I’ve had a lot of good jambalaya in my life. At home growing up, at weddings, holidays, festivals, birthdays, and funerals. As is the case in many cultures, in Cajun culture, food is always the life of the party – inviting us to celebrate, give thanks, connect, and even to heal. In fact, one of the best bowls of jambalaya I ever tasted was on the day we buried my dad.
After watching the casket being lowered into the ground and feeling a piece of my heart sink right along with it, I gathered up what was left of myself and headed over to an outdoor patio where family and friends had so lovingly spread out a plethora of amazing Cajun dishes. Gumbo, jambalaya, potato salad, crab dip, crawfish monica. While it all looked amazing, I craved alone the comfort of a hearty, warm jambalaya. I fixed a bowl and sat next to Nanny Kay (my dad’s godmother), who’d made the dish. Along with the warmth from the food, I was craving the hearty love and laughter from a woman who always has plenty to give.
I took a bite of the jambalaya and tears welled in my eyes. I had left Louisiana about 6 years prior to my dad’s passing, and the comfort of my youth came flooding back in that first spoonful. “Nanny Kay, this is amazing. What did you put in here?” She shot me a playful wink and leaned in so close I could smell her powdery perfume, “Ground meat bae,” she whispered. “That’s my secret ingredient.”
At the time I’d already had a recipe I was comfortable with and loved, but adopted this addition into every jambalaya I’ve made since. While this is not my Nanny Kay’s recipe (I was a little too lost that day to even think about asking for it), it is one I’ve adjusted and modified over the years to highlight the essence of each ingredient. While any Cajun will tell you that the browned meat in a jambalaya adds a majority of the flavor, the higher ratio of browned vegetables in my own compete for center stage. Not only do these changes not compromise the dish, I’d argue that they add to its best quality – its heartiness.
I’ve provided detailed instructions so that you can enjoy this dish with your own families. But I ask that, when the jambalaya is done, you turn off computers and phones and hush those busy bodies. Let the comfort of this incredibly flavorful meal still you, fill you, and connect you even more deeply to those with whom you share it.
PS – I promise to rarely dive this deep, as I typically prefer to offer up a laugh or two while you mess around in the kitchen. On that note, for a creative spin on what to do with the leftovers (especially if you’re hungover, or still drunk), check out this recipe I’ve titled Jambalaya Eggs Bourgeois…I’m *certain* you’re going to love it.
The Best Louisiana Jambalaya
- 1/4 cup avocado oil, divided (Any high heat oil will work, but I prefer the flavor and nutrient profile of Avocado.)
- 1 lb smoked kielbasa or andouille, chopped in 1/2" rounds or 1/2" "half moons" (Wellshire Farms Kielbasa is my favorite, but any smoke sausage or andouille will do.)
- 1 lb ground beef (I use 90/10 - 90% fat, 10% lean, then I don't have to bother draining the excess grease after browning. If you use 80/20 (or any higher fat ratio ground beef), just be sure to drain a bit of the excess fat after browning. Or just go with it. I'm not judging you.)
- 1 lb boneless chicken thighs, cubed
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped (or two medium; about 2 cups.)
- 4 celery stalks, chopped (about 1.5 cups.)
- 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup.)
- 1/2 jalepeno, minced (or 1/4 tsp cayenne if no jalepeno, or skip if you want to go for a milder dish.)
- 3 cups curly kale, destemmed and chopped (Lacinato kale will do, I just prefer the slightly milder taste of curly for this dish. Also, if you're just not there yet with kale, don't add it. You won't need to change any other ratios.)
- 6-8 toes garlic (I don't mess around.)
- 28 oz canned tomatoes (I prefer to buy whole canned tomatoes because they are fresher when canned if whole; however, diced will do just fine.)
- 3 cups chicken broth (Or 1.5 chicken, 1.5 beef.)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 - 1.5 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (Slap 'Ya Mama is my go-to) (You want it super spicy? Do 1.5 tablespoons. I prefer to start with 1 and let everyone else add hot sauce to their own bowls. )
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
- 1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1.5 teaspoons sea salt (Or 3/4 teaspoon if you're using regular.)
- 1.5 cups water
- 3 cups long grain white rice, rinsed and drained (Please do not try anything other than long grain white rice or this dish will be mush.)
- 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- Heat 1/4 cup of the oil on medium-high in a large pot (cast iron if you have it). After 2-3 minutes, when that oil claps back at you (see video), add beef and sausage to brown. About 10-15 minutes.
- When the sausage and ground beef are nicely browned, place into a bowl and, in the same grease, brown your chicken. About 10 minutes. When done browning chicken, remove and set aside with other meats. Note 1: You can try to brown all 3 meats together, but the moisture in the chicken makes this very difficult; I find it easier to just do the sausage and ground beef first, then the chicken.Note 2: If I find out you skip the browning, I will find you, and I will spank you. The time you'll save is not worth the compromise in flavor, trust me.
- Depending on the amount of fat in your meats, you may need to drain a bit of the oil at this point - you want about 1/4 cup left in the pan before continuing on to the next step. If you have too much, ladle a little out. If you have too little, add some from that 1/4 cup you set aside earlier, and be sure to get it nice and hot before moving on.
- When the oil is ready to go (it should be clappin' back boo!), add onions, celery, bell peppers, garlic, and jalepeno. Stir occasionally for 10-15 minutes, until your onions start to carmelize. If the onions start to brown too quickly, lower the heat to medium and/or add a bit more oil. Note: Don't go messing around on TikTok while you wait for your vegetables to carmelize or they will char and that shit is bad for you. Also, don't try to skip this step and jump to the next. The *biggest* misconception about Cajun cooking that I've seen in restauraunts all over the U.S. is that we like a crunch in our vegetables. We most certainly do not. If you take a bite of a jambalaya or a gumbo and find yourself crunching on a vegetable, throw that shit in the trash and tell the chef to call me.
- Next, add kale and stir to blend. Cook for 3-5 minutes, then add tomatoes, broth, bay leaves, Cajun seasoning, and salt. Stir and bring to a gentle boil.
- Let it roll for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then take a little taste. Is it a bit too salty and spicy? If so, good. You need it to be so the rice can soak up all that goodness. If not, add a little salt/spice, but do so at your own risk. I've measured out the spices carefully but I ain't your mama. Do your thing!
- Add 1.5 cups water, rice, parsley, and green onions (some folks like to stir their green onions in at the end, but see my note above about that crunch.) Lower heat to low-medium (you want just a simmer with some gentle bubbling), cover with a tight lid, and cook for about 45 minutes. Stir every 10-15 minutes, but do it REAL quick so you don't let out too much steam. And for the love of all that is holy, please do not scrape the bottom of the pot. It's ok if a little bit sticks to the bottom.
- When the rice is fully cooked, stir once more. Turn off the heat and let the dish sit for about 10 minutes before serving with a little extra parsley, salt, and/or hot sauce to taste.
- Got leftovers? Make sure to check out my quick & easy brunch recipe for Jambalaya Eggs Bourgeois.