In New Orleans and the surrounding regions, Creole cooks make a “red” jambalaya that starts with meat and the “trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper. Seafood and tomatoes are then added, followed by equal portions of rice and stock. In the Louisiana bayous, where tomatoes were likely once very hard to come by, the jambalaya of Cajun origin begins with smoked meat browned in a cast-iron pot, providing this variation with its distinctive flavor and earthy hue. The “trinity,” stock, and seasonings are then cooked together, the meat returned to the pot, and the rice added in last.
Like most dishes of early American origin, jambalaya was born of necessity, a delicious and inexpensive means of using whatever ingredients were likely on hand. Each cook and culture contributed their own unique variations: Tomato was likely the addition of Spanish cooks, a practical substitution for the orange saffron they commonly included in paella, and the French doubtless contributed spices brought from the Caribbean. Rural Cajun cooks concentrated on the meats of the low-lying swamps, appropriately adding a variety of bayou game.
Jambalaya continues to be a multi-faceted mixture, with as many variations as there are cooks who make it. These days it’s often enjoyed as a one-pot party food, and remains a heartily delicious and inexpensive way to serve a crowd.
Try our lightened-up jambalaya recipe at home.