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What is Jambalaya?

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Creole Jambalaya

Creole Jambalaya

Photo by Bethany Moncel

Jambalaya is a popular rice, meat, and vegetable dish enjoyed in the Southeast United States, especially Louisiana. Jambalaya has been a favorite dish for generations because it is inexpensive, delicious, and can be altered to include whatever the chef may have on hand. Seafood is also a common ingredient in Jambalaya, but local recipes may also include any type of game caught that day.

Creole vs. Cajun Jambalaya

Although every family has its own recipe for jambalaya, there are two main categories: Cajun and Creole. The difference lies in the order in which the ingredients are cooked and the use of tomatoes.

Creole jambalaya, which is also sometimes known as “red jambalaya,” includes tomatoes. This dish begins with the holy trinity of vegetables (onion, celery, and bell pepper) and meat being cooked together. The most common meat used for jambalaya is smoked sausage (usually andouille) and chicken. Once the meat and vegetables have cooked, tomatoes, stock and rice are added to the pot. The entire pot is brought to a boil, covered, and cooked until the rice has absorbed all of the stock. The resulting mix has a slightly red hue from the tomatoes.

Cajun jambalaya does not include tomatoes and generally has a brown color. The brown color is achieved because the meat is first cooked in the pot alone, and allowed to brown and caramelize. The trinity is cooked next, followed by the addition of the stock and rice. When the stock is added, the browned bits of meat dissolve into the broth giving the final product a brown color. Cajun jambalaya tends to have a deeper, smokier flavor than Creole jambalaya due to this browning process.

Cajun jambalaya is found in most rural areas of Louisiana, whereas Creole jambalaya is more popular in New Orleans and the surrounding areas where Creole culture is more prevalent.

Jambalaya History

Although the exact origin of jambalaya is unknown, it is most likely the result of multiple ethnicities mingling in the port city of New Orleans centuries ago. Jambalaya is similar to Spanish paella, which was brought to the area by Spanish explorers. Saffron, which is the main spice used in paella, may have been difficult to find in the new world and may have been replaced with tomatoes to create what we now know as Creole Jambalaya.

Influences of French, African, and Caribbean cooking methods and ingredients can be seen in the variety of jambalaya recipes across the region. The unique combination of cultures has created a delicious and versatile dish that will surely be a favorite for generations to come.

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