AskDefine | Define jambalaya

Dictionary Definition

jambalaya n : spicy Creole dish of rice and ham, sausage, chicken, or shellfish with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and celery

User Contributed Dictionary





  1. Any of various of rice-based dishes common in Louisiana Cajun or Creole cooking; most often with shrimp, oysters, chicken or ham

Extensive Definition

This article is about the food. For the song, see Jambalaya (On the Bayou). For the racehorse, see Jambalaya (horse).
Jambalaya ( or ) or is a Louisiana Creole dish of Spanish and French creation. The dish is a New World version of the Old World dish paella. A Cajun version, loosely related to paella, was adopted after absorption of White French Creoles into the Cajun population following their fall from power in New Orleans after the Civil War.

Jambalaya varieties

Jambalaya is traditionally made in one pot, with meats and vegetables, and is completed by adding stock and rice. There are two primary methods of making jambalaya.
The first and most common is Creole jambalaya (also called "red jambalaya"). First, meat is added, usually chicken and sausage such as andouille or smoked sausage. Then, vegetables and tomatoes are added to cook, then seafood. Rice and stock are added in equal proportions at the very end. The mix is brought to a boil and left to simmer for 20-60 minutes, depending on the recipe, with infrequent stirring. Towards the end of the cooking process, stirring usually ceases.
The second style, more characteristic of southwestern and south-central Louisiana, is Cajun jambalaya, which contains no tomatoes. The meat is browned in a cast-iron pot. The bits of meat that stick to the bottom of the pot are what give a Cajun jambalaya its brown color. A little vegetable oil is added if there is not enough fat in the pot. The trinity (of onions, celery, and green bell pepper) is added and sautéed until soft. Stock and seasonings are added in the next step, and then the meats are returned to the pot. This mixture is then simmered, covered, for at least one hour. Lastly, the mixture is brought to a boil and rice is added to the pot. It is then covered and left to simmer over very low heat for at least 1/2 hour without stirring. The dish is finished when the rice has cooked.
A third method is less common. In this version, meat and vegetables are cooked separately from the rice. At the same time, rice is cooked in a savory stock. It is added to the meat and vegetables before serving. This is called "white Jambalaya." This dish is rare in Louisiana as it is seen as a "quick" attempt to make jambalaya, popularized outside the state to shorten cooking time.
Jambalaya considered to be a somewhat simple to prepare, yet filling, rice dish by most Louisianans, while gumbos, étouffées and creoles are considered to be dishes more difficult to perfect.
Most often, a long grain white rice is used in making jambalaya, which is mixed with the vegetables and meat, with numerous variations upon that central theme.
Jambalaya is differentiated from other traditional ethnic Louisiana dishes, such as gumbo and étouffée, by the way in which the rice is included. In the latter dishes, the rice is cooked separately and is served as a bed upon which the main dish is presented. In the usual method for preparing Jambalaya, a rich stock is created from vegetables, meat, and seafood. Raw rice is then added to the broth and the flavor is absorbed by the grains as the rice cooks.


Creole Jambalaya originates from the French Quarter of New Orleans, in the original European city sector. It was an attempt by the Spanish to make paella in the New World, where saffron was not readily available due to import costs. Tomatoes became the substitute for saffron. As time went on, French influence was strong in New Orleans, and spices from the Caribbean changed this New World paella into a unique dish. In modern day Louisiana, this dish has evolved along a variety of different lines. Creole Jambalaya, or red Jambalaya as it is called by Cajuns, is found primarily in and around New Orleans, where it is simply known as "Jambalaya." Creole Jambalaya includes tomatoes, whereas Cajun Jambalaya does not.
Cajun Jambalaya originates from Louisiana's rural, low-lying swamp country where crawfish, shrimp, oysters, alligator, duck, turtle, boar, venison, and other wild game were readily available. Any variety or combination of meats, including chicken or turkey may be used to make jambalaya. Cajun Jambalaya is known as "Brown Jambalaya" in the New Orleans area; to Cajuns it is simply known as "Jambalaya." Cajun Jambalaya has more of a smoky and spicy flavor than its cousin Creole Jambalaya. After the Civil War, the White French Creole population lost power in New Orleans, and was absorbed into the Cajun population. The White French Creoles introduced jambalaya to the Cajuns and it began to show up in Cajun cuisine. But since tomatoes were rarely used in Cajun cuisine, the Cajuns omitted the tomato and developed browning of the meat for color. The country song written by Moon Mullican and Hank Williams documents this type of dish.
The first appearance of any variant of the word "jambalaya" in any language occurred in "Leis amours de Vanus; vo, Lou paysan oou théâtré," by Fortuné (Fourtunat) Chailan, first published in Provencal in 1837. The earliest appearance of the word in print in English occurs in the May 1849 issue of the American Agriculturalist, page 161, where Solon Robinson refers to a recipe for "Hopping Johnny (jambalaya)." Jambalaya did not appear in a cookbook until 1878, when The Gulf City Cook Book, by the Ladies of the St. Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church, was printed in South Mobile, Alabama. It contains a recipe for “JAM BOLAYA.”
Jambalaya experienced a brief jump in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s because of its throw-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-in-the-pot composition. The dish was little more than the rice and vegetables the populace could afford, but the recipe grew from humble roots.
During the third term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the dish caused a feud between the president and friends of the Presidential family, the Richardsons of Virginia, because the family sent a dish to FDR, and the man had to refuse it, citing that he was allergic to crawfish.
In 1968, Louisiana Governor John J. McKeithen proclaimed Gonzales, Louisiana, the Jambalaya Capital of the World. Every Spring (season), the annual Jambalaya Festival is held in Gonzales. The 2008 world jambalaya champion was Jody Elisar of Gonzales Louisiana.
Jambalaya is also a popular dish in many MREs for the military. Also, Jambalaya was a popular MRE during the crisis of homelessness after Hurricane Katrina.


There are many myths about the origin of the name "jambalaya." The most commonly repeated folklore is that the word derives from the combination of the French "jambon" meaning ham, the French article "à la" meaning "in the style of", and "ya", thought to be of West African origin meaning rice. Hence, the dish was named jamb à la ya. European explorers had imported rice from Asia and Africa. Enslaved African Americans already had a native name for this crop; they called it "ya". As Europeans learned the term "ya" for rice, it became included in the name of the dish. However, this theory is largely discredited. Ham is not the signature element of the dish, so there is no reason why it would be featured in the name. Furthermore, there is no known African language in which "ya" means "rice." There are two African languages (Mambila and Grusi-Lyela) in which "ya", or a variant on "ya," refers to the grain sorghum. "Rice" is virtually always some form or "riz" or "arroz."
Another popular (and more likely source) suggests that the word comes from the Spanish "jamon" + "paella", a noted Spanish rice dish. However, the evidence for this idea is also thin. Again, ham is not a featured element of the dish, and Spanish speakers would call a ham paella "paella con jamon," not "jamon paella."
The Dictionary of American Food and Drink offers this creative old wives' tale about the origin of the word "jambalaya": Late one evening a traveling gentleman stopped by a New Orleans inn which had little food remaining from the evening meal. The traveler instructed the cook, "Jean, balayez!" or "Jean, sweep something together!" in the local dialect. The guest pronounced the resulting hodge-podge dish as "Jean balayez." This story is believed to be false.
The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that "jambalaya" comes from the Provencal word "jambalaia," meaning a mish-mash or mixup, and also meaning a pilau of rice. This is supported by the fact that the first printed appearance of the word is in a provencal poem published in 1837.

See also

Similar dishes:
jambalaya in Danish: Jambalaya (mad)
jambalaya in German: Jambalaya (Gericht)
jambalaya in Spanish: Jambalaya
jambalaya in French: Jambalaya
jambalaya in Indonesian: Jambalaya
jambalaya in Dutch: Jambalaya
jambalaya in Japanese: ジャンバラヤ
jambalaya in Polish: Jambalaya
jambalaya in Portuguese: Jambalaya
jambalaya in Russian: Джамбалайя
jambalaya in Chinese: 什锦饭
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1