How To Make Jambalaya

updated Sep 1, 2023

This jambalaya is packed with rich, deep flavors, and stars smoky andouille sausage and juicy chicken thighs.

Serves4

Prep15 minutes

Cook45 minutes

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As a New Orleans native, jambalaya is a comfort food for me, as it is for most Louisianans. I’ve grown up eating it at nearly every big event, from family gatherings to game days. The big-batch, make-ahead dish lets you make a delicious meal for your guests without being tied to the stove and missing out on the party, which is why it’s one of my go-to meals whenever I’m entertaining a group of friends.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

What Is Jambalaya?

Jambalaya means “all mixed up” or “jumbled,” and it is exactly that — a combination of West African, French, and Spanish influences that all came together in New Orleans. Although the base of celery, bell pepper, and onion — known as the “holy trinity” — is essential, the proteins vary depending on the season, from crawfish and shrimp to duck and other game meat. The jambalaya I’m sharing here stars smoky andouille sausage and chicken — a favorite duo of mine.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Ingredients in Jambalaya

  • Holy Trinity. At the heart of jambalaya is the “holy trinity,” the mixture of celery, bell pepper, and onion that serves as the base of a lot of New Orleans cuisine, as well as many French dishes. The richness of the stock, the slow build of Creole spices, and the way the meat is cooked — in this case, caramelizing the sausage, which coaxes out more flavor and adds that appealing browned finish — also contribute to the deep, complex layers of this dish. 
  • Creole seasoning. The Creole seasoning, an ingredient you’ll see in a lot of New Orleans cuisine, is particularly crucial here. I like to make a big batch to have on hand in my pantry, and then use it in my gumbo, to flavor rice, or use it to flavor an aioli-like sauce that I spread onto sandwiches or use as a dipping sauce for fries. It’s honestly great with everything, which is why it’s become a staple in Louisiana pantries. You’ll notice I use white pepper instead of black, and that’s because its milder flavor allows the spice mix to be more of a medley, rather than having one ingredient be the star of the show.
  • Sausage and chicken. The smokiness from the sausage adds a depth to this dish that tastes quintessentially Southern to me, and is bound to be a crowd-pleaser with any carnivorous crew. 
  • Rice and broth. Use a long-grain rice like basmati and a low-sodium chicken broth.

You might also find tomatoes in your jambalaya, which, as any Louisiana native will tell you, can be a little divisive. Versions with tomatoes are considered Creole; ones without tomatoes, like this one, are Cajun. Although both versions are delicious, I prefer to leave out the acidic bite that tomatoes add.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

How to Cook the Rice in Jambalaya Perfectly

Another signature of great jambalaya is the rice. There’s a science to making sure it’s just the right consistency: perfectly fluffy, not too wet, and not at all crispy. I’ve found the key is to bring your liquid, whether it’s water or stock, to a complete boil to create a healthy amount of steam. Then, turn down the heat to make sure you don’t overcook or burn the rice.

Since the steam is so essential to success, this is what you’ll tweak if the rice isn’t cooked to your preference after the initial cooking time. If it’s too dry, put the lid back on to keep the steam trapped and give the rice time to absorb more liquid. If it’s too wet, take the lid off to let the steam out so more liquid can evaporate. This takes practice, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries to get it right.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

How to Serve Jambalaya

When it’s time to eat, I like to make sure I always have a vinegar-based hot sauce nearby. Just a little bit of acid balances and enhances jambalaya’s deep, rich flavors. In some Cajun dishes, acid comes from a squeeze of lemon juice, but for jambalaya I prefer my favorite hot sauce, Crystal. It’s not too thick or overpowering and gives the dish a pop of brightness.

Jambalaya Recipe

This jambalaya is packed with rich, deep flavors, and stars smoky andouille sausage and juicy chicken thighs.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 45 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the Creole seasoning:

  • 1 tablespoon

    garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon

    onion powder

  • 1 tablespoon

    paprika

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground white pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cayenne

For the jambalaya:

  • 2

    medium scallions

  • 1

    small yellow onion

  • 3

    medium stalks celery

  • 1

    medium green bell pepper

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 (about 12-ounce) package

    andouille or smoked sausage

  • 12 ounces

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 2 tablespoons

    neutral oil, such as canola, divided

  • 2 cups

    medium or long-grain white rice

  • 2 1/2 cups

    water or low-sodium chicken broth

  • Vinegar-based hot sauce (I like Crystal), for serving (optional)

Equipment

  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven

  • Wooden spoon or large spoon

  • Mixing bowl

  • Tongs

  • Plate

Instructions

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  1. Make the Creole seasoning. Place 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 teaspoon ground white pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne in a small bowl and stir to combine.

  2. Prepare the vegetables. Thinly slice 2 medium scallions and set aside for garnish. Prepare the following and add to a medium bowl: Dice 1 small yellow onion, 3 medium celery stalks, and 1 medium green bell pepper (about 1 cup each); mince 3 garlic cloves.

  3. Prepare the meats. Cut 1 package andouille sausage into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Cut 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs into bite-size pieces. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt and 1 tablespoon of the Creole seasoning.

  4. Brown the sausage. Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. You’ll know the oil is hot enough when a sprinkle of water pops and crackles. Add the sausage in a single layer and cook until browned on the cut sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the sausage to a plate.

  5. Brown the chicken. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil to the drippings in the pot. Add the chicken and cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to the plate with the sausage.

  6. Sauté the vegetables. Add the onion and garlic mixture, remaining Creole seasoning, and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot and stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 2 minutes.

  7. Add the rice and toast. Add 2 cups white rice and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is opaque and toast-y smelling, about 3 minutes.

  8. Add the liquid and meats. Pour in 2 1/2 cups water or chicken broth and bring to a boil. Return the chicken and sausage and any accumulated juices to the pot and give everything one good stir to mix together. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer undisturbed until the rice is cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes.

  9. Stir and let sit. Give the mixture a gentle stir on top. Cover again, remove from the heat, and let sit for 10 minutes. If the rice is still too wet, take the lid off so the extra liquid evaporates. If the rice is a little dry, keep the lid on a little longer to give the rice more time to absorb the liquid.

  10. Fluff and serve. Once rice is at desired consistency, fluff and serve. I like to garnish mine with the scallions and a few dashes of my favorite vinegar-based hot sauce.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The Creole seasoning can be made up to 1 month ahead and stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days.