You can feed a crowd with this spicy Creole dish
Mardi Gras may be over, but that’s no reason to ignore New Orleans-style cuisine. It’s good any time of the year!
So today we’re cooking jambalaya, which is pretty much every-day fare in Louisiana. And why not? It’s a one-pot dinner with outstanding flavor.
Best of all, jambalaya is not hard to make. Most of the cooking is unattended, and you can prepare it ahead of time. That makes for a perfect company dish.
It’s the big easy, you might say.
Jambalaya generally includes spicy sausage (particularly andouille), but you can use just about any protein you favor. We like to include chicken, though shrimp or crawfish are also common additions.
In truth, however, jambalaya is all about the rice. That makes it similar to Spanish paella (some people think the dish was influenced by Spanish settlers in Louisiana).
Why do we call this dish Creole rather than Cajun? Well, Creole recipes often use tomatoes as an ingredient, while Cajun ones almost never do (see Notes for more distinctions between the two). So a Creole jambalaya is “red,” whereas the Cajun version is “brown.” We love tomatoes, so our jambalaya is decidedly red.
This recipe (like many Creole and Cajun dishes) uses the “trinity” of onion, green bell pepper, and celery. Precise measurements aren’t important, but you want a ratio of about 2:1:1 of onion to bell pepper to celery.
Prep time for this dish is 20 to 30 minutes (including browning the meat). Cooking time adds 45 minutes to an hour. You can cook this dish an hour or two ahead, then keep it warm in a low-heat oven (see Notes).
This recipe makes at least 8 hearty servings.
Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container. Or you can use the leftovers to make soup (see Notes).
- 1 to 1½ pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs
- ~1 teaspoon kosher salt for seasoning the chicken (to taste; see Notes)
- 1 to 1½ pounds andouille sausage (to taste; may substitute another spicy sausage, like kielbasa)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (may use lard or bacon drippings)
- 1 large onion
- 1 medium bell pepper, preferably green (but may substitute another color if you like)
- 2 to 3 celery ribs
- 4 cloves garlic (or more to taste)
- additional salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon kosher salt; see Notes)
- 2 or more tablespoons tomato paste (you can use a full 6-ounce can if you like)
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon celery seed
- 2 to 3 cups uncooked white rice (see Notes)
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 4 to 6 cups chicken stock (2 cups for each cup of rice)
- Tabasco sauce to taste (optional)
- garnish of chopped parsley or scallion greens (optional)
- Cut the chicken into pieces of 1 to 2 inches. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.
- Cut the sausage into ½-inch rounds or half rounds. Set aside.
- Place a large Dutch oven (one that holds at least 5 quarts) or another wide-bottomed cooking pot over medium stovetop heat. When it’s hot, add about 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is heated (it’ll shimmer; about 15 seconds), add as many pieces of chicken as will fit comfortably into the bottom of the cooking pot (you may have to brown the chicken in batches). Cook the chicken pieces until they are browned on one side (4 to 5 minutes), then turn the pieces and brown the other side. Drain the browned chicken pieces on a paper towel.
- Add more oil to the cooking pot if necessary, then brown the sausage pieces (this will take 5 minutes or so). Drain the browned sausage pieces on a paper towel.
- While the chicken and sausage are cooking, start the other prep work: Peel the onion and cut it into dice of ½ inch or so. Set aside.
- Wash and core the bell pepper, then remove the seeds and white membrane. Cut the pepper into dice of ½ inch or so. Set aside.
- Wash and string the celery, then trim the ends. Cut the celery into slices of ¼ to ½ inch. Set aside.
- Peel the garlic and mince it finely or cut it into thin slices. Set aside.
- After the chicken and sausage have been browned and removed from the cooking pot, add more oil to the pot if necessary. Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery, season to taste with salt, and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes (until the onion starts to become translucent). Then add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
- Add the tomato paste, then stir to combine it with the onion mixture. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring often – you don’t want the tomato paste to burn.
- Add the onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, and celery seed. Stir to combine with the onion/tomato paste mixture. Then add the rice and stir to combine. Cook for about 2 minutes (you’re “toasting” the rice).
- Add the diced tomatoes and the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Taste the liquid and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Now is the time to add extra heat if you want a particularly spicy dish (we suggest Tabasco sauce). Do note that, as the rice cooks, it will absorb all the liquid – and all the flavoring in the liquid. So if you don’t get the spicing and seasoning correct now, it’ll be difficult to do so later.
- Add the browned chicken and sausage pieces to the cooking pot. Stir to combine with the rice. Cover the cooking pot and turn the stovetop heat down to low. Set a timer for 15 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, uncover the cooking pot and stir the rice mixture. Cover the pot again, then cook until all the liquid is absorbed (about another 15 to 20 minutes). Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.
- When all the liquid is absorbed, uncover the cooking pot and place it in the preheated oven. (This step is optional, but it does crisp up the rice a bit). After 10 minutes, remove the jambalaya from the oven.
- Serve, garnishing (if desired) with chopped parsley or chopped scallion greens.
- You can make this dish ahead, then keep it warm in a 225-degree F oven for an hour or two before serving. In that case, skip Step 15. Instead, after Step 14, place the covered cooking pot in the oven. By the time you’re ready to serve, the rice should be dry and crisp.
- Instead of using onion powder and other spices in Step 11, you could substitute about 2 tablespoons of Cajun or Creole seasoning mixture (such as the Tony Chachere’s brand). Be aware that commercial blends tend to contain a lot of salt, so you may want to use less salt to season the chicken and the onion mixture.
- We always use kosher salt for cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using regular table salt, start with about half as much as we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- Tasting the cooking liquid in Step 12 is important – it’s easiest to adjust the final flavor of the dish at this step. We almost always end up adding some Tabasco sauce at this stage, but then we like spicy.
- Use a long-grained white rice in this dish. We particularly like converted rice, but use whatever you prefer. We suppose you could use brown rice, although we haven’t tried it. Cooking time will probably be about twice as long if you go that route.
- You can use either 2 or 3 cups of uncooked rice in this dish (and either 4 or 6 cups chicken stock). Two cups of rice means you’ll have a higher protein-to-rice ratio. Three cups of rice means you’ll have quite a bit more rice than protein. We think this dish is all about the rice, so we use three cups. Do remember, though, that 1 cup of uncooked rice makes about 3 cups when cooked.
- You can use almost any protein you like in this dish (exact quantity isn’t important, but you want somewhere between 2 to 3 pounds). Ham is a common addition. You can also use leftover chicken or turkey (if you go that route, skip the browning step). If you use seafood – shrimp, for example – we suggest you cook it separately and add it to the dish right before serving (so you don’t overcook it).
- Do use sausage, though – andouille if possible. Andouille is a spicy garlic-flavored sausage popular in Louisiana. You can find national brands of andouille that aren’t bad, though every locally made andouille that we’ve tried is better. As noted earlier, if you can’t find andouille, a spicy smoked sausage like kielbasa makes a good substitute.
- So, what’s the difference between Creole and Cajun? Well, “Creole” refers to the original European settlers of Louisiana (in particular, those from France and Spain). Cajuns are descendants of people who moved to Louisiana from French-speaking Acadia (located in what we now call the Canadian Maritimes).
- Cajun food tends to be rather rustic. Creole food, by contrast, tends to be more European-influenced (and often fancier). Because of that, Creole dishes tend to be more common on New Orleans restaurant menus.
- What about that jambalaya soup we mentioned? It’s a great way to use leftovers. Here’s how to make it: Cut up a fresh onion and brown it in a soup pot with a bit of cooking oil. And add some chopped garlic, and maybe some additional andouille sausage. Then add the leftover jambalaya, plus enough chicken stock to give it a soup-like consistency. We typically add some additional cayenne pepper and oregano to spice it up a bit, too. Simmer for 20 minutes and you’re good to go.
Son of a Gun
“Big fun!” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs. “This jambalaya is delish, my cher ami-o.”
“Yup,” I said. “Makes me want to pole that pirogue down the bayou.”
“Of course, that’s Cajun talk,” said Mrs K R.
“No need to get all Creole about it,” I said.
“I say tomato, you say no tomato,” said Mrs K R. “Let’s just call it spice rice with backup singers.”
You geaux, girl.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
Red Beans and Rice
Red Beans and Rice Soup
New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp
Or check out the index for more