In Search of the Real Cajun Jambalaya

Will the REAL jambalaya recipe please come forward? Ever since President Trump served “Carolina Gold Rice Jambalaya” in April at a state dinner honoring French President, Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte, controversy has been brewing in Louisiana. That is not “jambalaya,” folks protested. This set off a flurry of newspaper editorials, recipes and opinions in our state. The truth is that there are many variations of jambalaya and many good recipes. Here’s own recipe, I think it’s one of the best!

The jambalaya served at the Washington D.C. state dinner was reportedly more akin to rice pilaf with vegetables and seasonings from “the White House lawn garden” than our jambalaya. There was no meat or seafood in the dish and it was made using short grain rice from South Carolina — not even Louisiana long grain rice. There was little resemblance to the jambalaya cooked in Louisiana.

Both Louisiana senators attended the dinner, as well as our Governor. Our Senator Kennedy thanked President Macron for selling Louisiana to the US (the Louisiana Purchase happened in 1803). Nevertheless, it points out the ties of France to our state.

“World’s Best” Jambalaya

Jambalaya is a staple dish in South Louisiana. It is often featured at community organization fundraiser meals or church fairs — and is prepared by chefs or cooks in large cast iron pots. Gonzales, a nearby community, holds an annual “Jambalaya Festival” in spring and cook-off to name the “World’s best Jambalaya Cook.”  The Advocate published the recipe from one of the past winners. Pork, shrimp and sausage was used in this recipe. The meat was seared and seasoned in the cast iron pot and rice was added to the meat drippings along with Cajun seasonings. Simple but tasty.

What is Jambalaya?

Jambalaya is a flavorful rice and meat dish. I visited a client in Pierre Part, Louisiana, deep in Cajun country. This client used the jambalaya recipe from Emeril Lagasse,  noted New Orleans’ chef and T.V. personality. He says that folks love his jambalaya. Interestingly, my recipe is similar. Here are some generalizations regarding jambalaya recipes.

  • includes some sort of meat — chicken, pork (such as Boston butt, cheek or jowl), smoked sausage, andouille , tasso, bacon, rabbit, oysters, shrimp. I always include sausage and either chicken tenders or pork. The meat is seared first before adding the rice;
  • if possible, the jambalaya is cooked in a cast iron pot,
  • the dish may or may not include tomatoes — Cajun jambalaya does not include tomatoes while New Orleans’ style of Creole jambalaya does, (mine does not include tomatoes),
  • my recipe (as well as Emeril Lagasse’s recipe) includes lots of vegetables — the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun seasonings – onions, bell pepper and celery as well as garlic and Cajun seasonings,
  • the dish is made with long grain rice,
  • I add broth to my recipe, which adds flavor.

Here are most of the ingredients in my recipe. Often I’ll make a  homemade spice blend rather than using a commercial Cajun seasoning.

For my jambalaya recipe I use either chicken tenders (with the tendons removed) or diced pork. For pork, Boston butt is generally used (or cheek jowl) in jambalaya. One grocery store sells pork packages with the meat already de-boned and diced. I usually cut these into smaller pieces.

I always include smoked sausage in my dish. I like skinless sausage and usually purchase mild, all-beef sausage. This time I got a package of smoked sausage with mixed meats.

All the meats (including chicken or pork) and sausage are seared individually in a large pot. Then they are set aside while the next ingredient cooks.  Here’s the Boston butt cooking. I diced this further after cooking.

Lots of diced vegetables for seasonings make a flavorful dish. The Cajun “Holy Trinity” of seasonings is onion, bell pepper and celery. These make the foundation of many Cajun dishes. I add garlic as well. This time I added some sweet yellow and orange peppers. I saute the vegetables in the drippings of the chicken or pork until wilted. Jambalaya is a flavorful dish. My spice blend is adapted from Emeril Lagasse and includes salt, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme and both black and cayenne peppers. I also add Worcestershire sauce to the recipe.After all the meat  is individually seared and the diced vegetables are sauteed, everything is added back to the pot, along with broth, water and raw long grain rice.

Cover with a tight fitting lid and let simmer and go do something else. (When jambalaya is made in a large cast iron pot for a crowd, the jambalaya is left uncovered). When done, the rice is absorbed and the flavors blend together.

This is a dish that my kids love and always request when they come home to visit. Now my grandson requests the dish, too. Make a large pot, the left-overs are tasty and quickly eaten.  For a meal, serve with French bread and a salad.Is this the “real” Cajun jambalaya? There are many variations to this recipe; many great dishes. Mine comes close to the best you can make.

The Real Cajun Jambalaya

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • oil
  • 1 lb chicken tenders (tendons removed) or boneless pork Boston butt, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 lb skinless all-beef sausage, sliced in bite size pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 small bell pepper, chopped (or a mix of sweet green, orange and yellow peppers)
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 of Cajun seasoning mix — add an additional 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups raw, long grain rice
  • 4 1/4 cups of water including 1 can chicken broth

Cajun Seasoning Mix:

  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground thyme
  • 1 tsp ground oregano
  • 1/2 tsp black powder
  • 1/4 cayenne pepper

Method and Steps:

  1. Heat about 2 Tbsp oil in large pot (such as a large cast iron pot or Dutch oven). Add the cut up chicken tenders (or Boston butt). Turn and sear until all pieces are browned. Adjust heat, if needed, and turn down to medium to avoid burning. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.
  2. Add the sliced sausage to the large pot. Turn and sear both sides of sausage pieces. Remove from heat and transfer to the bowl with the chicken or pork.
  3. If need, wipe out some of the sausage drippings so that only a few tablespoons remain. Add all the chopped vegetables (onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic cloves). Stir and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the onions are wilted.
  4. Add back the seared chicken (or Boston butt) and sausage to the pot. Stir and mix all together with the vegetables.
  5. For the Cajun seasoning mix, combine all spices in a small bowl. Add 1/2 of the recipe of the Cajun seasoning mix to the pot along with 1/2 tsp extra salt. Use the remainder of the mix for another recipe.
  6. Add long grain rice. Stir to bend all together.
  7. Add the water — which includes 1 can chicken broth. (Total liquid is 4 1/4 cups.) Stir together.
  8. Cover with a tight lid and bring to a boil. Immediately turn down to simmer. Cook for 30 minutes until all the water is absorbed.

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