Cajun Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya is a smoky and flavorful one pot meal. Whether you like it spicy or mild, this recipe is sure to be a favorite for family dinners and parties.
A New World Paella
Jambalaya is a Louisiana Creole dish with heavy Spanish and French/Caribbean influence. The dish is thought to have been originally developed by the Spanish settlers to the New World who attempted to make paella. Saffron, paella’s key ingredient, was incredibly expensive to import to the New World, so they had to find other ways to flavor their rice dish. They decided that tomatoes were the perfect way to give the dish the extra color and flavor that it was missing from the lack of saffron. As time went on, the French/Caribbean influence in the Louisiana region became stronger, and Caribbean spices started to creep into this New World “paella.”
Red or Brown?
You will find two major categories of jambalaya: red and brown.
Creole jambalaya is characterized by the use of tomatoes and is often called “red jambalaya.” The Creole people are descendants of the French and Spanish upper class in Louisiana. So, keeping the tomatoes in their jambalaya keeps the connection to the Spanish roots of the dish. Our Ham and Shrimp Jambalaya is a great example of a “red jambalaya.”
Cajun jambalaya does not have tomatoes, giving it the nickname “brown jambalaya.” But, it’s not just the lack of tomatoes that contributes to the brown color. After all, without tomatoes, the jambalaya would be closer to white rather than brown.
The brown color actually comes mostly from the cooking method. The meat and veggies are cooked over a high heat. While typically you would want to add lots of oil when high heat cooking to prevent bits of meat and vegetables from getting stuck to the bottom of the pan, in this case, only minimal fat is used to grease the pan because we actually WANT those stuck bits. The Cajuns even have a name for them: graton. Once the pan is deglazed by the addition of chicken stock, these deeply caramelized bits get scraped up and mixed in with the other ingredients, giving the jambalaya a smoky flavor and brown color.
The “Holy Trinity”
The base of either jambalaya version is a combination of vegetables that is known as the “holy trinity” of Cajun and Creole cooking. This mixture of onions, celery, and green peppers creates a fragrant base of flavors that has become characteristic of the region’s cuisine. If you think it sounds familiar, you’re right. This veggie combo is a spin off of a trinity that is often used in French cooking, called mirepoix. The French mirepoix consists of onions, celery, and carrots. The substitution of green peppers for carrots gives Cajun and Creole food a tendency toward that savory pepper flavor, rather than the sweet, caramelized notes of the carrot.
Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya
A final note about sausage. For this Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, a smoked pork sausage, like the Louisiana classic Andouille sausage, will give you the most authentic flavor in your jambalaya. But, if you can’t find Andouille, feel free to use your favorite smoked sausage.
In Our Glass: Pairing Notes
Bubbly, with jambalaya? Oh yes! We paired our Cajun Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya with Balletto Vineyard’s Brut Rose. We loved the luscious, full flavors of this Rose and the red fruit notes that came from the 70% Pinot Noir grapes that make up the blend. It is a perfect sparkling wine for drinking alone, but it offered a wonderful complement to the slightly spicy jambalaya.
If you’re looking for a non-sparkling wine, we’d suggest a Pinot Grigio, whose light flavors would complement the light spice of the dish. If beer’s more your thing, we’d go with a light Marzen style (like an Oktoberfest).
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
- ½ lb sausage (Andouille or other smoked sausage), sliced
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2 large celery stalks, diced
- 1 medium green pepper, cored, seeded and diced
- 4 c chicken stock (low sodium or homemade)
- ½-1 tsp red pepper flakes (depending on your heat preference)
- ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper (optional, depending on your heat preference)
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 c long grain white rice, dry
- Heat a Dutch oven over high heat. Add cubed chicken and sliced sausage. Sauté until the meat is deeply golden on all sides, 7-10 min.
- (At this point, you should have some fat in the pan from the sausage. If not, add 1 tsp oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan before the next step.)
- Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the diced onions, green pepper and celery. Sauté until the vegetables are golden brown, 10 min.
- Add the chicken stock and scrape any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. (This “graton” is what will give your “brown jambalaya” its distinctive color.)
- Add the red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and salt. (We like to start on the light side with the pepper flakes and cayenne. You can always add more later, but you can’t take it away if it’s too hot!)
- Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the dry rice. Stir the jambalaya often until the mixture returns to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a slight simmer. Cover and cook the jambalaya for 25-30 minutes, until the rice is fluffy. (Try to avoid lifting the lid during cooking, until the end when you need to check if the rice is done.)
- When the rice is done and the liquid has been absorbed, remove the Jambalaya from the heat and let it finish steaming for 5 minutes.
- Give the Jambalaya one good stir. Taste it and adjust the salt and heat to your preference.
- Serve immediately with a big slice of cornbreadand some steamed greens.
Disclosure: We received samples of the wine mentioned in this article free of charge. As always, we only feature what we think you, or readers, will love, and all opinions are our own.