Hey y’all! I’m so excited to be sharing one of my absolute favorite Cajun recipes! While I would love to tell you that this is a recipe handed down through generations, the truth is I ended up perfecting it myself over the past 10 years or so.
Unless you’ve grown up in Louisiana or know a thing or two about the Cajun heritage, you probably don’t have a clue what jambalaya means (or even that it really “means” anything at all). The name jambalaya comes from the combination of a few words– “jambon,” which means ham in French, and “aya,” an African word for rice. Combine the two, and you’ve got jambon a la yaya, which after many years of being spoken, was eventually shortened to one word that we all recognize today: jambalaya.
This is the story I was taught in my Louisiana History class by one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Moncla, and I’ve heard a few different versions of the story since then. The end result is still the same, though – no matter what meats go into this amazing rice dish, it’s always going to be delicious!
Did you also know that there is a difference between Cajun and Creole jambalaya? The Creole variety tends to be more on the reddish side, using paprika, tomatoes, or both sometimes. Cajun jambalaya, however, is more brownish. I talk a little more about where the coloring comes from a little further down.
When my husband and I first got married, I was constantly trying to find ways to add a little Cajun flare to our holidays – jambalaya, red beans, etc. I had no idea how to make any of them at the time, though, and (as much as I hate to admit it) settled for whatever boxed stuff I could find.
It worked for a while – my husband and his friends had no idea what it was SUPPOSED to taste like, so I thought I was in the clear! (I should also add, I wasn’t much of a cook back then either…)
Boy, was I wrong!! Fast-forward a couple of years. My husband and I were talking about an upcoming potluck with some fellow Marines and their families. “I signed you up for jambalaya,” he says…
I’m sure you can imagine my horror when I responded, “YOU WHAT??? I can’t take the jambalaya I make to a potluck! It comes out of a box!!”
Needless to say, I started researching as many different jambalaya recipes as I could find. It’s something I like to do – see what other people do, tweak it and make it my own.
So then, with a shell of a recipe to start working with, I made my first REAL jambalaya. It needed a little work, but it was soooo good! I can probably say this was my first really good Cajun meal – something to make Daddy proud!
And now after several years of perfecting my recipe, I’m ready to share it with all of you!
I will say that when it comes to cooking, a lot of my ingredient amounts are simply what I’m in the mood for that day or what I might have on hand. Sharing my recipes with all of you is going to be a bit of a learning curve for me since I’m now going to be measuring everything!
One of the major suggestions I have for cooking this dish – and really, anything Cajun – is to have good, sturdy cookware that you can scrape the bottom of without ruining. Magnalite, Black Iron/Dutch Ovens – these are probably your best options!
I like to use chicken thighs over breasts simply because they’re more juicy and absorb the flavor of the other ingredients much better than breasts do. I’ve made this dish several times with breasts, however, and it does come out ok, so if you’d rather use those then feel free. Trust me, though – thighs are definitely the way to go! If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you could even cook and debone a whole chicken for this recipe.
For the sausage, there are SO many different options out there to choose from. Use your favorite smoked sausage. If you want to add something spicy like andouille, perhaps use a couple of different kinds of sausage to help balance out the flavors. And if you can get your hands on tasso (YUM!) add some of that to the mix as well.
You’re going to notice a trio of ingredients here that is going to show up in quite a few of my recipes – the holy trinity, baby! Chopped onion, celery, and green bell pepper are key in many dishes made in Louisiana. They even sell the trinity pre-chopped and in the produce cooler section down there since it’s used so much!
All in all, when choosing ingredients, keep in mind that Cajun cooking is really rather simple. Cajuns weren’t exactly rich back in the day, so many of their ingredients were simply what they had access to in their gardens or animals they raised or hunted. Sure, we’ve evolved into a culinary giant with ALL SORTS of brands to choose from, and I’m not saying to avoid those at all. If you’ve got access to an authentic Cajun company’s products, definitely give it a try!
Cajun Chicken, Sausage, and Crawfish Jambalaya
- 2 lb chicken thighs
- 2 lb smoked sausage
- 2 lb crawfish tails thawed if frozen
- 1 large onion
- 3 stalks celery
- 1 green bell pepper
- 2.5 cups white rice
- 3 cups chicken stock/broth
- 2 cups water
- cajun seasoning to taste
- olive oil
- Prep all of your meats and veggies by cutting them up into bite sized pieces. The chicken comes out best when cut into 1-2 inch pieces. The sausage can either be sliced or quartered (slice long ways into quarters then cut into small pieces). The veggies will need to be diced small.
- In a large sturdy pot, brown chicken thighs with a bit of olive oil and Cajun seasoning over Medium to Med/High heat, being careful not to stir too often. LET IT STICK! Notsomuch that it burns, but enough to brown and stick to the bottom.
- When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the pot and scrape the browned bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Set the chicken to the side.
- Add sausage, which will add a little moisture to the pot and make the scraping a bit easier. Brown the sausage, allowing some sticking if it happens, but again- no burning. Remove sausage and set to the side.
- Turn heat down to Medium. Add crawfish tails to pot, which will also add lots of moisture. Use this moisture to loosen the browned bottom of the pot, and try to scrape off as much as you can. Do not overcook the crawfish, just make sure they’re heated through.
- Leaving the crawfish in the pot, add veggies and a bit of olive oil if moisture is needed. Let cook until onions are transparent.
- Add chicken and sausage to the pot and stir all of the ingredients together. Let cook for about 5 minutes to allow the flavors to blend together.
- Add chicken broth and water. Stir. Raise temperature to High to bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, add rice, stir, and cover immediately. If the boil dies down, bring back up to a boil, cover, then turn heat down to Low.
- IMPORTANT: Do not open lid!!! Allow to sit for 25 minutes to allow rice to cook.
- Turn off heat. Open lid and stir. If there is still some sitting liquid, allow it to stand for about 10 minutes to allow the liquid to absorb.