When I think of jambalaya I immediately think of southwest Louisiana, Cajun country. Rice is one of the main crops grown in the area so it is no surprise that this dish is prevalent there. Starting with the Cajun holy trinity and adding some tomatoes, or maybe not, then adding some sausage and chicken, and then of course the rice and stock, you end up with a hearty, rib sticking meal that really should be served with a loaf of crusty bread and plenty of your favorite hot sauce. So join me as we talk about making this wonderful jambalaya and then we will talk about how to modify this recipe to make your very own jambalaya recipe.
Plate of Jambalaya with Green Onions
I worked on this recipe making it for a good buddy named "Moe", actually Marion Meaux, who grew up in Kaplan, LA. Moe has since passed on but many fond memories remain of the times we had together. I would cook and he would always give me pointers as to what he liked, and it's really a joy to cook for someone who appreciates the efforts and the results. He would tell me this is good but next time it should be a little drier, or it should be this or that. And then eventually it was "that's it." And by getting his blessing on the dishes I made for him I knew I was on the right track to making something that was close to that which would be served somewhere in southwest LA. But more importantly something we both liked to eat.
My version of this dish starts with the holy trinity of Cajun cooking, namely onion, celery and green bell pepper. Very little is made in Cajun cooking without it. I put more celery in than the traditional 50% onion, 25% celery and 25% bell pepper but that's what makes this dish fun. I also add garlic which is pretty traditional.
Cajun Holy Trinity with Garlic
If I am using tomato in the dish I use canned whole tomatoes. As with anything else make sure you get good tomatoes. I separate the tomatoes from the liquid in the can and then crush the tomatoes with my hands. I think that works best and breaks the tomatoes up nicely. I reserve the liquid and sometimes will put some in the dish depending on what I feel like.
Hand Crushed Tomatoes
I add the rice in before I put the meat back in the pan. I put the rice in with the trinity to help soak up the oil that might be left over from sauteing the vegetables and to add a little more flavor to the rice. And I only use Uncle Ben's converted rice. It's what I have always cooked with and I know how it cooks and its flavor profile. You can use whatever kind of rice you want but you have to understand that different rices have different flavor profiles and textures. We will discuss that more in the How To section.
I like smoked sausage for this dish. I don't like andouille sausage in this so much because I think it is a little strong for my preference. If I have some on hand I might add a 1-2 inch length of it cut into small pieces but the primary sausage is a traditional pork smoked sausage. The kind you can find in any grocery store in Texas such as Holmes or Chappell Hill. Or if you're lucky the kind you get at Pete's Fine Meats in Houston, the La Grange Smokehouse between Houston and Austin, or The Best Stop in Scott, LA just outside of Lafayette off I-10. And if you go to The Best Stop, you have to try their boudin. Man that's good! Oh, and the boudin doesn't go in this dish, you eat it on Saltines while you are cooking this dish.
Chappell Hill Sausage
Regarding the chicken, I like to use bone-in, skin on chicken thighs because I think they have the most flavor and I really like them when making homemade chicken stock. And speaking of the stock you will use in this dish I can't emphasize enough that the more love you put into making a rich chicken stock the more depth of flavor you will have in your final dish. But if you're in a hurry you certainly could use store bought.
Making the Chicken Stock
So there you have it. Let's get cooking, I'm getting hungry talking about all this good food. Enjoy!
1. In a pot make the stock by adding the chicken, the onion scraps, celery scraps, the carrots and 5-6 cups of water and bringing it just to the boil. Simmer over medium low heat so it stays just at or below a very slow boil for about 45 minutes or until you think it's done. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool down a bit, maybe about 30 minutes. This cool down is not absolutely necessary but I think it helps make the stock richer. Onion scraps should include the skins as long as they are undamaged and the celery scraps should absolutely include leaves.
Making the Chicken Stock
2. While the chicken is cooling, preheat the oven to 375. Cut the sausages in half lengthwise and place face down on a rack over a sheet pan. Bake in the oven until they're crisp. This may take 15 to 30 minutes and you can decide how crisp you want them to be. I like them to be like bacon and don't worry if they look like they are dried out a bit, they will come right back to life when you add them to the stock and they won't bring all that fat into the dish. Just don't burn them and you will be fine.
Smoked Sausage Cut in Half (Note the Fat Marbling)
Smoked Sausage Ready for Baking
Smoked Sausage Baked
3. Once cooled, take the chicken out of the pot and remove the meat from the bones. You do not need to cut up the chicken any more than it already is as it will break up on its own in the dish.
Remove Cooked Chicken From the Bones
4. Heat the oil in a heavy skllet with deep sides or in a cast iron dutch oven. Enameled cast iron such as Le Creuset works best here I think. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic and cook until translucent. Do not overcook and do not brown this.
Sautéing the Vegetables
5. Stir in the rice and cook for a minute or two.
Add the Rice to the Vegetables
6. Add the tomatoes if you are using them and stir in with the rice and vegetable mixture. Cook for 1 minute. This is more of a Creole touch but if you like them, add them sparingly.
Vegetables Cooking with Tomato Chunks
7. Add 2 c of the stock, the chicken and the sausage to the pot and stir.
Adding the Sausage, Chicken and the Stock
8. Add the seasonings and stir.
Adding the Seasonings to the Jambalaya
9. Cook uncovered over medium low heat so you maintain a slow simmer until the rice is cooked and the liquid is absorbed. If it gets too dry and the rice is not cooked add some more of the stock. You want this to be somewhat on the dry side and that's about all I can say. Moe would have to tell you the rest. When it's done add a handfull of chopped parsley and stir that in.
Parsley Added to the Jambalaya