. I consider myself a pretty decent Cajun cook, but I’ve never mastered jambalaya. This is probably because my mom didn’t cook it much. We were more into rice and gravy, red beans and sausage, and gumbo than jambalaya. Still it’s on my list, right after I master homemade boudin.

  4. Well I don’t mind graton at the bottom of the jamabalaya (there you go chuval, another thing Cajun people like, graton!). Lucious Stirring rice? Isn’t that a sin? LOL j/k. I am going to try this recipe that my cook friend gave me, she actually uses a little roux in her jambalaya. If that doesn’t work then I am going back to box jambalaya, at least I can cook that LOL!

  5. Hey, we covered grattons (or gratons) back in item #28. I tried making jambalaya from scratch a while back, but it came out way too mushy. I guess I didn’t get the rice/water ratio right. Anyway, my non-Cajun wife still prefers the boxed Zatarains jambalaya. One day I’ll get my recipe right so she swears off the fake stuff.

  6. Oh wait by “graton” I meant the burnt rice that is at the bottom of a jambalaya/rice cooker. At least that is what we called it growing up. I don’t think I ever tried the Zatarain’s one, I have tried Tony’s jambalaya and it is pretty good. Plus it is done in like 20 minutes so no slaving over the stove really.

  7. That’s a new term, I always called it burnt rice. Part of my problem with getting jambalaya right is that I grew up using a rice cooker. I never had to learn to make rice in a pot.

    • Hey- I sort of like the burnt rice at the bottom of the pot- we used to call it Grott. I can remember my mom calling it grott-tee-na, so I guess us as kids just shortened it to grott. May-sha, now you’ll got me drooling for a good Jambalaya right now yeah!

  8. there is a restaurant chain in the uk called ‘old orleans’….

    they base their menu’s and decor on “…blending the cuisines of the American South, Creole and Cajun cultures.”

    they have jambalaya on the menu…

    my friends won’t bring me there, when i visit, as much as i’ve begged… they fear my laughter will get us thrown out.

  9. I come from the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. My country is a melting pot of cultures, races and traditions due in large part to being colonised at different times by the Spanish, British, French and Portuguese. We also have a similar rice dish at home called pelau. Its everyone’s favourite and if made well is very delicious. Just like jambalaya, its quite simple to make but getting it just right takes some time to master. Everytime I eat jambalaya it reminds me of it. If anyone wants a recipe let me know.

    • Hi. I’m just starting to read this line. I’ve just made this Chicken and Sausage jambalaya. It’s over four years since you said you’d provide your recipe. If you get this, and you still can provide it I’d love it. Thank so much.
      Cara from Pennsylvania

  10. i cook mines the short cut way, (meaning i cook parboiled rice ;then, i add it to the meat and vegetable mixture).
    meat and vegetable mixture is : 1 cut onion, 3 stalks of cut celery, parsley,2 bay leaves or 1/2 tea spoon of ground bay leaf, garlic powder ,and l bell pepper,cut sausage, cut boneless chicken breast (season with salt and red pepper), a pound of peel shrimp, chicken boullion , and 1/2 or 1 cup of tomato sause. browned the meat and vegetables in olive oil and a quater stick of butter. add tomato sauce, salt, and cayenne pepper. simmer for 10 minutes then add cook parboiled rice.

  11. Hi-the first Cajuns that came to La were settled by the Spanish Goverment in Galvez-town (located where Bayou Manchac dumps into the Amite), Donaldsonville and up near Vidalia. They joined the (Spanish) Canary Islanders previously settled there. The Vidalia bunch migrated down to Galvez-town (settlement abandoned due to flooding) and some went onward to Donaldsonville, St Gabriel and so on to the Attakapas area within a couple of generations or less. Long story short—Jambalaya is ham paella, a French/Spanish paella type dish that was born in the boondocks of what is now Ascension Parish-hence Gonzales as the Jambalaya Capital of the World. ” Jambon” is French for ham. “laya” is the paella part. My Dad, who was descended both from Canary Islanders and Cajuns from this area, made it using pork roast and sausage. I think the secret is a heavy cast iron dutch oven type pot. My jambalaya was always hit or miss until I inherited my Dad’s pot. 🙂

  12. In my house growing up in the south the gratin was the term we used when we braised the pork butt, and the pork began to stick to the cast iron pot. we then used the trinity of vegies and absorbed all of that flavor…..

  13. I made chicken and sausage jambalaya last night. I never had any problem making this dish. Just remember to turn the heat down to medium low after the addition of the rice, and make sure the rice stays submerged in the cooking liquid.

  14. You know one thing I can bet is that South Louisiana has more good cooks than any other state. I am not only talking about resturants- I mean every man that goes to camps and cooks, men in the house and of course our wives too. I think we know more delicious recieps (Jambalaya, gumbos, cou-bion,(however you spell that one), gratons, hog head cheese, catfish and all the sea-food dishes we fix) Coa-man gotta go get something to eat now- may-yeah.

  15. I’m noticing this post is a few years old but I’m going to give it a shot. What side dish or bread should I serve with jambalaya? Someone suggested focaccia bread but that seems yonkers to me as the meal is spicy and the bread would be spiced (and Italian) resulting in an overpowering meal and conflicting tastes.

    • Have had many meals where they serve Jambalaya w/ white beans on the side. Some people even put the white beans over the Jambalaya instead of using white rice. Many resturants serve white beans with Jambalaya as a regular. (Of course the side dish to both of these are coleslaw, either the mayo style or shreaded cabbage doused with vinegar) and a big hunk of fresh baked cornbread.

  16. there is an old Haitian trick that I use to keep the rice from sticking to the pot, and that is to leave a spoon at the bottom while cooking. Also, just use enough stock and the rice will cook thoroughly and won’t burn.

  17. My husband cooks a great week night, easy version of jambalaya for those having trouble cooking it, using a recipe similar to this one. Of course, he never measures anything though.


    1 pkg (16 oz each) smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

    1 deli chicken – shred the white meat

    3 cups instant rice, uncooked

    1 can (10 oz each) Ro*Tel® Original Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies, undrained

    1 can (14 oz each) reduced-sodium chicken broth


    Cook sausage in large saucepan over medium-high heat until it starts to brown around the edges stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed. Stir before serving.

  18. The usual jambalaya in our family in L.C. La. was pork chop jambalaya.Feel free to add sausage if you want to. I learned to make it from my gramma who was originally from Kaplan. The main trick is to thoroughly cook (brown then braise) the meat until it is very tender and gives up its fat. As the meat approaches doneness the braising water should be allowed to evaporate leaving only the meat and its fat. Then the rice is gently sauteed in the fat of the pork until it is shiny and has obviously absorbed the meat grease. (like the pilaf method) This cooking in fat keeps the rice kernels separate provided they are not overcooked in too much water later. The color change as they absorb the fat will be obvious. Then the trinity (onion, celery, bell pepper) is added and sauteed a bit. Next water and a tight lid with the minimal necessary stirring. The goal being not to shred the meat or break the rice. More water as needed until the rice is done(checking salt each time). It is better to add it in stages than to risk adding too much since mushy, overly salty rice is the kiss of death to a good jambalaya. The only seasoning added is salt, pepper, tabasco sauce and a little thyme, mostly during the meat browning and braising. At the very end before serving, lots of minced flat leaf parsley and sliced scallions. If you really want to make a tasty jambalaya these instructions will get you well on your way.
    P.S. If you put tomatoes in your jambalaya I will hunt you down and kill you. If you want to be that kind of freak, add them to your own bowl so as not to subject others to such suffering.

    • Hahaha love that you will kill the tomato people! That’s how I feel about gumbo too. My grandmother from New Iberia also used pork in her jambalaya. I will follow your instructions because I long to her jambalaya since her passing in 2006. Thanks a bunch.

      • Nini I hope your jambalaya comes out super perfect! And thanks for not informing the FBI of my death threat.

    • I’ve never heard of jambalaya made with pork chop. I’m a Ga girl, but love Cajun food. Do you use any particular kind of pork chops? Do you cut it up in cubes before braising? Do you add seasoning to the braising liquid? I want to try this. It sounds delicious.

      • We used a thin cut but rather fatty, bone in chop. The seasoning was basic: salt, pepper, paprika, chopped yellow onion and tabasco sauce. Eating around the bones was expected and easy.

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