Monday, April 25, 2011

Brown Rice Jambalaya

Growing up in Louisiana, I ate jambalaya all the time. It seemed like every party or potluck had a pot of jambalaya at its center. I didn't have to learn how to make it until I moved away for grad school. Suddenly, I had to come up with a recipe of my own using ingredients I could find outside of Louisiana. I've been perfecting this recipe for the last five years.

My husband and I got married in San Francisco, but we came home to Louisiana and had a casual party for all of our friends and family from Louisiana who couldn't make the trip. I made a huge pot of my jambalaya for it. It was quickly devoured at the party, and even my Cajun grandmother was impressed! The jambalaya had come full circle.

I have seen restaurants outside of Louisiana serving meat and sauce on top of steamed white rice and calling it jambalaya. This is not jambalaya. Jambalaya is rice cooked in stock, seasoning, meat, and veggies, all in one pot. By the end of cooking, the rice should absorb all the liquid, have fluffy, distinct grains, and have an al dente texture. The key to making good jambalaya is getting the ratio of liquid to rice just right.

The tweaks:

I make my jambalaya with brown rice. Why not? It's healthier, and it's going to end up brown anyway from the caramelized onions and delicious meat juices. No one will know the difference. Brown rice has a slightly firmer texture than white rice, so it holds together better. It does take twice as long to cook (a little over an hour), but doesn't require any extra effort. My jambalaya combines elements of both traditional Cajun and Creole recipes, it has the fluffy texture of Cajun (brown) jambalaya with just a subtle hint of tomato, without being bright red or tomato saucy like a Creole jambalaya. The bit of tomato adds just enough acidity to perk up the flavor. Garnishing the jambalaya with fresh green onions brightens the flavor and adds color.

The goods:

This recipe makes a ton--I use a whole 2 pound bag of rice! It's probably one of the cheapest meals you could make to feed 15-20 people. Or you can freeze it and make yourself Cajun frozen dinners. If you do not want enough jambalaya to feed an army, you might want to halve the recipe.

Brown Rice Jambalaya

2 lbs sausage, cut into 1/4 inch slices (Ideally, Savoie's andouille. If you don't happen to live in Louisiana, kielbasa or smoked sausage will work. Here in Boston, we have a large Portuguese population, and their chourico is an excellent substitute).
1-2 lbs boneless chicken thighs, raw or cooked. Leftover turkey works great here too. One of the best jambalayas I made was with leftovers from Thanksgiving turkey that Glutenless Goddess made.
3 onions, chopped 

1 lb (about 3 large) bell peppers, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced 

2 T Tony Chachere's seasoning. This is our standard seasoning blend for almost everything we make in Louisiana. You can find it at any grocery store. It may change your cooking life.
1 T Worcestershire
3 bay leaves
1 2 lb bag (4.25 cups) long grain brown rice, rinsed throughly and drained
1 large 28 ozcan  diced tomatoes
1 quart chicken stock
Tabasco to taste

1 cup chopped green onions, for garnish
Heat a large dutch oven to medium-high heat. If using raw chicken, brown, then remove and cut into bite-sized pieces. Next, brown sausage until it's almost blackened. Add the veggies and saute until they reach a dark caramelized color. Add all remaining ingredients except green onions and stir. 

Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring to a simmer. Reduce to low heat, and cook, covered for 1 hr 10 minutes. At this point, check to see if rice is tender. If not, cover and return to low heat until the rice is tender. Resist the urge to add more liquid if the rice is not cooked yet. There is plenty of steam floating around in there, and as long as you keep it covered, it WILL cook through! Only stir the jambalaya once or twice once it starts cooking--stirring too much will break down the rice, and you will end up with something resembling risotto! Stir in green onions and serve with extra Tabasco sauce, if needed.

NOTE FOR STOVETOP VERSION: Thanks to a reader comment, I've started soaking my rice in the chicken stock or broth called for in the recipe. It makes the rice cook a bit quicker (usually in about an hour) and more evenly. I soak it for 8 hours to overnight, but even just a little while helps. Pour the rice and the soaking liquid into your pot after all of your meats and veggies have browned, cover, bring to a simmer, and cook as directed above. 


  1. sounds good! but what about the chicken thighs?

  2. Good point! I've added the instructions for the chicken thighs if you are using them.

  3. I made this recipe a long time ago, but forgot to comment. On a Lenten whim, I made this vegetarian by substituting soyrizo for sausage and omitted the chicken. It was delicious -- almost as delicious as the original version! Note: this recipe makes A LOT of jambalaya, so you may want to cut the recipe in half if you live alone or else you'll be eating leftovers forever.

  4. I'm Middle Eastern but I love Cajun Food. I also use brown rice but my Jambalaya is a little more sticky that I like, I think because the brown rice takes too long to cook. I think I will soak my brown rice hours before cooking next time so the meat and veggies don't fall apart by the time the rice is done. It still tastes great though!

  5. Soaking the rice first is a great idea! I think you would need to reduce the amount of cooking liquid somewhat. Try it and let me know if it works! I might try it out too!

  6. Really good and doesn't have that "brown rice" flavor. A little too spicy for my kids, but I used a locally-made jalapeño sausage. Next time, will use a milder sausage and cut back a tad on the seasoning.